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The 50 best buildings in London

Take a tour of our 50 favourite buildings in London as chosen by city architects, leading authors, Instagrammers and the Mayor of London himself

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Best buildings in London lead image

The Walkie Talkie. The Gherkin. The Shard. These striking structures (and their silly names) dominate our city’s skyline. But while they might have a bit of a height advantage, they’re not the only buildings worth shouting about. Our list of the city’s best buildings showcases the city’s unique mix – from the iconic to the unsung. We asked a group of experts to tell us about the London architecture that means most to them.

London’s buildings aren’t just slabs of concrete or bricks and mortar – they tell the stories of our city’s history. Our top 50 list reflects that. There’s the Jewel Tower – one of the few remaining parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster, the Brutalist beauty of the Hayward Gallery and an NCP car park that’s surprisingly aesthetically pleasing. In fact, you’ll find plenty of under-the-radar stuff in our top 50: council estates, pubs, tube stations. Everyone knows that London is filled with amazing buildings, but not everyone knows where to look beyond the architectural icons. Use our list to get out there and explore the city.

With thanks to: Sadiq Khan, Monica Ali, Camille Walala, Anna Eavis, Lucy Inglis, Olivia Laing, Zoe Timmers, Allan Hinton, Tamsie Thomson, Jane Duncan, Architects for Social Housing and Professor Alan Penn

Best buildings in London: John Soane
© Jonathan Perugia
Museums, History

Sir John Soane's Museum

Holborn

© Jonathan Perugia

Picked by
Alan Penn

‘This is the best museum in the world as well as probably the world’s first piece of modern architecture. It is the result of a great architect’s experiments with his own house. He used this over the years to house his collection of bits of architectural debris and to teach his students. He experimented with space, and light, glass and mirrors as well as with decoration and object placement. The subtlety is immense and the building is worth just walking around and trying to figure out exactly why everything is placed where it is. There is usually a reason.’

Nearest station Holborn tube
Best buildings in London: Wilkins Building
© Diliff
Attractions

The Wilkins Building

Bloomsbury

© Diliff, wikimedia commons

Picked by Alan Penn

‘When this building was built in 1826 it was to house the new University of London (later to be renamed UCL), the first university to be founded in England after Oxford and Cambridge. The founders wanted to make education accessible to everyone regardless of class or creed, as well as to teach the new subjects emerging from the enlightenment.’

Nearest station Euston Square tube
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Best buildings in London: Westminster Station
© Strollerdos
Travel, Tube stations

Westminster Underground Station

London

© Strollerdos, flickr

Picked by 
Jane Duncan

‘Definitely my favourite built space in London. This station has grandeur, huge engineering prowess, people moving and tough raw materials. I would change my travel arrangements to travel up or down through this machine of transportation.’

Nearest station Westminster tube
Things to do, TV, radio and podcast recordings

Broadcasting House

Fitzrovia

Picked by Anna Eavis

‘I love the simplicity and mass of Broadcasting House, poised like a great ocean liner at the top of Regent Street. It was expressly designed – in 1932 – to house a new kind of institution dedicated to a new mode of communication – broadcasting. I’m very glad that both the institution and the building are still with us.’

Nearest station Oxford Circus tube
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Best buildings in London: Blackfriar pub
© e X p o s e
Bars and pubs

The Blackfriar pub

Blackfriars

© e X p o s e, Shutterstock.com

Picked by Lucy Inglis

‘The pub dates from 1905 and, as well as having an unusual shape, it’s a charming art nouveau survivor. It was saved from demolition by the intervention of poet Sir John Betjeman. Inside, the locals have as much character as the place itself, and people-watching is always rewarding.’

Nearest station Blackfriars tube
Best buildings in London: 66 Portland Place
© Cmglee
Things to do, Literary events

66 Portland Place

Fitzrovia

© Cmglee, Wikimedia Commons

Picked by
Jane Duncan

‘The HQ of the Royal Institute of British Architects is one of London’s art deco gems. It’s also a building I have had the pleasure of working in and representing for two years of my architectural career. With exquisite craftsmanship and details, there’s a story behind every element – and it’s open to the public.’

Nearest station Regent’s Park
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Best buildings in London: st james
© Steve Wilde
Attractions, Religious buildings and sites

St James Garlickhythe

City of London

© Steve Wilde, flickr

Picked by
Lucy Inglis

‘Nicknamed Wren’s Lantern, St James Garlickhythe might not be attractive from the outside, but inside it lives up to the nickname. Light pours in through the high windows, filling the interior with an almost eerie glow.’

Nearest station Mansion House tube
Best buildings in London: York House Water Gate
© Gideon Chilton

York Water Gate

© Gideon Chilton, flickr

Picked by Anna Eavis

‘This was the early-seventeenth-century river gate to York House, one of a string of great houses that used to line the Thames. I love it because it evokes a riverscape that has long since vanished: the wide extent of the river, before the embankment was built, and the grand nature of those river-facing houses, almost all gone now.’

Nearest station Embankment tube
Best buildings in London: HampsteadHillGardenPergola
© Andy Parsons
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Hampstead Pergola

Hampstead

© Andy Parsons

Picked by
Zoe Timmers

‘A wonderful example of faded grandeur and a hidden treasure. My parents brought me to here as a child to explore the raised walkway with its overgrown vines and exotic flowers and mysterious gardens. I called it “the secret garden” and it may not be so secret anymore but it is still one of my favourite and most romantic places in London.’

Nearest station Hampstead Heath Overground

Travel, Public transport

St Pancras Station

St Pancras

Picked by Chris Waywell

’There’s some cracking Victorian gothic around the Euston Road, including the amazing X-shaped Cruciform Building at University College Hospital. But king of the spires has to be St Pancras Station. Its effect has been slightly reduced since it was restored and cleaned: it used to look like Castle Dracula, after the Count had been evicted, but Gilbert Scott’s airy fantasy gives transport infrastructure a whole different flavour.’

Nearest station St Pancras
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Best buildings in London: Kings Cross Station
© Songquan Deng

King’s Cross Station

St Pancras

© Songquan Deng, Shutterstock.com

Picked by
Derelict London

‘King’s Cross is the perfect mix of old and new architecture. It was recently restored to its former glory, gaining an open-air plaza that shows off the original, bold 1851 building. It also has a stunning new departures concourse with a futuristic latticed roof.’

Nearest station King’s Cross
Best buildings in London: Dublin castle
© Ewan Munro
Bars and pubs, Pubs

Dublin Castle pub

Camden Town

© Ewan Munro, flickr

Picked by 
Derelict London

‘A great traditional boozer from the outside and not much has changed inside over the last few decades. The Dublin Castle was built for Irish navvies working on railways in London, but gained prominence as a venue in the late 1970s after Madness established a live reputation there. Subsequently, it has always been and still remains an important venue in the early stages of bands’ careers.’

Nearest station Camden Town Overground
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Best buildings in London: Highpoint Flats
© Angelo Hornak

Highpoint flats

© Angelo Hornak, Alamy

Picked by Olivia Laing

‘Given a few million, I'd like to live in the Berthold Lubetkin-designed Highpoint flats in Highgate. They’re light-drenched pearls of modernist architecture and the outdoor pool’s an added bonus.’

Nearest station Highgate tube
Best buildings in London: 2 Willow Road
© Steve Cadman
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Erno Goldfinger’s house at 2 Willow Road

Hampstead

© Steve Cadman, flickr

Picked by
Jane Duncan

‘This is the family home that transformed 1930s modernist house designs, and was incredibly influential, apart from being completely architecturally and contextually brilliant.’

Nearest station Hampstead Heath Overground
Best buildings in London: Tooting Gala Bingo Hall
© sheep"r"us

Gala Bingo Hall

© sheep"r"us, flickr

Picked by
Sadiq Khan

‘You might think: “What? A bingo hall!?” but this place is a Grade I-listed former cinema. It’s also where the Rolling Stones performed, the Beatles performed and Frank Sinatra performed. We've got some really great buildings in London.’

Nearest station Tooting Broadway tube
Best buildings in London: Dawson's Heights
© Nick Richards

Dawson’s Heights

© Nick Richards, flickr

Picked by 
Architects for Social Housing

‘When describing the extraordinary hill-top council estate she began designing at the age of only 26, Kate Macintosh said: “Central to all housing design is the balance between the expression of the individual dwelling and the cohesion and integration of the entire group.” This vision of architecture as social model rather than financial asset is more than ever relevant today, when architects have so readily yielded their agency to property developers, real estate investors and politicians.’

Nearest station North Dulwich rail
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Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Queen’s House Greenwich

Greenwich

Picked by Chris Waywell

‘Inigo Jones’s masterpiece reopens in October 2016 following a lengthy restoration, to celebrate its 400th anniversary. It doesn’t look 400: its timeless classical proportions and serene location between Greenwich Park and the river give it an almost abstract simplicity and beauty. Its lack of ostentation is a more direct statement about the absolute power of monarchy than the most elaborate gilded palace. The ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I – saved after an appeal and a huge lottery grant will be on public display for the first time in the Queen’s House.’

Nearest station Cutty Sark DLR
Best buildings in London: National Theatre
© Ron Ellis
Theatre, Public and national theatres

National Theatre

South Bank

© Ron Ellis

Picked by
Tamsie Thomson

‘The NT was beautiful when it was first built and is even more beautiful after its recent refurbishment. It’s full of wonderful hidden spaces and board-marked concrete with a wood effect so tactile you can’t help stroking it!’

Nearest station Southwark tube, Shutterstock.com

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Best buildings in London: Dulwich Picture Gallery
© Simon Hoare
Art, Galleries

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich
© Simon Hoare, flickr

Picked by Chris Waywell

‘Architect Sir John Soane is best known for his eccentric house and collection in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but his real London gem is this rather unassuming looking one-storey gallery in sleepy Dulwich Village. Britain’s first public art gallery is noteworthy just for that, but it is a brilliant building: modestly scaled and perfect for spending time with art. The rooms are lit from above and lead gently off one another: there’s no showboating, no grand stairwell or statement entrance. The building is at the service of its collection and its visitors, and it has influenced gallery design ever since.’

Nearest station West Dulwich rail
Best buildings in London: Guys hospital tower
© Lars Ploughmann
Things to do, Event spaces

Guy's Hospital tower

Borough and London Bridge

© Lars Ploughmann, flickr

Picked by 
Chris Waywell

‘Most hospitals sprawl: you walk down endless corridors, across endless car parks. Guy’s, though, goes up. Its tower at London Bridge has a chunky quality. It looks like Spike the Bulldog from ‘Tom & Jerry’ sitting on his haunches, pugnacious lower jaw stuck out. Whereas the neighbouring Shard is all show-off bling, Guy’s is a sturdy grey servant. Plus it has an actual purpose and the views from the dentistry department are enough to take your mind off your aching wisdom teeth.’

Nearest station London Bridge tube
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Best buildings in London: Concrete House
© Adrian Prockter

The Concrete House

© Adrian Prockter, knowyourlondon.wordpress.com

Picked by
Derelict London

‘This house represents a curious mix of the old and the new. Whilst it is firmly Victorian in date and style, it is actually built from rendered concrete. It was constructed by Charles Drake of the Patent Concrete Building Co. and is one of the very first surviving examples of a nineteenth-century concrete house in England.’

Nearest station East Dulwich rail
Venue_laban_2010press_CREDIT_Tim Crocker.jpg
© Tim Crocker
Things to do, Private theatres

Laban Dance Centre

Deptford

© Tim Crocker

Picked by
Chris Waywell

‘Three years after their epochal reimagining of Tate Modern, Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron were back in London in the slightly less grandiose surroundings of Deptford Creek. Their shimmering, poly-coloured box seems to have dropped from the sky into the green mud of the creek: it is truly one of London’s great architectural interventions, without the aggressive dimension that those projects often seem to have. Don’t miss Michael Craig Martin’s mural in reception of everyday objects. Relationship to dance: unknown.’

Nearest station Deptford rail
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Best buildings in London: Self build houses
© Urbanimages

Walter Segal Self Build houses

© Urbanimages, Alamy

Picked by 
Tamsie Thomson

‘This is one of the first and best loved examples of ‘self build housing’ in London. It was built by the future residents themselves on land owned by Lewisham in 1979. It offered people beautiful, adaptable and, crucially, affordable housing during the last housing boom. A lesson for current London boroughs?’

Nearest station Honor Oak Park Overground
Best buildings in London: Smithfield Market
© Cedric Weber
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Smithfield Market

Farringdon and Smithfield

© Cedric Weber, Shutterstock.com

Picked by
Derelict London

‘Built in 1883 to the designs of Sir Horace Jones, the impressive general market buildings have been derelict for 20 years though will soon be restored to become the new home of the Museum of London.’

Nearest station Moorgate tube
Best buildings in London: Aquatics-Centre 2
© Martin Pettitt
Sport and fitness

London Aquatics Centre

Olympic Park

© Martin Pettitt, flickr

Picked by Jane Duncan

‘Possibly my favourite accessible building by Zaha Hadid. The Aquatics Centre is a clear demonstration of her art of making the impossible possible, with its huge swooping concrete roof sitting on tiny ground contact points, and making swimmers feel like they can fly.’

Nearest station Stratford rail
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Best buildings in London: Queen Mary University Campus
© TECU Consulting
Things to do, Schools and universities

Turquoise Campus at Queen Mary University

Mile End

© TECU Consulting, flickr

Picked by
Allan Hinton

‘I love the stunning colour of this building – which used to brighten up my daily commute along Regent’s Canal – as well as the unique and geometric facade. Years ago when Instagram started to take off I became obsessed with this building and would take some really abstract shots of it. It was fun to share a building in London which is pretty unknown yet really quite visually special.’

Nearest station Mile End tube
Things to do

Millennium Mills

Royal Docks

Picked by Tamsie Thomson

‘This vast former flour mill opposite City Airport, derelict since 1992, is a testament to London’s industrial past and a forgotten architectural gem popular with urban explorers. Its scale and history dwarf you. Standing next to it is a reminder of the scale of our lost industrial past.’

Nearest station Pontoon Dock DLR
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Best buildings in London: Olympic Velodrome
© Steve Parkinson
Sport and fitness, Stadiums

The Olympic Velodrome

Olympic Park

© Steve Parkinson, flickr

Picked by Alan Penn

‘This is one of the simplest and most elegant of the buildings constructed for the 2012 Olympic Games. It was designed to help break records, and it did that, but it also seems to have done something more lasting. It has played a part in stimulating a real legacy of competitive cycling at the top level in the UK. A lot has been said about the innovations in the track itself, but no less impressive is the roof which uses a tension net structure to minimise weight and material use. It’s one reason that the building has such a simple and elegant profile, and explains how a building of such scale and span was delivered for such a low price. It is a product of great design and engineering and wonderful collaboration between the team of designers and the cyclists who later put it to good use.’

Nearest station Stratford rail
Best buildings in London: Sivill House
© Ewan Munro

Sivill House

© Ewan Munro, flickr

Picked by Camille Walala

‘I can’t remember when I first spotted Sivill House. I pass it almost every day and I’m always visiting Columbia Road flower market on Sundays so see it then too. It has an array of distinct shapes littered across the facade, so it would be a dream building to paint. I’ve even mocked up some designs for the facade in the hope that one day someone asks me to paint it.’

Nearest station Shoreditch High Street Overground
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Best buildings in London: Barbican
© Tove K Breitstein
Cinemas

Barbican Centre

Barbican
© Tove K Breitstein

Picked by Eddy Frankel

‘Modernist architecture promised so much. It was a utopian vision of a future society where everyone lived side by side, surrounded by culture and safety. The reality was pretty far from that truth, with so many modernist blocks falling into disrepair, squalor and crime. Maybe we just weren’t ready. But the Barbican stands as a shining example of what modernism could be: beautiful apartments, communal high-rise living and an arts hub that to this day puts on some of the best concerts, plays and exhibitions in London. It’s a little slice of modernist heaven.’

Nearest station Barbican tube
Best buildings in London: Christ Church Spitalfields
© Ewan Munro
Music, Music venues

Christ Church Spitalfields

Spitalfields
© Ewan Munro, flickr

Picked by Chris Waywell

‘Of all London’s buildings, this Hawksmoor church has the most profound effect on me: its mass, its scale, its terrible, alien self-assurance. It stands amid eighteenth-century townhouses and scorns their little aspirations. Even so, it was nearly demolished. It should remind us that we shouldn’t take what we collectively own for granted.’
 
Nearest station Liverpool Street tube
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Best buildings in London: Balfron Tower
© Claudio Divizia
Attractions

Balfron Tower

Poplar
© Claudio Divizia, Shutterstock.com

Picked by Architects for Social Housing

‘Part of the Brownfield Estate, the Balfron Tower was the inspiration for JG Ballard’s “High Rise”. It provided 146 homes for working-class households. While it was saved from demolition by Historic England, all the previous residents have been forced out by the increased restoration costs for a listed building, and its original quota of 100 percent social housing has been reduced to zero. It’s currently being marketed as retro-style luxury apartments for Canary Wharf bankers.’

Nearest station Langdon Park DLR
Museums, History

The Museum of Immigration and Diversity

Spitalfields

Picked by Monica Ali

‘This is a truly magical building. It’s a place where you can feel history at your fingertips and in your spine. It’s Grade II listed and was a Huguenot master silk weaver’s home, with a hidden Victorian synagogue. It’s also so desperately in need of funding it can’t afford to open to the public for more than a few days a year. Many aspects of Britain’s past are written inside the walls, reflecting our past and (especially post-Brexit) raising questions about our future. It’s on the Buildings at Risk Register, which is an absolute scandal. I hope our new mayor will take note and step in to save it.’

Nearest station Aldgate East tube
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Best buildings in London: Trellick Tower
© Claudio Divizia
Attractions

Trellick Tower

Ladbroke Grove

© Claudio Divizia, Shutterstock.com

Picked by
 Olivia Laing

‘Driving in on the Westway and seeing the Trellick Tower on the horizon always gives me a lift. Cities should be cities – tough, glamorous, adaptable – and I like a good blast of concrete.’

Nearest station Westbourne Park tube
Museums, Art and design

V&A Museum

South Kensington

Picked by Jane Duncan   

‘With an eclectic architectural history as impressive and magnificent as its wonderful collections, this is my favourite gallery in London. Not only are the exhibitions amazing, but the building itself is “human” in scale, which means it’s built to be the right size for people to feel comfortable in. It’s beautifully detailed.’

Nearest station South Kensington tube
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Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Marble Hill House

Twickenham

Picked by Anna Eavis

‘Architecturally, Marble Hill House is elegant perfection on an intimate scale. Standing in its original parkland setting in Twickenham, it can still be reached by river or road. It is reminiscent of the remarkable life of the woman who built it: Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II when he was Prince of Wales.’

Nearest station St Margarets rail

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