Westminster, a city of charms and chimes
explore London’s most iconic locations
Probably one of the most famous boroughs in London Westminster is in easy reach of the Berrys’ Hammersmith drop off point. Containing some of London’s most iconic locations such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace you need to take the tube to Westminster where everything should then be in walking distance.
Known as the City of Westminster since 1540 it belongs historically to the county of Middlesex. It was then established as a borough in 1965 by the amalgamation of the boroughs of Westminster, Paddington, and St. Marylebone. The southern boundary is the River Thames and to the east the city of London. It is the political heart of the capital and includes shopping areas around Piccadilly and Regent Street. Probably one of the most famous buildings is Buckingham Palace which stands at the end of the Mall. This is not the private property of the royal family but belongs to the Crown Estates. Currently occupied by King Charles III and held in trust by the Crown Estates it is publicly funded through what is known as the Sovereign Grant, currently just over £100 million a year.
Buckingham Palace was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham and then acquired by King George III in 1761. Much of what you can see today was added in 1825. It has been a royal residence since 1837 when Queen Victoria moved in and can often be visited during the summer months when the state rooms are opened to the public. A grand building it is one of London’s most famous sights. The palace has around 775 rooms and is visited every year by over 50,000 individuals from around the world. One spectacle which shouldn’t be missed is the Changing of the Guard which takes place at 10.45am and lasts around 45 minutes. The troops get together at St James’ Palace nearby from about 10.00am and then march to Buckingham Palace accompanied by music ready for the change at 10.45am. If you want a good view plan to be there early. Also look out for the free tours which are sometimes available in this vicinity.
Another iconic building in the borough is Westminster Abbey. The site of many famous events including the recent coronation of King Charles III it is well worth visiting. Formally known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster since 1066 it has been the location of a large number of coronations and the burial site of many famous monarchs. If you want to get into Westminster Abbey for free, then go when there is a service due otherwise you may have to pay unless you are there for personal prayer. However the Roman Catholic Cathedral which can be found in Victoria St, London, SW1P 1LT has no restrictions and is totally free.
If you are looking for a challenge you may like to climb Elizabeth Tower which contains Big Ben, the Great Bell. There is a conducted tour which can be booked that takes you up the 334 steps to the belfry where you can experience the inner workings of the tower and stand next to the bell as it strikes the hour, be prepared! Afterwards you will then be able to explore the medieval Westminster Hall. This is a very popular tour so book early.
If you a UK resident, then you may be able to arrange a free tour of the Houses of Parliament through your local MP.
Another attraction are the Churchill War Rooms which are underground. Tours are available but again book early. If you are interested in statues, then you should make for Parliament Square which has a wide selection on offer including Millicent Fawcett famous for her public speaking and involvement in the women’s suffragette campaigns.
There are several art galleries in Westminster and of course excellent shopping areas including Regent Street and Oxford Circus. A favourite with many is Hamleys Toy Store. Started in 1760 in High Street Holborn it moved to its present site in 1881. Listed as the world’s oldest toy store, it is a cornucopia of children’s delights offering everything a child might wish for and a must for any family trip to Westminster.
The borough is full of open spaces and is a great starting point for a trip on the river to see the Tower of London or further afield Greenwich and the Naval College. Westminster has over 100 parks and smaller open spaces. Probably one of the most famous is St James’ Park.
Westminster’s quirkiest spots includes Cockpit Steps. This passage linking Birdcage Walk and Old Queen Street has connections with cockfighting being the last part of the royal cockpit built back in the 18th century when the rich could indulge themselves in this cruel and barbaric pastime. Popular in Tudor times these steps are said to be haunted by a headless woman. Entrance to Cockpit Steps is best made past the Two Chairmen pub in Old Queen Street.
Finally, if you are in the area try to make a visit to Pickering Place. This can be found at the point where St James’s Street meets Pall Mall. The last opening on the left you should be able to spot a tunnel clad in oak panelling. Said to be the smallest courtyard in London it used to be known in former times for its gambling dens and the place to go for a duel.
It is said that London’s last duel took place here.
Packed with sights and quirky hideaways the city of Westminster contains an array of treasures they shouldn’t be missed. Just a stone’s thrown by tube from the London Berry’s drop off point at Hammersmith this is an ideal place to spend the day. So why not make a trip, and discover for the first time , Admiralty Arch nose and the famous 1365 Jewel Tower of Westminster . Built under the direction of William of Sleaford and Henry de Yevele, this housed the personal treasure of King Edward III.