Wellington Arch is a triumphal arch located in the heart of historic London. It anchors a major traffic intersection where Hyde Park, Green Park, and Buckingham Palace Garden come together, and is situated just across the street from Apsley House. Dating to the 1820s, Wellington Arch is one of the city’s most recognizable public landmarks, and its hollow interior contains history exhibits, art galleries, and a balcony providing visitors tremendous views of London.
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History of Wellington Arch
For an attraction that’s so popular and well-known today, Wellington Arch has had a relatively tumultuous past. During the 1820s, King George IV desired both to commemorate the previous decade’s military victory over Napoleon and create a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace. Thus, by royal request plans for a triumphal arch were put together by the architect Decimus Burton. What exists of Burton’s original design was constructed between 1825 and 1827, but the full version of his plan was never built on account of budget overruns. The structure stood in its early days facing Hyde Park Screen and was almost completely undecorated.
By 1846, a massive bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington had been placed on top of Wellington Arch. However, this addition was widely disliked, criticized from all sides by observers who deemed the statue unattractive, gaudy, and much too large for the arch. As a result, when Wellington Arch was moved to a new location (its present location) in the late 1880s (it was moved in order to improve the flow of traffic), the much-derided statue was abandoned. Some few years later the sculptor Adrian Jones was commissioned to create a new work for the top of Wellington Arch, and this piece (the one that tops the monument today) was put into place in 1912.
Wellington Arch Highlights
Adrian Jones’s bronze sculpture is the standout component of Wellington Arch today. Resting atop the arch, this monumental work consists of a “quadriga”—a four-horse chariot of the type popular in the days of Ancient Rome—driven by Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory. It is said that this artwork is the largest bronze sculpture in all of Europe.
Once you’ve marveled at the scope of the attraction from ground level, it’s time to enjoy the scenic views on offer from Wellington Arch’s balconies. Once you’ve taken the elevator or climbed 65 steps along a spiral staircase, you’ll have access to beautiful sightlines looking out over Green Park, Buckingham Palace Garden, and beyond into the historic heart of London.
The hollow interior of Wellington Arch is taken up today by multiple floors of gallery space featuring a variety of exhibits. A permanent exhibit on the first floor of the attraction traces the history of Wellington Arch, while upstairs another permanent exhibit sheds light on the Duke of Wellington’s role in the famous 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Occasionally, Wellington Arch hosts special exhibits, too, namely rotating installations showcasing the work of influential contemporary artists.
More to See and Do at Wellington Arch
As your big visit to Wellington Arch approaches, keep in mind the following tidbits.
•The sightlines on display from Wellington Arch’s viewing platforms are spectacular no matter when you visit, but if you time your stop here perfectly, you could be in for a special treat. That’s because the Household Cavalry passes straight through Wellington Arch on their way to the ceremonial Changing of the Guard. For more information, visit the Household Cavalry Museum official website.
•You’ll encounter a pleasant gift shop within Wellington Arch. Run by English Heritage, the organization responsible for maintaining Wellington Arch (as well as 400 other historic sites), this store sells a charming assortment of books, toys, collectibles, jewelry, and assorted souvenirs.
•It’s worth taking advantage of Wellington Arch’s proximity to Apsley House, a nearby historic site that was once the home of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. Today the property is a museum renowned for its impressive art collection, historic military artifacts, and opulent palatial interiors. Best of all, it’s located just steps from Wellington Arch.
•To learn more about what type of temporary exhibits might be showing at Wellington Arch when you’re scheduled to visit, be sure and check out its official website in advance of your trip.
Why Wellington Arch Should Be on Your Must-See List
Wellington Arch is one of London’s best-known landmarks, an iconic public monument that should make every visitor’s must-see list. It’s a great spot to snap a bunch of “I Was There” photographs, and the attraction’s prominent location makes it easy to get to when you’re already planning on seeing such nearby famous sites as Buckingham Palace, The Queen’s Gallery, or Kensington Palace. A visit to Wellington Arch is also perfect for those facing a time crunch: while a worthwhile destination, the site’s museum isn’t the largest, making it a flexible stop if you’ve got one eye on the clock.