The City of Westminster is one of the most important places in Greater London. Home of all aspects of the British government, the Houses of Parliament, the Court of St. James, the principal residence of the monarch, and the church in which every Sovereign has been crowned since 1066 are all found here. However, that’s not all you’ll see in this London borough, and we have identified our top ten favorite places to see in the City of Westminster. You can let us know your own top spots in the comments.
Number 10 Downing Street
Easily one of the most well-known addresses in the UK (if not the world), Number 10 Downing Street is the home of the Prime Minister. While we might be able to tour the White House in the States, No. 10 doesn’t allow public access. However, you can still stand outside the gates and maybe get lucky for a glance at the PM or some other visiting dignitary.
Fortnum & Mason
Founded in 1707 as a grocery store, Fortnum’s is one of the largest department stores in London and still specializes in groceries as well as other items. Full of plenty of upscale items, the store is known primarily for its hampers (picnic baskets to us). F&M makes them for practically every occasion, so you may need one to grab one for a memorable picnic at one of our other locations on this list.
Churchill/Cabinet War Rooms
Part of the Imperial War Museums, the Churchill War Rooms (sometimes called the Cabinet War Rooms) is an underground complex where the British government conducted itself during World War II. Located under the Treasury Building, the government took steps to preserve the rooms after the war and today you can see them much as they were during one of the most trying times in British history.
The original member of the Tate family of art museums, the Tate Britain opened in 1897 as a free art museum to the public. The Grade II listed building houses some of the Tate’s 66,000 works from 1500 to the present. Plenty of the collections are part of the free aspects of the museum, though some special exhibits you may have to buy a ticket for.
St. James’s Palace
The official residence of the Sovereign remains at St. James’s Palace since it was constructed by King Henry VIII, which is the reason why ambassadors are admitted “to the Court of St. James”. While several members of the Royal Family do live here, it is one of the few royal residences that is open to the public for tours. It tends to be closed for any major government functions, so be sure to check before you go.
St. James’s Park
Nearby is St. James’s Park, fifty-seven acres of greenery built by King Charles II after he became enamored of the elaborate gardens of the French during his exile. It has a lake with two islands and a squadron of pelicans that have lived in the park for 400 years. You can also peruse the beautiful flower beds on your way to your next destination.
If you haven’t had enough art at the Tate, you can visit the UK’s main depository of artworks at the National Gallery. The Gallery has about 2300 paintings, sculptures, sketches, and more from the Mid-13th Century to the present along with special exhibits that change regularly. The National Gallery also offers many other exciting opportunities, whether you’re hungry or want to sketch while you’re there.
One of the most important buildings in Britain, an abbey has been located on this site since the 10th Century, and the construction of the current church began in 1042. It is here that King William I was crowned on Christmas Day, 1066 and it has been the site of coronations, marriages, funerals, and more important state events ever since.
Palace of Westminster and Big Ben
Next up is the seat of the British Government. The Palace of Westminster has been home to the government since it was the palace of Canute the Great. The first Parliament (or “Model Parliament”) met here in 1295, and it became their home after King Henry VIII vacated it for the Palace of Whitehall. The current building dates from the 19th Century after a fire destroyed the original Houses of Parliament and you can tour the building and even sit in the public galleries during sessions of the House of Commons.
The home to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, this palace built by the Duke of Buckingham and eventually home to Queen Charlotte became the residence of the monarch when Queen Victoria moved there in 1837. Open only a few times a year to the public when the Queen is not in residence, most tourists are content to view it from outside, especially when it’s time for the changing of the guard.