Born in the center of London, I know my way around the city without having to spend lots of money, and I love sharing its secret places.
Discover London's Historic Centre on Foot
Around 40 million tourists visit London each year, flocking to the city's many attractions and soaking up its dynamic atmosphere. Crowds who emerge from London’s Underground, nicknamed 'The Tube', can’t help feeling a sense of excitement and wonder, as every street corner is crammed with history and impressive architecture.
Discover some of London's hidden history on this walk around 10 of the sites in the city's historic centre.
1. Golden Jubilee Bridge
Above Embankment Station, you’re immediately catapulted into the heart of the city as you climb the steps to the Golden Jubilee Bridge. There are thrilling views of London Eye and Westminster as you take in the picturesque scene along the River Thames. Across the bridge, London Eye is the venue lit up by fireworks every year when Britain sees in the New Year.
2. London Eye
The observation wheel known as The London Eye opened on 31 Dec 1999 to celebrate the millennium. It should have closed 5 years later, but remained open due to its popularity.
The wheel is 443 feet high and weighs 2000 tons. There are 32 pods to ride in, and a circuit takes 30 minutes. Like all major London tourist attractions, entry is expensive, but offers are often available online. Alternatively, there are lower-cost attractions to see city views, including St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Cathedral.
3. County Hall
Next to London Eye is County Hall, crammed with restaurants, hotels and family attractions, such as Sealife Centre and London Dungeon. The building was completed in 1933 to house the County Council. During construction, builders discovered the wreck of a Roman ship dating from around 300AD. Some of the remains are in the Museum of London.
For a special treat, go inside to The Library at the Marriott Hotel. Here you can experience 1920s glamour whilst enjoying a luxurious British Afternoon Tea with breathtaking views of the river. To guarantee a seat, it’s advisable to book in advance.
4. Westminster Bridge
Next to County Hall is Westminster Bridge, leading to London’s most recognizable sight—Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. There’s been a bridge here for centuries, but the one you see today opened in 1862. The arches are painted green to match seating in the House of Commons.
As you cross the bridge, you are walking in scenes from James Bond’s Spectre and Die Another Day as well as 28 Days Later.
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5. Houses of Parliament
Crowds gather here to watch the arrival of Britain’s Ministers and Lords, who go about their business in the building’s 1000 rooms, 100 staircases, 8 bars and 6 restaurants.
The clock tower, known to all as Big Ben, is actually called the Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben is the bell that famously strikes on the hour, with smaller bells making the quarter chimes. The rest of the building, called the Palace of Westminster, was rebuilt in 1860 in the gothic style seen today.
There are two debating chambers, known as the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Discussions take place in the Commons between the UK’s Members of Parliament and the Government. Britain’s peers sit in the House of Lords, and their role is to challenge and improve the way the Commons are governing the country. Visitors can book guided tours and watch debates from the public galleries.
6. Parliament Square
The grassy area lined with trees opposite the Houses of Parliament is Parliament Square. It’s a favourite spot for protests, but tourists also gather here for picnics. Around the square are statues of great statesmen, including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.
7. St Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, one of the world’s most famous cathedrals, and its smaller cousin, St Margaret’s Church, stand side by side in the corner of Parliament Square. Both are worth a visit, although there is an entrance fee for Westminster Abbey. There are concessions for seniors, students and children, and it’s cheaper to book online before you visit.
St Margaret’s Church is the parish church for Westminster. Lords and Members of Parliament can marry here, so the church has seen many society weddings. Some notable figures took their marriage vows here, including diarist Samuel Pepys, and playwright William Shakespeare. There’s a stained glass window in the church celebrating King Henry VIII’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Westminster Abbey has featured on television throughout the world during coverage of royal weddings and funerals. It is here that Prince William married Katherine Middleton, and their marriage license is on view in the abbey.
British monarchs are crowned here whilst seated on the 700-year-old coronation chair housed inside. The abbey is also the final resting place of many British monarchs, and the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, took place here. Inside you can also find the graves of Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and most recently Stephen Hawking, to name but a few.
8. Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms
Back across the road beyond the Abraham Lincoln statue in Parliament Square, take a left and then a right into Horse Guards Road. After a short walk, by the Robert Clive statue, are steps to the Cabinet War Rooms. Winston Churchill conducted World War Two operations from the bunkers under the buildings.
There are 6 acres of facilities underground, including a restaurant, bedrooms, a hospital and tunnels, leading to the government buildings above. Most of it is preserved as Churchill left it. Admission charges apply, but there are concessions for seniors, students and children.
9. Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards Parade
Towards the end of Horse Guards Road is Horse Guards Parade. On week-days at 11am, or 10am on Sundays, you can watch the Changing of the Guard. The soldiers here are the Queen’s Life Guards, part of the Mounted Household Cavalry. If you arrive any other time, you can see the Guards on duty. Walk through the large arches on the far side of Horse Guards Parade that leads to Whitehall. At the top of every hour, you can see the changing of the mounted sentries that stand in Whitehall. Tourists stop here to take selfies with the guards, who are not allowed to smile while on duty, or visit the restroom.
10.The Prime Minister's Home
Walking down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament, you will arrive at the gates of Downing Street. Friendly British Police Officers guard the gates, and they are usually happy to pose for a photograph with visitors. You'll see Number 10, home of Britain’s Prime Minister, and one of the most famous addresses in the world, but you can’t walk into Downing Street for security reasons.
Return to Parliament Square
As you retrace your steps back to Parliament Square, there's a red telephone box on the corner. Here's a perfect opportunity to take a selfie at the phone box with Big Ben behind you.
The walk ends across the road at Westminster Underground Station, where filming of a scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix took place.
© 2019 DHWebb