This article, walking tour, and podcast focuses on the Westminster Area of London and the Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square environs. You can follow along by reading the text below, listening to the podcast, and/or searching for the interactive map and pictures by searching on London, and then Westminster Walk, on the website walkli.com. The screenshots of the map are taken from the Walkli map. The numbers are aligned with the letters on the map. (Click above to listen to the podcast. See below for information and pictures.)
Note about timing: I recommend that you begin this walk at Westminster Tube Station at 9:15 am in order to visit the Churchill War Rooms at 9:30 am when it opens and to be able to see the Changing of the Horse Guards at 11:00 am (Monday through Saturday). Or, if you know you want more time at Churchill War Rooms, plan to begin at Westminster Tube Station at 10:30 am in order to make sure you arrive at the Changing of the Horse Guards at 11:00 am, and then head to Churchill War Rooms at 11:25 am when the Horse Guards ceremony ends. On Sunday, the Changing of the Horse Guards is held at 10 am, so you will want to attend that first before going to the Churchill War rooms.
1-A-Westminster Tube Station
Start at the Westminster Tube Station exit across from Big Ben. Take pictures of Big Ben, and then walk away from the Thames River on Bridge Street and turn right on Parliament Street. Take the first left on King Charles Street and enter the Churchill War Rooms.
2-B-Churchill War Rooms
Churchill War Rooms (address – Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AQ) is the underground bunker where Winston Churchill conducted most of World War II. In the Communications Room you will hear a recording of one of the four broadcasts that Churchill made from here during the war. You will see where Churchill and his staff worked and slept, including the famous Map Room. Much of the museum is actually as it was left at the end of the war or restored to the actual state.
The museum is open from 9:30 am – 7:00 pm daily. It can become quite crowded and lines can be limited, so you may want to consider buying tickets in advance to Churchill War Rooms to ensure entry on your preferred day. Learn more about the Churchill War Rooms at this link:
Get discount tickets online and select your times at this link:
3-C-Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards Ceremony at Horse Guards Parade
Exit the Churchill War Rooms at 10:45 am in order to give yourself about 15 minutes to make your way to the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards Ceremony at Horse Guards Parade. To get there, when you exit the Churchill War Rooms, walk toward St. James’ Park Lake (away from Parliament Street) and take the first right on Horse Guards Parade. Pass over Downing Street, where we will come back later, and take the next right.
Check the latest information about the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards Ceremony here: http://www.householddivision.org.uk/queen-life-guard
11:00 am (only) – The Horse Guards Changing of the Guard Ceremony lasts about 25 minutes. While it is not the larger Changing of the Guard Ceremony that takes place in front of Buckingham Palace down the road (where we will visit next), you will be able to get up close and personal with the horses and guards and this ceremony. When it is over (or just a few minutes before in order to beat the crowds), walk to your left with the park on the right about 1/3 mile to Churchill War Rooms.
4-D – Buckingham Palace
Walk through St. James Park or along The Mall and cross Spur Road at the Victoria Memorial. Buckingham Palace will be in front of you. This huge palace has been the London home of the British Monarchy since 1837 when Queen Victoria assumed the throne. If you prefer to see the Changing of the Guards Ceremony here, check the dates and times at this link to make sure you plan your time accordingly:
In summer, the Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guards usually takes place daily at 11 am. Times and dates vary at other times.
Buckingham Palace is open for visitors at least two months during the year. Check here for visitation information:
Cross Constitution Hill and walk back in the direction you came along The Mall. Turn left on Marlborough Road and right on Pall Mall which will lead you right into the heart of Trafalgar Square, the famous location of national gatherings, celebrations, and democratic protests. Nelson’s Column is the well-known monument in the center, depicting the victory of Admiral Nelson in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. It was erected in 1843.
The large columned-building facing Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery. It contains paintings dating from the years 1200 to 1900. Paintings by Michelangelo, Rubens, Monet, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael are just some of the grand masters on permanent exhibit. It is free and open 10 am – 6 pm daily (until 9 pm on Friday). For the latest information, check the official website here:
7-G-National Portrait Gallery
When you leave the National Gallery, turn left as you face Nelson’s Column with the National Gallery behind you, and walk to the corner of the square and St. Martin’s Place. Turn left and you will come to the building that houses the largest collection of paintings and photographs of important and famous British citizens, National Portrait Gallery. The gallery is free and open 10-6 daily (until 9 pm on Thursday and Friday). For the latest information, check the official website here:
The Portrait Restaurant is upstairs and open during gallery hours (closes one hour earlier), has great food, and nice views over Trafalgar Square. If you would like to make lunch reservations, book here:
8-H-Café in the Crypt
Just across St. Martin’s Place from the National Portrait Gallery is St. Martin’s in the Fields church. The crypt has a café, Café in the Crypt, serving reasonably priced and tasty food, including afternoon tea, daily. In the summer, food is also served outside at the Café in the Courtyard. For more information or for current hours, check the official website here:
9-I-Number 10 Downing Street
Walk back toward Trafalgar Square and exit onto Strand. Cross Northumberland Avenue and then turn left on Whitehall Street. Walk down Whitehall until you reach Downing Street on your right. Take a look down the street and see if you can see Number 10 Downing Street down the barricaded road. This is the home of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the home of the British government.
Continue walking in the same direction on Whitehall Street. After it changes names to Parliament Street, you will cross Great George Street/Westminster Bridge Road and walk across Parliament Square with Big Ben on your left and Westminster Abbey on your right. When you are inside the pedestrian square, turn right on Broad Sanctuary. Westminster Abbey will be in front of you on your left.
If you would like to visit the abbey, it is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. Admission is £22, or £20 online in advance. Another (free) option is to attend the Evensong choir service at 5:00 pm on Monday through Friday. There is an Evensong service on Saturday at 3:00 pm (5:00 pm on Saturday in the summer). Arrive no later than 4:50 pm, and let security know you are there to attend Evensong at Westminster Abbey in order to be admitted for no charge and with no wait.
For the latest calendar, online tickets and more information, check the Westminster Abbey website here:
11-K-Houses of Parliament
Walk back toward Big Ben and you will be facing the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. In this huge and famous building, the House of Lords and the House of Commons make the laws for the United Kingdom. For information about visiting, check the website here:
At the north end of the Palace of Westminster is the clock tower that houses the large bell, known as Big Ben. While many refer to the entire clock tower as Big Ben, the tower is actually named the Elizabeth Tower. The “Clock Tower” became the “Elizabeth Tower” in 2012 in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
13-M-St. Stephen’s Tavern
Across the road from Parliament on a cobbled road near the Westminster Tube station is St. Stephen’s Tavern, the closest pub to Parliament. A bell rings eight minutes before any Parliament vote to warn the many legislators there that it is time to get back to Parliament to vote. The pub is open daily from 10 am until at least 10 pm.
The walking tour company, London Walks, mentioned in the podcast can be found online at Walks.com
For more London planning tips and highlights, check out my previous podcast 010 for information about the Tower of London, Imperial War Museum, pubs, and general planning tips.
The London tab of this website has even more information about London, including a plan for visiting 20 London Sights in one day. Check it out here:
If you are reading this from the iTunes description, note that the website show notes contain screenshots of maps and pictures of highlights so be sure to check it out at https://oneperfectdayin.org/2017/07/20/london-westminster-area-highlights-walking-tour-one-perfect-day-in-travel-podcast-11/.
Amazon Book Link and additional London podcast links:
Amazon Page for Dr. Loe’s book, One Perfect Trip to London
($8.99 Paperback, $5.99 Kindle)