Westminster in London
Westminster is a district of central London.
Westminster is a city in its own right, the twin to the ancient City of London further east and historically they jointly formed the focus of what is today regarded as London. The Palace of Westminster came to be the principal royal residence after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, and later housed the developing Parliament and law courts of England. The neighbouring Westminster Abbey became the traditional venue of the coronation of England regents. Westminster has therefore been the seat of royal, and later parliamentary, government and power for 900 years.
As a result, many of its attractions are of an historical and cultural variety. Even so Westminster very much retains a bustling, modern feel as the centre of British government and is often used as shorthand for Parliament and the political community (including the elected Government) of the United Kingdom generally.
For the traveller and for the scope of this article, it is important to understand though that the district of Westminster is bounded to the north by Trafalgar Square and Mayfair, to the east by Covent Garden and to the west by Knightsbridge and Chelsea.
St. James's is the region of Westminster that encompasses Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster and the eponymously named park. This is a very affluent area of the city and has a great deal to offer visitors. Belgravia to the west of Buckingham Palace is probably the grandest residential area in the whole of the United Kingdom. Victoria and Pimlico in the south-west are the least grand regions of the district but still have much to offer including The Tate Britain, some wonderful Regency architecture and a number of good value accommodation options.
The district is serviced by the following tube stations:
- Westminster (Circle, District and Jubilee lines)
- Embankment (Bakerloo, Circle, District and Jubilee lines.
- Green Park (Jubilee. Piccadilly and Victoria lines)
- Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line)
- Pimlico (Victoria line)
- St James's Park (Circle and District lines).
- Victoria (Circle, District and Victoria lines).
The nearest mainline train stations are London Waterloo (approximately 15 minutes walk) and London Victoria (20 min walk). It is worth taking the tube from these two stations to arrive at Westminster.
- Westminster Millennium Pier . You can take a circular cruise.
- Banqueting House (address: Whitehall SW1A 2ER) (directions: tube: Westminster) +44 870 751 5178
price: £4.00, students (with ID) and seniors (60+) £3.00, children 5-16 £2.60, under 5 free
open: M-Sa 10AM-5PM, closed Su, Bank Holidays and 24 December-1 Jan (inclusive); The Banqueting House is liable to close at short notice for government functions, telephone to check before you travel
Designed and built in 1619-1622 by the Neo-Classical architect Inigo Jones, The Banqueting House is now all that remains of Whitehall Palace, the sovereign's principal residence from 1530-1698 when most of it was destroyed by fire. Renowned for its architecture and paintings (by Rubens, amongst others), the building is also famous for being the scene of Charles I's execution in 1649 at the end of the English Civil War.
- Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum (address: Clive Steps, King Charles Street SW1A 2AQ) (directions: tube: Westminster)
price: £10, children under 16 free, seniors £8, students £8, unwaged £5, group concessions available
open: 9:30AM-6PM daily (last admission 5PM), closed 24-26 Dec
A branch of the Imperial War Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms preserves the underground corridors and rooms from which Churchill and the cabinet directed the war against Hitler and the Nazis, maintained almost exactly as they were left in 1945. Newly-opened in 2004, the attached Churchill Museum is the world's first permanent museum dedicated to the life and wartime achievements of Sir Winston Churchill, recently voted the Greatest Briton.
- Cleopatra's Needle (address: Victoria Embankment, along the Thames) (directions: tube: Embankment)
Cleopatra's Needle originated in the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis, in the Temple of Atum, but the Romans moved it to Alexandria in 12 BC. In 1819, viceroy Mehemet Ali presented Cleopatra's Needle to the British, commemorating military victories in Egypt, but it remained in Alexandria until 1877 when transportation was arranged to bring it to London. On the voyage, the ship capsized in a storm, killing six crewmembers. Cleopatra's Needle was thought to be lost, but Spanish trawlers found it afloat a few days later, and after some repairs, it arrived in London on 21 Jan 1878. The obelisk is flanked by two faux-sphinxes, which show the effects of bombings of London during World War II. Today, Cleopatra's Needle shows some wear from exposure to London's damp weather.
- Downing Street (directions: tube: Westminster)
Site of the London residences for the Prime Minister (No. 10) and the Chancellor (No. 11).
- Henry VII's Ladys Chapel
Described as the wonder of the entire world, this chapel at the eastern end of Westminster Abbey is a breathtakingly beautiful masterpiece of medieval architecture.
- St. Margaret's Church (address: Parliament Sq) (directions: tube: Westminster. Next to Westminster Abbey within Parliament Sq)
open: M-F 9:30AM-3:45PM, Sa 9:30AM-1:45PM, Su 2PM-5PM
St. Margaret's is the church of the British Parliament, more specifically, the parish church of the House of Commons.
- Westminster Abbey (directions: tube: Westminster) +44 20 7654 4900 email@example.com
price: £12, concessions £6 (seniors 60+, children 11-16, students with full-time student card), family ticket £18 (two adults and two children under 18), children under 11 free (maximum of two children per paying adult)
open: Abbey admission: M-Tu and Th-F 9:30AM-3:45PM, W 9:30AM-7PM, Sa 9:30AM-1:45PM (extended in summer to 3:45PM), Su open for worship only, the Abbey closes 1 hr after last admission; Chapter House admission: 10:30AM-4PM daily; Westminster Abbey Museum: 10:30AM-4PM daily; Pyx Chamber: 10:30AM-4PM daily; Cloisters: 8AM-6PM daily
Note that the Abbey itself charges tourists for entry, but not for worshippers. Attend a church service for free and enjoy some of the finest choral music in London from the choir. Evensong at 4PM or 5PM, depending on time of year, is an especially good bet. The Abbey is the traditional scene for the Coronation of British monarchs and the burial place of many past kings and queens.
- Whitehall (directions: tube: Westminster, Charing Cross)
This street runs between Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square, and is the site of several British government buildings. Horseguards Parade, and the heavily guarded entrance to Downing Street (see below) are on the west side. Banqueting House is on the east side. In the centre of the street sits the Cenotaph, a war memorial erected following the World War I, which is the centre of the annual Remembrance Day ceremony on 11 November.
- The Jewel Tower
This small tower across the road from the Houses of Parliament is the only part of the original Palace of Westminster still standing. While it is overshadowed in splendour by the surrounding buildings, it's well worth a visit, and has good displays about the early history of Westminster.
Palace of Westminster
Parliament Square (tube: Westminster), .
On the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Palace of Westminster (more widely known as the Houses of Parliament) is the seat of Parliament in the United Kingdom. It's often termed the "Mother of All Parliaments" - an exaggeration, but perhaps only a slight one. The present building largely dates from the 19th century when it was rebuilt following a fire in a splendid example of Victorian neo-Gothic architecture. The House of Commons (elected Members of Parliament or MPs) is located to the north of the building and is decorated with green leather upholstery, and the House of Lords (unelected Lords) is located to the south and decorated with red leather upholstery.
- Visiting while the Houses are in session. While the house is sitting (most of the year), visitors can sit in the Strangers' Gallery of the Commons and Lords. There is no charge to do this. You should queue at St. Stephen's Entrance (opposite Westminster Abbey). Depending on the popularity of debates happening in the Houses, queueing for admission can take 30min or more. Avoid Wednesday lunchtime when the Prime Minister takes questions, and you are unlikely to find space at all unless you have a ticket from a Member of Parliament. If you do not wish to visit the Commons, then tell one of the police officers standing guard outside that you only wish to see the House of Lords, and you should be able to enter immediately. Upon entry, you pass through a metal detector, and are very thoroughly searched. You then proceed into St. Stephen's Hall, where you are seated to wait for admission. A representative of the Sergeant-at-Arms gives you a slip of paper to write your name and address on.
- House of Commons Strangers' Gallery. When called, you proceed from St. Stephen's Hall to the Central Hall, and then upstairs. You must leave all items (bags, cameras, mobile phones, writing and written material) outside and then proceed through to the Strangers' Gallery. Upon entry, you can pick up a copy of the proceedings being discussed in the House that day. You should be quiet, anything above a whisper may lead to you being asked to leave. After leaving the Commons, you head back down to the Central Hall.
- House of Lords Strangers' Gallery. If you head away from the Commons, you pass along a corridor towards the Lords. If you ask to visit the Strangers' Gallery, a representative of Black Rod asks you to complete another slip of paper with your name and address. You then proceed up a staircase to the Lords Strangers' Gallery. Again, all items need to be left outside. Of the two chambers, the Lords is by far the most impressive, featuring the stunning throne (opposite the Strangers' Gallery) upon which the Queen delivers a speech outlining the Government's plans for the year ahead at the State Opening each year. Also, the queue for the Lords is always very short.
- Westminster Hall. After visiting the two Houses, visitors pass back through St. Stephen's Hall, and through Westminster Hall. Westminster Hall is one of the few areas of Parliament in which photography is permitted, and it is a very impressive place, dating back to the 9th century. Plaques on the floor mark where the bodies of deceased members of the royal family lay in state (most recently the Queen Mother in 2002), and significant events which took place in the hall (such as the trial of King Charles I).
- Summer Opening +44 870 9063773
open: 28 Jul-27 Sep M-Sa
While the Houses are in recess, the Palace of Westminster is generally closed - apart from the long Summer recess, during which tours are run through the building, led by Parliamentary employees. Popularity of these tours means you're best advised to book in advance - a stall erected on the green opposite the Palace of Westminster on Millbank sells tickets in the Summer.
- Clock Tower (Big Ben)
Strictly limited numbers of tickets are available to climb the Clock Tower (containing the Great Bell, commonly known as "Big Ben"). British visitors should write to their Member of Parliament to request tickets. Unfortunately there are no tours for overseas visitors.
The main residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (reigned since 1952, coronated 1953). Other residences are Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle.
- Changing of the Guard
open: May-Jul 11:30AM daily, other times see website
Each morning between May and July at 11:30am the guard changes outside Buckingham Palace. The rest of the year, the guard changes on alternate days, weather permitting. A board is placed outside the palace in the morning to say whether the Changing of the Guard ceremony will take place or not. There is no charge to view the Changing of the Guard - simply turn up and stand at the fence in front of the Palace, but it is worth getting there early to ensure a good view, particularly when the weather is fine.
- Summer Opening
open: 31 Jul-29 Sep 9:45AM-3:45PM
19 State Rooms open to the public, while the Queen is staying at her Scottish palace at Balmoral. Places are strictly limited, and it might not be possible to just turn up and get a ticket for a specific entry time, visitors should really book in advance to ensure admission.
- Tate Britain (address: Millbank) (directions: Nearest tube: Pimlico)
price: Admission free (though there is a charge for temporary exhibitions)
open: M-Su 10AM-5:50PM
This gallery houses the Tate collection of British art from 1500 through to contemporary art. A side wing collects together the gallery's collection of paintings by Turner, including some stunning seascapes. Temporary exhibitions are exceedingly varied - recent examples include exhibitions of Turner's paintings of Venice and the work of photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. The best known exhibition is the Turner Prize, consists of works by four artists shortlisted for the annual contemporary art prize, which runs from late October to January each year.
- See the guardsmen standing outside Horseguards Parade. Also, watch the daily changing of the guard.
- Free Walking Tours (address: Duke of Wellingon Arch) (directions: tube: Hyde Park Corner exit 2)
price: Free, donation
open: 11AM and 1PM daily
There are a number of regular free walking tours in London but the most well known leaves from The Duke of Wellingon Arch twice daily and covers many of the important sights in Westminster. Duration about 2 and half hours.
Outside of London/Leicester Square and London/Covent Garden, there are several important theatres in Westminster, most notably near Victoria Station. For current programmes please check the relevant theatre website or the official London theatreland listings here . Budget travellers should look for last minute bookings and off-peak performances.
Most of the booking office numbers given will only work from within the United Kingdom. If you want to make a booking from overseas, use the relevant website.
- Apollo Victoria Theatre (address: 17 Wilton Road, SW1V 1LG) +44 0844 826 8000
- Victoria Palace Theatre (address: Victoria Street, SW1E 5EA) +44 0844 871 7618
Perhaps the world's most famous shirts are made in Jermyn St SW1 and resident shirtmakers include:
Victoria Street has high-street shops.
- Cardinal Place (address: Victoria St) (directions: tube: Victoria, St. James's Park)
High-street shops for example Marks & Spencer and a selection of chain restaurants.
- National Map Centre (address: 22-24 Caxton St) (directions: tube: Westminster) +44 20 7222246 firstname.lastname@example.org
open: M-F 9AM-5PM
Fantastic for maps and guide books.
- Circus (address: 1 Upper James St) +44 20 7534 4000
A popular haunt for theatre goers, this French bistro serves food as authentic as you would find on the other side of the Channel.
- Inn the Park (address: St. James's Park) (directions: tube: St James's Park) +44 20 7451 9999 email@example.com
- Quaglinos (address: 16 Bury St) +44 20 7930 6767
Owned by famed designer Terence Conrad, it serves standard food with a menu that changes frequently. It features live jazz every night and on Sunday lunch.
- Great India Tandoori (address: 79 Lower Sloane Street) 020 7730 2207
One of Chelsea's most popular restaurants. Established by Satir Ahmed in 1960.
- Cardinal Place (address: Victoria St) (directions: tube: Victoria, St. James's Park)
A selection of chain restaurants.
There are a large number of excellent pubs in the St. James's area of Westminster.
- The Albert (address: Victoria St)
A nice (but often crowded) traditional pub, dating back to the 1860s, named in honour of Queen Victoria's husband. Portraits of British prime ministers (many of them signed) hang on the stairwell, and Chelsea pensioners (British war veterans) can often be seen propping up the bar.
- The Elusive Camel Victoria (address: 27 Gillingham St) +44 871 984 1229, +44 20 7233 9004 firstname.lastname@example.org
Popular with a young and sporty crowd, with a game always on screen, it is a great place to have a drink and cheer your favorite team.
- The Red Lion (address: Whitehall) (directions: Half way between Parliament Sq and 10 Downing St)
A good place to see politicians and political commentators. The pub television shows (muted) debates from the House of Commons, and division bell rings here to summon Members of Parliament to vote on important issues in Parliament.
Gay and Lesbian
- Heaven (address: The Arches, Villiers and Craven St) +44 20 7930 2020
The world's most famous gay nightclub. A must visit while in London, one of the biggest and most established institutions in the city.
There are lots of small B&Bs in the Pimlico and Victoria areas which offer very good value for this part of London.
- The Wellington (address: 71 Vincent Sq, SW1P 2PA,) (directions: tube: Pimlico)
price: From £30
Located in quiet area. Rate includes simple breakfast. Internet access available. 10 min from Victoria Station.
- Mint Westminster (address: 30 John Islip St) +44 20 7630 1000
price: From £150
A central london boutique hotel in Westminster. Offers a restaurant, bar, meeting venue and event offers.
- Jolly Hotel St Ermin's (address: 2 Caxton St, SW1H 0QW) (directions: tube: Westminster or Victoria) +44 20 72227888 email@example.com
price: From 115
Small but well appointed rooms in a convenient location near Westminster Abbey.
- Luna & Simone Hotel (address: 47/49 Belgrave Rd, SW1) (directions: tube: Pimlico, Victoria) +44 20 7834 5897
price: Double en-suite £70-90, single basic £35-45
Small yet comfortable hotel with friendly staff.
- Sanctuary House Hotel (address: 33 Tothill St) (directions: tube: Westminster) +44 20 7799 4044 firstname.lastname@example.org
price: From £195
Small hotel in a lovely old building close to Westminster Abbey, part of a popular Fullers pub.
- Crowne Plaza London St James (address: Buckingham Gate SW1E 6AF) +44 20 7834 6655
Four star hotel close to Buckingham Palace and The Houses of Parliament. Has three restaurants, Spa, and Gym.
- The Grosvenor (address: Buckingham Palace Rd) (directions: tube: Victoria) +44 871 3769038 email@example.com
Handily located next door to Victoria railway and tube station.
- St. James’s Hotel & Club (address: 7-8 Park Pl) (directions: tube: Green Park, just off St. James’s St near Mayfair) +44 20 7316 1600 firstname.lastname@example.org
price: From £215
A luxury townhouse hotel.
For £0.25 per message, visitors to the Westminster area can use a toilet-finding service called SatLav. Just text the word "toilet" to 80097 in order to receive a reply with directions to the nearest public toilet.
- Just across the river on the South Bank are the London Eye and the Saatchi Gallery