Church & State: Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament
Summary of Area
Let your imagination run back in time a thousand years as you stroll through Westminster, the religious and political heart of London. Rich in history, culture, and iconic landmarks, this walk takes you through Westminster Abbey, where William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066, past the Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Lords, House of Commons, and Big Ben, to the residence of the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street, and finally to the underground headquarters of Churchill’s wartime government.
- Starting Point: Parliament Square (Underground station: Westminster)
- Finishing Point: Churchill Museum & War Rooms (Underground station: St. James’s Park; Westminster)
- Days to Avoid: Sunday (Westminster Abbey open for worship only)
- Best Day: Any week day
- Length of Walk: 1 ½ miles
- Time Needed: 3 hours
1. Parliament Square
Each side of this centrally located square represents a different branch of the state: legislature to the east (Houses of Parliament), executive to the north (Whitehall), judiciary to the west (Supreme Court), and the Church to the south (Westminster Abbey). In recent years, the square has been taken over by protesters who have renamed it “Democracy Village.”
2. Westminster Abbey
This magnificent church has witnessed a thousand years of history and the coronation of nearly every king and queen of this country. Its “Poet’s Corner” is the burial place of the famous – not just poets, but also authors, painters, musicians, and even well-known actors. Most recently, it has become known as the location where the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will take place.
3. St. Margaret’s Church
Though lesser-known than its adjoining sister church, St. Margaret’s has joined Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It, too, has seen its share of historical weddings, funerals, and burials, among which was Winston Churchill’s wedding to Clementine Hozier in 1908.
4. Houses of Parliament
In this impressive Gothic structure on the banks of the Thames, the most powerful branches of the British government – the House of Lords and the House of Commons – gather to debate the nation’s important issues. The most recognizable feature of the Houses of Parliament, aka the Palace of Westminster, is the clock tower of Big Ben.
5. Big Ben
The cenotaph is a war memorial in the middle of Whitehall, designed to honor the dead of WWI. The Queen lays a memorial wreath at the cenotaph every year on November 11, Remembrance Day.
7. No. 10 Downing Street
“Number 10,” as it is known in the UK, is the headquarters of the Queen’s Government and the home of the Prime Minister. It is one of the most famous addresses in the world (perhaps second to 221b Baker Street, home of the famous Sherlock Holmes!).
8. Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms
This museum provides a rare chance to glimpse the makeshift wartime seat of the British government during the German Blitz of WWII. Once the war was over, inhabitants of this underground world were only too glad to leave, and the bunkers were left untouched for decades before they were reopened as a museum.