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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

Attractions

The Lloyd’s Building

City of London

Picked by Alan Penn

‘I remember this building being built. It was the first time that a truly new piece of architecture had made its way into the heart of the City, which at the time was pretty fuddy-duddy. Richard Rogers, the architect, famously took the guts out of the building, the stairs, services and toilet blocks, and placed these around the edges of a rectangular block. Then he gave it a central atrium with grand, theatrical escalators linking the floors. It is a simple and thoroughly detailed building that respects its urban setting while challenging almost every preconception we might hold about buildings for seventeenth-century financial institutions.’

Nearest station Monument tube

Best buildings in London: Welbeck Street car park
© Daniel Wright

NCP Car Park London Welbeck Street

Soho

© Daniel Wright, flickr

Picked by Allan Hinton

‘I think this car park could be the most unsung bit of architecture in London. I find the facade of concrete diamonds beautiful and fascinating. Sadly, this building is at risk of being demolished and was denied listed status by the government.’

Nearest station Oxford Circus tube
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Best buildings in London: College of Arms
© Manhattan Research Inc

The College of Arms

© Manhattan Research Inc, flickr

Picked by
Lucy Inglis

‘Founded in 1484, the current building dates from the Georgian period and the huge windows offer tantalising glimpses into the ancient and secretive art of the heralds. They’re the people who design and protect coats of arms.’

Nearest station Mansion House tube
Best buildings in London: Liberty
© Michelle Grant
Shopping, Home decor

Liberty

Soho

© Michelle Grant

Picked by Chris Waywell

‘The department store’s 1920s half-timbered, Tudor-style extension, is one of the West End’s most eccentric buildings. Derided by architecture critics and loved by shoppers, this strange amalgam of styles and proportions looks like a gigantic pub (part of its appeal at Christmas, no doubt). The timbers used in its construction came from two broken up Royal Navy ships, and its small parlours with their fireplaces and echoing floorboards make shopping there a strange and other-worldly experience.’

Nearest station Oxford Circus tube
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Best buildings in London: Freemasons Hall
© Mike Dickson
Things to do, Event spaces

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Covent Garden
© Mike Dixson, flickr

Picked by Eddy Frankel

‘Imposing, stark, powerful – the Freemason building does absolutely naff all to dispel any rumours that the Freemasons are a secret cabal of world-controllers. It’s mysterious, ludicrous and in its own way very beautiful. The best bit though is the museum, which is packed full of exhibits and trinkets, but totally lacking in any real clear explanations for what any of this stuff is. The building, and its contents, are a great example of yelling “look at me! I’m very important!” while also yelling “don't mind me! nothing to see here!”.’

Nearest station Holborn tube
Attractions

20 Fenchurch Street

Fenchurch Street

Picked by Lucy Inglis

‘This is a building that’s all about the view from the top. The bar is what draws the crowds, but it’s a great place for a slow walk around the beautifully planted, stepped garden as you look out in all directions.’

Nearest station Monument tube
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Best buildings in London: Tate Modern
© Chris Dorney
Art, Galleries

Tate Modern

Bankside
© Chris Dorney, Shutterstock.com

Picked by Eddy Frankel 

‘This massive hunk of brick by the river isn’t just a building, it’s a mission: the idea behind Tate Modern was to take a gorgeous, disused old power station and turn it into something that would make people care about modern art. And it worked! It’s not just an incredible bit of architecture, filled with stunning spaces and beautiful art, it’s a tool for converting non-believers, making art-lovers out of everyone who visits.’ 

Nearest station Southwark tube
Best buildings in London: Jewel Tower
© Tony Baggett
Attractions, Towers and viewpoints

Jewel Tower

Westminster

© Tony Baggett, Shutterstock.com

Picked by 
Anna Eavis

‘The evocatively named Jewel Tower is one of my favourite buildings in London. It is one of the few remaining parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster, surviving the devastating fire of 1834. It has served as everything, from a store for royal treasure to the records office of the House of Lords and much later a testing facility for the Department for Weights and Measures – and it is still here.’

Nearest station Westminster tube
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Things to do

The Shard

Borough and London Bridge

Picked by Alan Penn

‘I cycle to work down Archway Road in the mornings, and as you approach the bridge you see London’s skyline laid out below; the dome of St Paul’s and the Shard. The way the light falls on Renzo Piano’s building makes it look different every day. It has an unfinished top that is very cunning, stopping it from becoming a plodding pyramid, always leaving something for the eye to fill in for itself.’

Nearest station London Bridge tube
Best buildings in London: Hayward Gallery
© Thinglass
Art, Performance art

Hayward Gallery

South Bank

© Thinglass, Shutterstock.com

Picked by Eddy Frankel

‘It's as if the South Bank was designed specifically to piss off my mum. And your mum, probably. It's a mum-pisser offer, that vast conflation of modernist concrete. But the people who have a problem with its brutal geometric aesthetics are the same people who think 'mock Tudor' is an acceptable style for a house to actually spend your life in. Shudder. But in their own bold, ambitious, unapologetic way, the South Bank's concrete buildings are really quite beautiful. And the Hayward is the gritty jewel in its angular crown, filled with endless juts and snips, unfathomable angles and edges. It's also home to one of this country's most ambitious art programs, and should be celebrated for everything that it is.’

Nearest station Waterloo tube

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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: Boundary Estate
© John Morris
Attractions, Public spaces

Boundary Estate, designed by London County Council, 1900

Shoreditch

© John Morris, flickr

Picked by Architects for Social Housing

‘The first council housing in Britain was built on the demolished ruins of the Old Nicholslum; but the new homes were priced at rents beyond the reach of 95 percent of the previous tenants, and instead housed a new population of skilled workers. Under the guise of tackling poverty, this set a model of social cleansing that continues to this day, with poor tenants being evicted from demolished homes and their replacements filled with wealthier residents. Now with Grade II-listed status.’

Nearest station Shoreditch High Street Overground
Best buildings in London: Pennington Street Warehouse

Pennington Street Warehouse

Picked by Tamsie Thomson

‘A hidden gem of brick vaults, this is one of the largest and best hidden spaces in London. Vast and imposing, it’s due to be opened up as a creative hub.’

Nearest station Shadwell DLR
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Best buildings in London: Robin Hood Gardens
© Claudio Divizia

Robin Hood Gardens, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, 1972

© Claudio Divizia, Shutterstock.com

Picked by 
Architects for Social Housing

‘The debate over this innovative social housing project’s failed application for listing focused exclusively on its architectural merits, while the rights of the residents who lived there, and who have now been evicted, were ignored. It’s shortly to be demolished by Tower Hamlets Labour Council, and the designs for its replacement by Haworth Tompkins Architects sets a new low for bland, generic, unaffordable housing in a borough with 19,000 families on the housing waiting list. In contrast, the similar Park Hill estate in Sheffield was refurbished to award-winning standards.’

Nearest station Poplar DLR
Best buildings in London: yardhouse
© Assemble

The Yardhouse

© Assemble

Picked by Allan Hinton

‘This aesthetically beautiful and vibrant building is a hidden gem in London. It’s not an easy building to find, which adds to the excitement of coming across it. The popularity of the facade boomed and grew at an exponential rate a few years ago as social media photographers discovered it and shared creative photos taken in front of it.’

Nearest station Stratford rail
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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