Westminster Palace, more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, forms part of Westminster's Unesco World Heritage site which also incorporates Westminster Abbey and the small medieval St Margaret's Church. The World Heritage site features Sir Charles Barry's Victorian neo-gothic Parliament buildings alongside the splender of the much older gothic architecture of Westminster Abbey dating from its conception by Henry III in 1245. The gothic influence of Westminster Abbey on Barry and Augustus Pugin who worked on the Houses of Parliament is obvious and they are credited with the beginnings of the Victorian revival of the gothic. » Find Accommodation in Westminster
The central Westminister and Whitehall area is a positive feast of historic buildings and museums and is one of London's most popular areas with visitors. Highlights include the spectacular Classical Palladian Banqueting House by Inigo Jones dating from 1622 on Whitehall and the famous Horse Guards Parade ground, home to the annual Trooping of the Colour. The Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum on King Charles Street features in London's Top Ten attractions and iconic renowned London sites are in the area including 10 Downing Street, the official home of the British Prime Minister, the Cenotaph designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens on Whitehall where the deaths of those who lost their lives in World War I are remembered annually on Remembrance Sunday and the magnificent Big Ben clock which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009.
The Houses of Parliament is the work of Victorian architect Sir Charles Barry. Building was completed in 1870 and the style is mock-gothic, a favourite style of the Victorians. A Palace of Westminster, once home to the Royal Family, has stood on this site however since 1097. Westminster Hall, one of the largest great medieval halls in Europe, is one of the few areas of the original Palace to survive a fire in 1834. Other survivors included St Stephen's Chapel and the Jewel Tower.
The two Houses which meet in Parliament still are the Commons consisting of elected MPs (Members of Parliament) and the Lords. There have been two houses just so since the late 14th century, but the origins of Parliament stretch further back to the 12th century. Increasingly through the 20th century into the 21st century the Commons has become more powerful than the Lords in relation to the passing of laws.
Although both Houses still debate policy, proposed legisation and the issues of the day, only the Commons approves new laws, ie. legislation. Comprehensive details of Parliaments' role today and in the past is via the Houses of Parliament website. The House of Commons chamber was destroyed by Second World War bombing and rebuilt by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The ornate and plush Lords Chamber however survived bombing and is the spectacular work of Barry and Augustus Pugin who designed much of the furniture. Red and gold are the colours here with a throne at the south end from which the Queen gives her annual Queen's Speech which dictates Parliament's plans for the coming year. The event is usually televised.
Big Ben, Parliament's great clock which stands at 96 metres and 12 metres square celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009. Find details on access and tours of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on Parliament's website.
The Jewel Tower is located oppostite the south end of the Houses of Parliament on Abingdon Street.
The Jewel Tower dates from 1365 and was built to house Edward III's treasures. Today you'll find a superb exhibition in here on the history of Parliament and the Jewel Tower itself.
Horse Guards Parade is the striking parade ground which famously hosts the Trooping of the Colour annually in June. Trooping the Colour on Horse Guards in Whitehall draws huge crowds and the event marks the official birthday of the Sovereign. Horse Guards parade was originally a tournament ground of Henry VIII so has a long history as host for spectacular events. Henry VIII once has a tennis court here!
Changing of the Guard is a ceremonial event which takes place daily from May to July and on alternate days at other times through the year (see the Ceremonial Events Army website to confirm times for State Ceremonial events). The stunning historic buildings featuring around Horse Guards are mostly designed by William Kent and date from the 1750s. Buildings include the Old Treasury and Dover House and the view today features the tall London Eye wheel in the background.
The Guards Museum housing artefacts and exhibits on the five regiments of Foot Guards, including Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards as well as two Household Cavalry regiments sits on Birdcage Walk at the Wellington Barracks.
These regiments together are the Sovereign's Household division guarding both the Sovereign and Royal residences. Their history is a fascinating one and the museum explores the battles the regiments have participated in and historic weapons, medals and uniforms are on display. The museum is closed on Ceremonial Days. The Guards Museum's website link right offers further information.
The Cenotaph situated in the centre of Whitehall is the site for Rememberance Day held every second Sunday in November annually to remember the war dead. This suitably sombre monument was designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). Lloyd George had initially invited Lutyens to design a temporary monument for the planned peace procession in July 1919. The Cenotaph was so popularly received that it was rebuilt as a permanent monument in Portland stone the following year. Lutyens was a rather popular choice for monuments and memorials around London, notably around the Tavistock Square area. See the Lutyens Trust website link right for a full listing of Lutyens' work around London including his work in Hampstead.
Downing Street off Whitehall, of which 10 Downing Street is home to the Prime Minister, has been gated off since 1989 and is not open to the public. You can get a good view of this famous street however through the gate. The first British Prime Minister in residence at number 10 was Sir Robert Walpole in 1732. George II presented him with the house and ever since the house has been the Prime Minister's official residence. Number 11 Downing Street is the official home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer whilst number 12 houses the Whips' Office.
The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms off Whitehall on King Charles Street is understandably one of London's most popular historic attractions. Winston Churchill today has iconic status in British history and here within the Cabinet War Rooms Churchill and his War Cabinet made crucial decisions during the Second World War. Churchill's chair still sits within the Cabinet Room and the corridors and rooms remain much as they were during the Second World War. They sit underground, sheltered from air raid bombing and were in operation from the very beginning of the war in 1939 until the final days in August 1945.
Lessons had already been learnt from the First World War and the Spanish Civil War that aerial bombardment of cities and the destruction of Government buildings, factories and civilians was now part of modern warfare. An underground shelter for the Cabinet War Rooms then was a priority from the beginning ensuring that decisions could continue to be made through the London Blitz. Work was begun on the Cabinet War Rooms situated 10 feet underground as early as June 1938. After the war from 1948 it was decided to preserve the Cabinet Room, Churchill's office and bedroom and the annexe as a historic site, but the rooms were not widely known to the public until the 1980s when they were prepared for public access by the Imperial War Museum.
A tour of the Cabinet War Rooms includes the famous Map Room where the war was plotted, the Transatlantic Telephone Room, the official Cabinet Room and Churchill's Room where he slept. Alongside the Cabinet Rooms is the Churchill Museum, the definitive museum on Winston Churchill's 90 years.
The museum is thematically divided into various chapters of Churchill's life including War Leader (1940-1945), Cold War Statesman (1945-65), Young Churchill (1874-1900) and the Wilderness Years (1929-1939). Cutting edge interactive exhibits include the Churchill Lifeline detailing events in each year of Churchill's life. Special events are frequent and include Churchill Lectures and talks, family events, special displays and activities and Private Tours. Details are via the Churchill Museum website.
A historic treasure flanking Whitehall is Inigo Jones' Banqueting House, famous as the first building in central London to be built in the Classical Palladian style but perhaps best known as the site of Charles I's execution. This symetrical masterpiece dates from 1622, and was designed by Jones as a place primarily for Court entertainment.
The exquisite Rubens ceiling within is one of London's great works of art and not to be missed. Charles I would have walked under the Rubens ceiling on 30 January 1649 to his execution on the scaffold outside Banqueting House. In 1660 Charles II was officially restored as monarch here at Banqueting House. This is the only surviving ceiling painted by Rubens still in its original setting. Another key feature within the house is The Undercroft which served as a private 'den' to James I who could escape here to enjoy rare moments of privacy with favoured courtiers.
Westminster hotels situated near The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey are numerous around areas like The Strand and Trafalgar Square.
Westminster Abbey hotels for easy access to this historic London attraction feature superb luxury London hotels on The Strand or opt for 4 or 5 star Westminster hotels around nearby Trafalgar Square.
Westminster Tube station (Jubilee, District & Circle lines) has a choice of exit points clearly signposted for key attractions like Westminster Abbey.
Crowning glory of Covent Garden is the Royal Opera House. Today's spectacular theatre is actually the third to have been built on the site. The previous two were lost to fires and the great portico of todays Royal Opera House was begun in 1857 designed by E.M.Barry. Barry was also responsible for the design of an intended flower market - the adjacent glass fronted Floral Hall.
By 1892 the building was open under its new name, the Royal Opera House. The Second World War period saw the Opera House revert to Music Hall but it famously shifted back to ballet and opera from 1946 when Margot Fonteyn opened in The Sleeping Beauty. Further redevelopments were made to the Royal Opera House by architect Jeremy Dixon in the 1980s.
A selection of companies are in residence at the Royal Opera House including The Royal Ballet, the UK's most celebrated ballet company. Their repertoire includes everything from classical ballet to cutting edge contemporary dance. The Royal Opera company was formed at Covent Garden in 1946 and the Opera House also has its own orchestra. The best then of British opera and ballet is on offer - complete listings of forthcoming performances are via the Royal Opera House website and you can book online.
The welcome is warm, especially to those new to either opera or ballet. There is no dress code and children are welcome. An ample choice of restaurants and bars are on-site and exhibitions pulling on the Opera House's huge archive of costumes run through the year. Backstage tours of this spectacular theatre are also available. Performances of both opera and ballet are often filmed and screened as cinema showings in Leicester Square's Empire and other London cinemas.