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A photo montage of The British Museum, the Imperial War Museum and Greenwich Park in London

8 free historical days out in London to do this summer

Image: | Above: The British Museum (left), the Imperial War Museum (top right) and Greenwich Park (bottom right) in London, UK

London is a perfect city for history buffs, with even random streets boasting interesting architecture that’s often centuries old. What’s more, you don’t even have to spend a penny to see some of the more significant and fascinating sites in the capital.

1. The Roman Amphitheatre

Discovered as relatively recently as 1988, the Amphitheatre in Guildhall Yard dates back to 70 AD and is an incredible monument to Roman London. In its ancient heyday, it was a place of grisly entertainment, where gladiators fought to the death and prisoners were publicly executed.

The remains of this once blood-soaked arena, including the walls and a stretch of the entrance tunnel, have been carefully preserved in a controlled underground environment at the Guildhall Art Gallery. It’s completely free to visit, and you should also make time to go out to Guildhall Yard itself to see where the diameter of the original outer wall is marked out by black paving stones.

2. The British Museum

One of the world’s most celebrated repositories of historical treasures, the British Museum takes visitors on an immersive odyssey across the ages. With so many millions of discoveries under one roof, it’s hard to summarise this museum, but the collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts is one of its biggest draws. These include mummies and funerary masks, as well as the Rosetta Stone, which was the key to unlocking the secret of hieroglyphs.

With sprawling collections taking you through the history of China, the Americas and other corners of the Earth, there’s enough to keep you coming back to the British Museum more than once.

3. The Imperial War Museum

Anyone interested in the history of warfare, and particularly the cataclysmic world wars, should make a pilgrimage to the IWM London. The First and Second World War Galleries are filled with uniforms, diaries, weapons and artworks from the conflicts. There’s even a piece of wreckage from a ship that was sunk at Pearl Harbor, which is the first of its kind ever displayed outside the United States. The Holocaust Galleries are also unmissable, telling the personal stories of the victims of the atrocity through thousands of photos and personal objects.

4. Greenwich Park

One of the great Royal Parks of London, and the first to have been enclosed back in 1433, Greenwich Park is a sprawling green space that brings spectacular views of the Thames, the 17th century Queen’s House and other major landmarks.

On a sunny day, there are few more idyllic places to wander and soak up the history of the city. Perhaps the most iconic structure you’ll see here is the Royal Observatory, which was established in 1675 and has played an integral role in the history of science and navigation.

5. Sir John Soane's Museum

Born in 1753, Sir John Soane was indisputably a key figure in the history of British architecture and designed the Bank of England among other structures. His house was turned into a museum in the 19th century, and is crammed with the architect’s furniture, sculptures, paintings and ancient artefacts – from the sarcophagus of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I to works by Turner and Canaletto.

Just as fascinating are the private apartments, which have been preserved as they were at the time of Sir John’s death and are like a trip back in time to a bygone England.

6. London Mithraeum

Mithraeums were temples erected by the worshippers of the Roman god Mithras, and just such a structure was discovered in London in 1954. There’s something surreal, even eerie about being able to descend beneath the streets of the capital to see a temple built in honour of an ancient god, and the effect is only enhanced by the use of lighting and the sounds of chanting. The exhibition explores the cult that grew around Mithras and features a wide range of Roman artefacts that shed even more light on this vanished culture.

7. The William Morris Gallery

Textile designer, artist, activist and representative of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris was a truly pivotal, trailblazing Victorian. His childhood home, a superb work of Georgian architecture, is the site of the William Morris Gallery, and it is an eye-opening exploration of both the man and his era.

Expect to see Morris’ hand-drawn designs and hand-woven tapestries, rare antique furniture, and paintings by Victorian masters. Anyone interested in 19th century culture and innovation will be in their element here.

8. The Monument

One of the most notorious events in the history of the capital was the Great Fire of London in 1666. Just five years after the inferno ravaged the city, construction began on a fittingly striking monument, which simply became known as the Monument. Designed by the great Sir Christopher Wren and sitting on the site of a church that had been destroyed in the fire, it’s a looming Doric column topped by a grand, gilded urn from which sculpted flames emerge.

Although the attraction does charge a small fee for those who want to enter and climb the 311 steps to the top, history lovers will enjoy simply visiting the site, admiring the inscriptions and sculptures around its base and taking some obligatory selfies.