Westminster might be best known for being home to the Houses of Parliament, but it’s not just a hub for politicians or a destination for protest. The area is home to several well-known landmarks, a handful of hidden gems, and the odd bit of pageantry.
Getting there is easy, and depending on your access needs, Westminster Station will take you within quick reach of all the area’s major landmarks. But, the station does get pretty busy, especially during peak times. So if you can, take a stroll over from nearby areas like Trafalgar Square or wander over Westminster Bridge from the South Bank. From towering churches to famous bells and beautiful parks – here’s our guide to things to do in Westminster.
Listen to Big Ben as it bongs
First things first, let’s address the clock tower properly. Although it’s the most iconic clock tower in London, it’s official name isn’t actually Big Ben, that’s the name of the bell. The official name of this booming landmark is The Elizabeth Tower, and you can see and hear the bell ring out every hour, right outside of Westminster tube station. The Elizabeth Tower reopens officially in summer 2023, and although preview tours were snapped up quickly – it’s worth keeping an eye on the website for cancellations and future dates.
Take a tour of the Houses of Parliament
The Palace of Westminster, most commonly known as the Houses of Parliament – is the seat of the UK government. And members of the public can take 90 minute tours to discover centuries of political history, architecture. The tour also includes a stop off at the House of Commons Chamber, so you can see where politicians shout at one another over the issues of the day. There are guided tours available in English, and multimedia tours available in nine languages: English, British Sign Language, Welsh, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese.
Watch the Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Hang around Westminster long enough and you’re bound to witness a procession or parade at some point. But if you actually want to guarantee a bit of pageantry head to the front of Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing the Guard ceremony. It’s a formal ceremony where the group of soldiers protecting Buckingham Palace are replaced by a new group of soldiers every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 10:45 and lasts around 45 minutes.
It’s free to attend, but usually draws a crowd, so get there early. Some of the prime viewing spots include the front of Buckingham Palace gates, the steps of the Victoria Memorial opposite, and The Mall where you can see the guards march past in all their traditional get up, accompanied by a mix of traditional and contemporary music.
Go to Westminster Abbey (and there’s a Cathedral too)
Unusually, Westminster has both an Abbey and Cathedral in close proximity. This causes confusion, even among Londoners, but they’re not the same place. The two buildings represent two different Christian denominations. The Anglican Abbey is the better known of the two, famous for its coronations and royal weddings. The Cathedral is also pretty massive (as they tend to be!) and is a Catholic church. Both are open to visitors, although the Abbey charges a fairly steep £27.00 for a 90 minute tour, but if you have the time, then it’s worth it for the architecture and history. Westminster Abbey is free for worship, including Evensong, which is fairly popular with tourists.
The Cathedral is free to visit, but, if you’re short on time, they’re both quite a sight to behold from the outside too.
Info on Westminster Abbey https://www.westminster-abbey.org/
Info on Westminster Cathedral https://westminstercathedral.org.uk/
Eat Indian food in an old Library at Cinnamon Club
Something of a hidden gem, just behind Westminster Abbey – is the Cinnamon Club, chef Vivek Singh’s restaurant that is known for being the original modern Indian restaurant. It also has the nickname The Westminster Canteen, due to the number of politicians and political journalists who frequent it. But, no one comes here for the suits, it’s all about delicious modern Indian food in the grand surroundings of the old Westminster Library, a Grade II listed building.
If you’ve spent the morning wandering the Westminster sights, it’s worth booking in for the set lunch menu, which is £35.00 for three courses. The early or late dinner menu is also decent value at £38.00. And if you do go later on, pop in to the downstairs bar for a pre or post-dinner cocktail.
Visit the Churchill War Rooms
There’s history to explore beneath Westminsters streets, as well as in the grand, old buildings above them. The Churchill War Rooms is the underground nerve-centre where British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet worked during World War II. It’s located directly under HM Treasury, and was restored and opened to the public in the 1980s.
It’s worth allowing a couple of hours to make the most of your visit, there’s a lot to see, including the Cabinet Room, Map Room, and lots of interactive elements as well as digitised copies of official documents.
Tickets: £27.25 (adults)
Visit statues and monuments
Wandering around Westminster you’ll find plenty of statues of historic figures, particularly around parliament square. But before you go there, head to Westminster Bridge to say hello to Boudica (also known as Boadicea or Boudicea), Queen of the ancient Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the Roman Empire. Although she was defeated, Boudica is still remembered for her bravery, and she cuts an imposing Bronze figure overlooking the Thames.
As well as ancient defenders of freedom, you can also pay a visit to the statues of more recent influential figures including Millicent Fawcett, women’s rights activist and former President of South Africa and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela – both are on Parliament Square. Westminster is also home to the Cenotaph, a national war memorial, unveiled after World War I and is the focal point for Remembrance Sunday in November each year.
Take a wander through St James’s Park
If you need a breather from pounding the pavement, head to St James’s Park. It’s one of the Royal Parks, and sits right opposite Buckingham Palace. The park is beautiful all year round, but particularly in spring or autumn for seasonal colour appreciation. Although if you’re visiting on a hot day, there is plenty of shade and a lovely lake – which is a great spot for leisurely ice cream or picnic.