What to Do Around Westminster and County Hall When It's Raining
What to Do in London in the Rain?
London is one of the greatest cities in the world, and many people choose to holiday here every year. It is a great destination in any season, with lots of attractions, shops, parks, museums, restaurants, theatres and galleries to choose from. The one thing, however, that you cannot depend on in London is the weather! Even in the middle of summer, the heavens can open and the rain can pour down on you.
So what is there to do if you cannot be out and about soaking up the sunshine? The answer is plenty! This is a city that is full of fascinating and interesting things to do where it does not matter what the weather is like, so grab your brolly and we will go and check some out.
London is a very large city with many great attractions, so if it is raining, it is best to select a small area to enjoy and explore. This saves you from trudging around too much in the wet. This is a city well served by public transport and it has a very extensive underground system known as the ‘tube’, as well as many buses and overground rail routes. The area around Westminster and County Hall is served by Westminster tube station (on the Jubilee, Circle and District Lines) and if you alight at this station, you will find more than enough things to do in the immediate vicinity to keep you occupied for at least a whole day if it is raining.
There has been a religious community using this site since the middle of the 10th century when a group of Benedictine monks arrived to form a community. They forged links with the ruler of the day, King Edgar, and the site has had close connections to the English monarchy ever since.
King Edward the Confessor built his royal palace close by and in 1065 built a new church for the monastic community that he was subsequently buried in. William the Conqueror set a new precedent in 1066 when he chose to be crowned there. Since this time Westminster Abbey has seen the coronations, weddings and funerals of many English monarchs and their courtiers.
The monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540, but his daughter Elizabeth I established the Abbey as a collegiate church and its importance to the monarchy continued. Westminster Churchyard is also connected with England's most famous legendary kings, as it is said that it was here that the young Arthur pulled the sword from the stone and won the English crown.
So what can you see at Westminster Abbey today? The present building was started by Henry II in 1245 and was gradually extended as time went on. Edward the Confessor was canonised as a saint and his tomb became a shrine, and many subsequent monarchs chose to be buried in the vicinity of the shrine.
You can also see the famous Coronation Chair which was constructed around the Stone of Scone on the order of Edward I and has been used for every coronation since 1308. Apart from the royal graves, there are the tombs of many other famous people that can be seen. Around 1400 the famous writer Geoffrey Chaucer was buried in the south transept; many other famous scribes were then interred around his grave and this area of the Abbey became know as ‘Poets Corner’. You can also see the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, which is the burial of an unknown British soldier from the First World War.
Another thing to include in your visit to Westminster Abbey is the Museum in the vaulted undercroft which is famous for its collection of royal funerary effigies. There are also wax effigies of famous people, such as Horatio Nelson, on display and the funeral shield, helm and saddle of Henry V. Also worth a visit is the College Garden which has been under continuous cultivation for 900 years.
There are entry charges for Westminster Abbey and in the summer of 2014, they are £18.00 for an adult and £8.00 for a schoolchild aged between 11 and 18, and children younger than this go free if accompanied by an adult. Family tickets cost £36 for 2 adults and 1 child and £44 for 2 adults and 2 children, and all tickets purchased come with a free audio guide.
The Houses of Parliament
If politics is your thing, you can see the British parliament in action and attend the debates in The Houses of Parliament when the Houses are sitting. It is free to attend, but you need to queue outside St Stephen’s entrance and queuing times of several hours are not uncommon. If you wish to attend Prime Minister’s Question time, you will need a free ticket that can be obtained by UK residents by contacting their MP or a member of the House of Lords. There is also a Public Gallery where you can watch debates in the House of Lords.
If you are more interested in the history and the buildings themselves, you can take a tour. The tours visit all the main areas and include the Commons and Lords debating chambers and the Queen’s Robing Room. The tours run through the summer recess and tickets need to be purchased in advance.
The London Eye
Moving away from Parliament Square and crossing the bridge over the River Thames, you come to the area around County Hall. Dominating the riverbank on this side is the huge structure known as the London Eye. It is the UK’s most popular paid-for visitor attraction and has around 3.5 million visitors a year. It has been open since March 2000 and you can ride high into the London skyline in one of the pods.
As the pods are totally enclosed, you will stay dry when it's raining and still be able to enjoy the magnificent views down the Thames. You can see in all directions and spot some other iconic London landmarks such as the distinctive buildings of the City of London, Battersea Power Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Canary Wharf.
Tickets can be pre-booked or there is a ticket office at County Hall. You can also buy tickets that combine The London Eye with other attractions or services. You can get packages of The London Eye tickets and various hotel and dining deals, with Madame Tussauds, The London Dungeon, and West End theatre productions.
Attractions in and Around County Hall
The Sea Life Aquarium
The Sea Life Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in Europe and is situated under the front of County Hall. You can see sharks, turtles, piranhas, the many brightly coloured fish of the tropical coral reefs and visit with the rays. There is a lot of educational displays for children and you can walk through a tunnel and gasp as the sharks swim directly above your head.
The London Dungeon
Do you like being scared? Well then you are in luck as the London Dungeon moved to County Hall in 2012 offering you and your family a day of delicious terror, screams and frights. Come face to face with Jack the Ripper, experience the horror of the Plague, watch the torturer in action, join Guy Fawkes in his Gunpowder Plot and if you are very brave, take the Tyrant Boat Ride to the bloody Tower of London.
If you get hungry or thirsty there are now lots of different restaurants, bars and cafes in and around County Hall, including a McDonalds, a hotel and several shops. The whole of the South Bank has undergone a tremendous amount of development over the last few years, so if the rain stops for a few minutes you can take a stroll along the river, ride on the carousel, paddle in the fountains or eat from one of the stalls.
Thames River Cruises
Even though it's raining you can still enjoy a cruise down the Thames. Sit inside down below or if you are a hardy soul don your waterproofs and sit on the top deck enjoying the views and the weather! There is a jetty on the Westminster side of the river and you can book tickets in the booths. There are also many speciality cruises that you can choose from offering lunches, dinners, afternoon tea, music and discos.
So, as you can see, you do not need to trudge very far in the rain to spend a day enjoying yourself in London. The rain need not ruin a precious day of your vacation as all of these great attractions are within a five or ten-minute walk from each other and are inside, keeping you warm and getting you out of the rain!
All images are my own.