Destination Immersion

The Architecture of England

Friday, August 09, 2019
By Azamara

England is a land dotted by castles a thousand years old and skyscrapers a thousand feet tall. It’s modern meets medieval, taking influence from all over the world. Here, traces of Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-Futurist architecture styles dominate city skylines, offering a visual appeal unlike any other country on Earth.

Today, we’re taking a look at a few of our favorite buildings and structures throughout England—each of which you can visit when you cruise with us. From iconic landmarks to tucked-away gems full of history, this is the can’t-miss architecture of England.

Britannia Royal Naval College

The Royal Naval College at Dartmouth

An imposing sight perched in the hills beyond the quaint riverside town of Dartmouth, the Britannia Royal Naval College certainly stands in contrast to the pastel-colored buildings that pepper the port below. Since 1905, this building has been the training ground for Royal Naval officers—including the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. Beyond playing a significant role in the military history of England, it also served as a backdrop for a royal rendezvous. It is said that the first encounter between Prince Phillip of Greece and the future Queen Elizabeth II took place here. Today, this iconic building is the only remaining Naval College in the country.

Designed in a Baroque style by Sir Aston Webb, construction began on the BRNC in March of 1902, when King Edward VII himself laid the foundation stone. In just three years (an impressive feat considering the era and sheer size of the building), the first cadets entered the college for training. The BRNC features a Portland stone, red brick, and Cornish slate exterior with Torquay limestone terrace walls. It’s possible to tour the building with an expert guide, where you can dive into its history and importance to the country. Along the way, you can explore the elegant Chapel, Quarterdeck, Parade Ground, Senior Gun Room, and the Britannia Heritage Museum.

Dover Castle

Dover Castle on a nice day

While perhaps most well known for its towering white cliffs—an enduring sign of resilience for the British people—the Cinque-Port town of Dover is also home to the largest castle in all of England. Named, appropriately enough, Dover Castle, this 12th-century medieval behemoth has been described as the “Key to England” for its unmatchable defensive significance throughout the country’s history. While the castle itself is over 900-years old, archeologists believe the site has been active for over 2000 years. In fact, on the castle grounds, you’ll find a Roman lighthouse that has been dated to 50 AD—possibly making it the oldest building still standing in Britain. 

The Great Tower of the Castle is a definite highlight here, but for many, it’s the architecture they can’t see that will draw them in. We’re talking about the vast network of secret wartime tunnels underneath the castle grounds. Built in 1803 during the Napoleonic Wars, these tunnels sat dormant until the outbreak of the Second World War when they were expanded to include a command post and even a hospital. It was here that Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey undertook Operation Dynamo—the evacuation of French and English soldiers from Dunkirk, France. The fascinating story of Operation Dynamo is recreated in the tunnels using video and light projections, making it a fascinating stop for history buffs.   

The Three Graces 

Liverpool Skyline highlighted by the Three Graces

For many, the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Liverpool is the Fab Four. For us, however, it’s the Fab Three—the Three Graces of Liverpool’s waterfront. Consisting of the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building, and the Port of Liverpool Building, these impressive structures are worth paying a visit if you’ve got a ticket to ride with us. 

Royal Liver Building in the evening

The centerpiece of the Three Graces is the Royal Liver Building—a structure considered to be Liverpool’s signature landmark. Designed by architect Walter Aubrey Thomas, construction began on this building in 1908 and concluded in 1911. Upon completion, it was the tallest building in all of Europe, and remained the tallest building in the United Kingdom until 1961. Perched high atop the building, you’ll see two liver birds—a tribute to the city’s maritime heritage. One of these statues looks out over the Mersey River, representing the families who remain in the city while sailors make their way out to sea. The other looks over the city, and represents the sailors looking back to their home and family. Ask locals, and they’ll tell you that legend has it if the birds were ever to fly away, Liverpool would simply cease to exist.  

Port of Liverpool Building in the evening

While the Royal Liver Building is the most well known of the Three Graces, it wasn’t the first—that honor belongs to the Port of Liverpool Building. This Edwardian Baroque style building broke ground in 1904 and opened as the headquarters of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1907. Noted for its ornate appearance and details, its signature focal point is a large central dome. Interestingly enough, the dome wasn’t even in the original plans for the building. It was actually inspired by an early design for Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral that was ultimately passed upon. 

The Cunard Building in Liverpool

Finally, we have the Cunard Building. Designed by William Edward Willink and Philip Coldwell Thicknesse, construction began on the Cunard Building in 1914 and was completed in 1917. The building is notable for its distinct mix of Italian Renaissance and Greek Revival design styles, with additional ornate sculptures adorning its sides. Take a stroll inside the Cunard Building and you can visit the British Music Experience, a permanent exhibition dedicated to Britain’s iconic musical artists. 

One thing’s for sure, you won’t want to miss these iconic symbols of the Liverpool skyline while being a day tripper across the city. 

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle and the Lions Bridge

Located 45 minutes north of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, there’s nothing new about Castle Alnwick. In fact, it’s believed the castle may be as many as 1000 years old. Dating back to the Norman period, this is the second-largest inhabited castle in the United Kingdom and one of the earliest castles in England to not include a square keep. 

Over the years it has served many functions. In addition to being a family home, it has been a military outpost and a teaching college. However, it is probably most famous for its budding movie career. Since 1954, Alnwick Castle has appeared in a dozen feature films as an important setting, including 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the 1999 Academy Award-winning film, Elizabeth. The young (and young-at-heart) amongst us will no doubt recognize Alnwick Castle as the exterior of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There, around the castle’s outer bailey is where Harry first learned to fly a broomstick, as well as where he learned the rules of Quidditch. The Castle’s Lion Arch also served as an exit from Hogwarts, and was especially helpful if taking a journey to Hagrid’s cabin or the Forbidden Forest. 

Windsor Castle

St George's Chapel, Windsor castle

Windsor Castle is practically synonymous with England, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s the largest and oldest continuously occupied fortress in the world, and it’s an architectural delight—considered to be amongst the greatest European palaces. And if that weren’t enough, it also happens to be one of the principal residences of Queen Elizabeth II and the British Royals.

Listed on England’s National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, Windsor Castle was constructed in the 11th century after William the Conqueror and the Normans invaded England. Of course, a lot can change over several hundred years. Its present-day look is the result of carefully phased building and restoration projects, as well as a 1992 fire that resulted in extensive reconstruction work. Today, the castle reflects a blend of Georgian and Victorian design elements, with flourishes of Gothic features.

Windsor Castle - State Apartments

The castle grounds are situated across 13 acres of land and are divided into three precincts, known as the Lower, Middle, and Upper Wards. In the Upper Ward, you’ll find the State Apartments—one of the most famous elements of Windsor Castle. The interior of the State Apartments was designed by architect Jeffry Wyatville. His vision involved each room showcasing a different opulent architectural style (from Classical to Rococo and everything in between). After the 1992 fire, a great restoration project was undertaken in the State Apartments. Using equivalent restoration methods, workers were able to restore many of the damaged rooms to their original appearance. And by using modern materials, they greatly enhanced the structure, without impacting the visual appeal. You can see for yourself when you join us for a special guided tour as you make your way through England.

Elsewhere in Windsor Castle, you’ll find Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House—arguably one of the most impressive miniature homes of all time (yes those tiny toilets flush, and the little lights turn on). You’ll also have a chance to visit St. George’s. This Gothic chapel serves as a royal mausoleum, and is the final resting place of Henry VIII, Charles I, George VI and the Queen Mother. It’s also where the eyes of the entire world were fixed in May of 2018, as Prince Harry married Meghan, Duchess of Sussex in this sacred space. 

A Look at London 

Panoramic aerial skyline view of London

If your heart is set on architectural marvels, you simply must visit London. We could spend all day talking about the buildings—both old and new—that make London one of the world’s great cities, but for now, we’d like to highlight four of our absolute favorites.   

The Shard

London is a city with roots that trace back beyond the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the world’s most culturally and economically important cities, and a list of its notable citizens reads like a who’s who of influential people throughout time. Simply put, it’s one of humankind’s greatest treasures. Of course, with so much history, you might assume it’s difficult for something new to come along and capture the city’s attention. For the most part, you may be right. And yet, the Shard has done just that—and become a modern London icon in the process. 

The Shard skyscraper in London

At 95-storeys, the Shard towers over 1,000 feet, cutting through the skies with its sharp, jagged form that resembles a fragment of broken glass. Its Neo-Futurism design completely revolutionized the London skyline when it was inaugurated in 2012, with architect Renzo Piano imagining the building as a spire-like sculpture rising up from the River Thames. 

It should come as no surprise that the design of this flamboyant building did draw the ire of some Londoners. In fact, English Heritage, a charity that manages over 400 historic monuments, buildings, and places, described the plans for the building as "a shard of glass through the heart of historic London." With that, the building had its name, and its legend (and height) began to grow. Despite the pushback, it's hard to deny that Piano was on to something special. In fact, in 2014, the Shard won first place at the Emporis Skyscraper Awards, and was hailed as "a skyscraper that is recognized immediately and which is already considered London's new emblem."

Looking for a spectacular view from the tower? Make your way up to the viewing platforms on the 69th and 72nd-floors. Or, pay a visit to one of the building's restaurants or bars (there are six), where you can pair your incredible views with a drink or meal. 

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge in London, UK

There are two things you simply must know before visiting Tower Bridge on the River Thames. First, this is not London Bridge. There is no nursery rhyme about Tower Bridge falling down. That said, the bridges are less than a 15-minute walk from each other, so you could easily visit both (though we think Tower Bridge is far more impressive). Second, it is considered one of London's most enduring (and endearing) landmarks—one that must be seen when you visit the city with us.

Built in 1894, Tower Bridge is highlighted by Neo-Gothic towers and suspension struts as blue as the sky. Far from just extraordinary to look at, the bridge was an engineering feat when it was built, and remains a fantastically functional crossing to this day. When it was constructed, the bridge featured a hydraulic system that fed water into steam engines capable of raising the roadway and allowing incoming ships to pass along the River Thames. As times have changed, the bridge is now electrically powered, but still raises as often as 10 times a day to allow pleasure crafts to make their way along the water. 

Want more than just a glimpse of a London icon? Move inside the towers to explore everything from the Victorian Engine Rooms to the high-level walkways, all while learning about the bridge's history and cultural impact on the city. Oh, and if you're feeling brave, step onto the tower's glass floor for a glimpse of the working bridge below!   

The Gherkin

The sun shines on the Gherkin in London

With so much to see and do in London, you shouldn’t find yourself searching for something to experience. But, if you do find yourself in such a pickle, we recommend paying a visit to the Gherkin. Officially known as 30 St Mary Axe, the Gherkin got its nickname thanks to its pickle-like appearance. But this building is more than just a fun shape, it’s one of the finest examples of contemporary architecture in the world. 

Built in 2003 by the award-winning architect Norman Foster, the building still feels futuristic all these years later. Beyond its shape, the building is perhaps best known for its glass facade with diamond-shaped panels. While this look carries obvious visual appeal, it actually serves a greater purpose. The swirling panels you see are the result of an energy-saving system installed during construction that allows air to easily flow up through the building.

If you’re wondering if it’s possible to get a view from the top of the Gherkin, you’re in luck. While the majority of the floors in this 41-storey building are reserved for the people who work on them, you can enjoy elevated (literally) cuisine with a view at HELIX on the 39th floor. Seating is limited, so we recommend booking in advance if you want to guarantee your view (and meal) while visiting. 

One final interesting fact about the Gherkin. During the early days of redeveloping this site, and well before construction began on the building, workers came across the remains of a Roman woman estimated to be about 1,600 years old. The remains were placed in the Museum of London where they stayed until 2007, when the developers of the Gherkin insisted the woman be returned to her original resting site for a proper, final burial. Today, you’ll find a plaque at the base of the building dedicated to her, as well as marble benches with an inscription that reads “To the spirits of the dead / the unknown young girl / from Roman London / lies buried here.”

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, London

No look at the architecture and buildings of England would be complete without a visit to Westminster Abbey. A mishmash of architectural styles, the Abbey is predominantly known for its Early English Gothic design. Over the years, the Abbey has been home to some of the most significant moments in English history, including almost every coronation of an English or British monarch since 1066 and 16 royal weddings (most recently, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge). 

The ornate sanctuary that lies at the heart of the Abbey is absolutely breathtaking to see in person. In front of its High Altar, you’ll find the Cosmati Pavement, which dates all the way back to 1268. The stone and glass pieces inlaid in geometrical patterns throughout the pavement are beautiful and sophisticated, with a design unlike any other at this scale. And, if you’re placing bets on the end of the world, the Cosmati Pavement features an inscription the predicts the world will last for 19,683 years. So, the good news is there’s plenty of time left to explore. 

While visiting the Abbey, be sure to visit Poets' Corner. This area is the final resting place for some of the world’s greatest literary heavyweights, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Johnson, and Rudyard Kipling. Science is not to be outdone by the arts, however, and not far from Poets’ Corner you’ll find Scientists’ Corner. This particular area is home to the ashes of Stephen Hawking, as well as the final resting places of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

You can take a closer look at Westminster Abbey, the Tower Bridge, and more when you join us in London as part of our exciting Land Program

Take a Trip Through Time in England

From sensational skyscrapers to mighty medieval fortresses, England runs the architectural gamut—and it’s all waiting for you to discover when you visit Old Blighty with us

Browse our Upcoming voyages to England today.     

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