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4 iconic London structures and how to see inside them

Hold up a postcard of the London skyline to pretty much anyone – whether they’ve visited the UK capital or not – and we’ll bet they recognise it. It’s one of those iconic images that’s known the world over, and it’s all down to the incredible structures that make it unique.In central London, ancient cathedrals rub shoulders with cutting-edge skyscrapers. Victorian landmarks – like Tower Bridge – stand proudly alongside super-sleek contemporary buildings, like The Shard. And it’s a constantly-changing picture, with more super-structures appearing on the skyline every year.What many people don’t know, though, is that lots of these remarkable buildings are open to the public. It means that, rather than simply admiring them from afar, you can get to know them from the inside. We’ve picked out four of the most famous structures in the central London area, plus how to get there, how to book, and how to save money on tickets. Take your pick, or visit them all.

Tower Bridge

What is it?

Built between 1886 and 1894, Tower Bridge is a combined suspension bridge and bascule – that’s a moveable bridge to you and me – which crosses the River Thames. It’s been one of the capital’s most recognisable landmarks for over a century. And its current red, white and blue lighting colour scheme was added in 1977 for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.

Why visit?

Cross the bridge and you get a close-up look at the structure and a brilliant view of London across the Thames. Step inside, though, and you get an even better view from the high-level walkways and 11-metre-long glass floor. Time it to coincide with a bridge lift and you can watch the bascules raise beneath your feet. Or, just download the ‘Raise Tower Bridge’ augmented reality app before your visit.

Essential info

The nearest Tube station is London Bridge. There are two parts to the Tower Bridge Exhibition – the main entrance and ticket office is at the north-west Tower of the Bridge. The entrance to the Victorian Engine Rooms is located on the south side, at river level, on Shad Thames. It’s open all year, although opening hours vary in summer and winter. Tickets are around £8 for an adult if you book online.

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St Paul’s Cathedral

What is it?

St Paul’s is definitely a place you’ll recognise from the outside. Visible from all over the capital, this beautiful baroque Anglican Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built in the late 17th century. It has one of the world’s highest domes and, until 1967, it was the tallest building in London.

Why visit?

With a sightseeing ticket, you can explore the main Cathedral, head down to the crypt and make your way all the way up to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome. It’s 528 steps, but you’re rewarded with spectacular views over London. The Whispering Gallery is less of a climb – 257 steps, to be precise – and it’s so-called because a whisper against its walls can be heard all the way over on the opposite side.

Essential info

The closest Tube is St Paul’s. The Cathedral is closed for worship on Sundays. Entry tickets cost £18 for a full-price adult, and if you book online you get cheaper tickets and fast-track entry. Plus, if you Gift Aid your admission ticket you’ll get 12 months’ free entry should you fancy coming back at any point in the next year. 

The Shard

What is it?

The Shard is the tallest skyscraper in the UK and fourth-tallest in Europe. Famed for its dramatic angular shape – it punctures the London skyline like, you guessed it, a shard of glass – it opened to the public in 2013 and now contains offices, restaurants and a hotel. It also boasts London’s highest viewing platform, The View from The Shard.

Why visit?

If you’re not working or staying at The Shard, you can eat or drink in one of six restaurants and bars, and you’re guaranteed a superb view over London. And if you’re only here for a flying visit, just book tickets for the viewing platform and take in the panoramic city vistas. It’s even available for private hire, if you really want to push the boat out.

Essential info

London Bridge is the nearest Tube station. Standard tickets for The View from The Shard cost £20.95 on the day, or from £15.95 if you book online in advance. Pay £10 more and you can snap a photo of the city from the top in the daytime, and again at night, so you can really capture the beauty of it. There are also private guided tours available for two to six people.

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Big Ben

What is it?

‘Big Ben’ is actually the nickname of the Great Bell in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster, on account of the fact it weighs more than 13 tonnes. More often than not, though, it’s the name given to the actual clock tower that’s become a London landmark. Standing 315 feet high, the structure is officially called the Elizabeth Tower and has four clock faces, so the time can be seen from all directions.

Why visit?

Although you can’t currently get inside the clock tower itself – all tours are suspended while it’s closed for a huge refurbishment – you can still get pretty close with a tour of the Houses of Parliament. There are guided and audio options available, and you can take afternoon tea in one of the riverside rooms in the House of Commons if you fancy making a day of it.

Essential info

The nearest Tube is Westminster. Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower tours are suspended until 2020 for refurbishment. Self-guided Houses of Parliament tours run every Saturday, and in the week during parliamentary recesses. Tickets cost from £18.50 and you can choose your time slot when you book online.

Want to see them for yourself? Book your coach travel to London with megabus and look forward to free WiFi, power sockets and a 20kg luggage allowance as standard

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