London Walk: Self-Guided Walking Tour of Westminster
Westminster is an area within the City of Westminster in London’s West End, which lies on the west bank of the River Thames. The area is the historic and cultural heart of London as has been the center point of British politics, government, and the monarchy for the last 900 years.
Westminster is home to many of London’s key sites, including Admiralty Arch, The Mall, St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Palace of Westminster, Westminster Bridge, and 10 Downing Street. This self-guided walking tour takes you to all the key sites in Westminster.
About the Westminster Walking Tour
The self-guided walking tour of Westminster takes you through the heart of London. Westminster is easily accessible by three London Underground stations: Charing Cross, St James’s Park, and Westminster Station. Any of these stations would be a good starting point for a walking tour of Westminster, but the walking tour in this article begins and ends at Charing Cross Station and proceeds counter-clockwise.
If you are walking at a leisurely pace, this tour should take you 2–3 hours to complete, but it could take as little as an hour for a power walker. Whichever you choose, remember to wear comfortable walking shoes!
Note: The letter before each sub-heading corresponds to the letter on the map at the end of this article.
A: Charing Cross Station
Your walking tour starts from the London Underground Charing Cross Station. It’s a major underground station in London (serving the Bakerloo and Northern Lines) and a convenient location to start the tour.
If arriving at Charing Cross Station on the London Underground, take the exit point to Trafalgar Square, which is nearby. From Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, walk southwards to Admiralty Arch (crossing Cockspur Street), which is less than five minute's walk.
B: Admiralty Arch
Your first stop of the walking tour is Admiralty Arch, a prominent concave-shaped building and archway that crosses a road called The Mall. Built in 1912, King Edward VIII commissioned the construction of Admiralty Arch in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria.
The building features three large arches for vehicles to pass through, but the central arch only opens for royal ceremonial events. On each side of the large arches are smaller arches for pedestrian traffic. The building is currently undergoing redevelopment into luxury apartments and a five-star hotel expected to open in 2020.
C. The Mall
Walk through Admiralty Arch under the pedestrian arch entering The Mall, a tree-lined road leading to Buckingham Palace. The Mall closes to vehicle traffic on Sundays, public holidays, and ceremonial events but remains open to pedestrians.
The road stretches about 0.7 miles (1.1 km) and is reddish, colored with iron oxide to resemble a red carpet. The Mall is reddish because it’s a royal road and is used for ceremonial events such as the annual Trooping the Colour and the frequent Changing the Guards military parades.
D. St James's Park
St James’s Park is on the left as you walk along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace. The park’s history goes back to the 16th century, when King Henry VIII purchased the land for hunting. John Nash designed St James’s Park as seen today in 1826, and it became a public park in 1887.
It’s a scenic park covering 57 acres (23 hectares) and features open grassland, wooded areas, and a small lake surrounded by trees. There are colorful flowerbeds as you approach Buckingham Palace, and in summer, flowers of various colors create a beautiful sight.
E. Buckingham Palace
The walking tour then takes you to Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial located in front of the palace. The palace is a huge and magnificent building and has been the official residence of British kings and queens since 1837.
Buckingham Palace is the most recognizable symbol of the British monarchy, and the palace complex is a venue for many state ceremonies including royal receptions. The palace is also a major tourist attraction in London, attracting visitors fascinated by the British Royal Family.
A contingent of soldiers dressed in striking uniforms guards Buckingham Palace. The soldiers known as the Queen’s Guards stand guard on two-hour shifts until relieved in military tradition by another soldier. Changing the Guards is a formal military ceremony starting around 11 am, and you may want to time your walking tour for the event. The ceremony occurs almost daily in June and July and four times a week for the rest of the year. It’s a spectacular ceremony featuring a military parade and marching band replacing the old guards with a new group of soldiers.
F: Westminster Abbey
After Buckingham Palace, make a U-turn and head eastward along Birdcage Walk. Walk a little further after Birdcage Walk, then turn south along Little George Street and cross Broad Sanctuary (a road) to reach Westminster Abbey.
The Anglican abbey is a magnificent 13th-century church built during the reign of King Henry III. Westminster Abbey has always been associated with the royal family and has been the site of many royal weddings, burials, and every coronation. The Abbey features two tall towers and is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, which flourished during the medieval period.
G. Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) is located east of Westminster Abbey and is less than a five minute's walk away. Built from 1840 to 1870, the Palace of Westminster is the home of British democracy and is where the House of Commons and House of Lords are located.
This magnificent building is a splendid combination of Gothic revival and Victorian architecture. The building features three tall towers: the Elizabeth, Central, and Victoria Towers. Elizabeth Tower—the most prominent of the three—is a clock tower where the bell known as Big Ben strikes with the familiar “bong-bong-bong” sound every hour.
H. Westminster Bridge
Walking north just after Elizabeth Tower and immediately to the right is Westminster Bridge, spanning 827 feet (252 meters) across the River Thames. On the other side of the bridge are the London Aquarium, London Dungeon, and the iconic London Eye.
Westminster Bridge is a vehicle and pedestrian bridge. Opened in 1862, this cast-iron bridge painted in a shade of green is one of the oldest bridges across the River Thames. Walk across Westminster Bridge and you’ll get another view of Westminster Palace and see the boats passing below.
I: 10 Downing Street
If you took a short crossing across Westminster Bridge, turn back and walk northward along Parliament Street until you reach Downing Street. 10 Downing Street is the official residence of the British prime minister and the address made famous by the media around the world.
Unfortunately, due to security concerns, the public can’t walk down Downing Street for a close view of the prime minister’s residence. You will have to settle for a peek across the entrance (guarded by armed police) to Downing Street and at most take a photo of the road sign.
End of the Walking Tour
After passing Downing Street, continue your walk north along Parliament Street to Trafalgar Square where your walking tour ends. You can catch the London Underground train at the nearby Charing Cross Station and head to your next destination. You may decide to explore Trafalgar Square, which is a famous spot and major attraction in London. Nearby are the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, which are renowned art galleries offering free admissions!
Sites in the Walking Tour
© 2018 Khal Rasdam