Built by Edward the Confessor to wrest power away from the City of London, Westminster has long been the heart of political and royal power in London.
There’s a lot more to it than history alone though – with a few surprises up its sleeve, spending time in Westminster is a must.
Today it’s home to many of the city’s most recognisable spots: Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower if you want to be pedantic), the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Whitehall. Planning to explore? These are the spots you shouldn’t miss.
Top Picks for Westminster, London
What to do, where to drink and where to eat….
Things to do in Westminster
Delving into the area’s unmissable spots.
The Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
If you had to name one landmark in London, chances are it would be the Elizabeth Tower – commonly known as Big Ben (though technically this is the name of the bell within the tower).
Either way, the Victorian Gothic clock tower looming above the equally ornate Palace of Westminster is one of the city’s most iconic sights.
I’ll warn you: Big Ben is currently sheathed in a layer of scaffolding as it’s currently being restored but you can still peek at one of the clock faces.
You should also take the time to visit the Houses of Parliament if you can. Nestled inside the impressive Palace of Westminster, it’s worth going just to take a look at the architecture alone.
Officially the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster, Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065. Ever since, most English sovereigns have been crowned here, buried here and married here.
Today, it’s one of London’s best-known sightseeing spots – a masterpiece of Gothic architecture designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
It’s worth paying to go inside (entrance is also free with the London Pass and London Explorer Pass) – there’s a wealth of art, numerous shrines and chapels and the famous Poet’s Corner containing shrines to literary figures from the ages.
Long closed off to the public, you may not be able to saunter down Downing Street to see number 10 up close and personal but you can still peek at it from the gates at the end. Close enough.
No, it’s not the same as Westminster Abbey – one glance at Westminster Cathedral will tell you that.
There’s no missing the striking red and white Byzantine style architecture, topped with four domes and a tower from which you can get stunning views of London.
Inside, you will also find the widest nave in England alongside some rather opulent decor.
Harry Potter Filming Locations
It wasn’t until I started hunting out Harry Potter hotspots in London that I realised Westminster has quite a few.
The high jinks of the knight bus squeezing between two normal buses in The Prisoner of Azkaban happens on Lambeth Bridge, while the entrance to the Ministry of Magic can be found just across from Downing Street.
Want to know more? Read my Harry Potter’s London guide.
It’s no secret that the Tate Britain is one of my favourite museums in London.
Not only does it contain one of the largest art collections in London, it’s also housed in one of the city’s most beautiful buildings too.
Go with some comfortable shoes and an open mind – from William Blake to Rodin, Degas, Gaugain and Henry Moore a visit is an enthralling jaunt through the history of art.
It’s a surprise that more people don’t talk about Dean’s Yard. You’d think that a small green, tucked behind Westminster Abbey and with great views of the same would deserve some conversation. Their loss is your gain – pop in as part of your trip to the Abbey.
Churchill War Rooms
The 21 rooms of the Churchill War Rooms may only be a few metres below ground but they represent the heart of the British war effort in World War II.
The exhibits contain many mementos of the time – the Map Room, Churchill’s simple bedroom – down to the telephone the Prime Minister used for conversations with Roosevelt.
The official entrance to Whitehall, Horse Guards is best-known for the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony that takes place on the vast parade outside the buildings. Get your timing right and you can also catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony here too.
St James’s Park
St James’s Park is the most beautiful of the central London parks, no questions asked. Framed by Buckingham Palace on one end, Horse Guards on the other, it’s the perfect enclave of leafy green peace and quiet in the heart of the city.
Eating & Drinking in Westminster
My favourite places to eat and drink in Westminster.
The Albert Pub
The Albert is the quintessential British boozer – a Grade II listed pub with many original Victorian features. Order some traditional pub grub and settle in with a nice pint or two.
The Cinnamon Club
An enduring classic, The Cinnamon Club is just across from the Houses of Parliament and, as such, is a real favourite with politicians popping in for a swanky lunch. That’s not all – the high-end Indian cuisine is some of the best in the city.
St Stephen’s Tavern
Another Victorian-era pub that’s made it to the current day largely untouched, St Stephen’s Tavern is always busy thanks to its location next to Big Ben. It’s a nice place for a drink – just not a quiet one.
The Sherlock Holmes
It really shoudn’t work… a pub dedicated to Britain’s famous opium-using sleuth.
Somehow though, The Sherlock Holmes makes it work. Alongside your standard pub trinkets, there are clues from famous Holmes tales, there’s even a whole Sherlock Holmes Room reconstructed in a corner of the upstairs restaurant.
The Regency Cafe
If you’re after a traditional English breakfast in Westminster look no further than the Regency Cafe. The place is an iconic and highly traditional London caff, that’s so iconic it even featured on the big screen.
Yep, that scene in Layer Cake where Morty bashes that guy’s head in to the sound of Duran Duran. That was filmed at the Regency. We don’t condone that sort of behaviour, but we do condone you trying one of their fry ups – they’re not to be missed.
The Westminster Arms
Another boozer in the heart of Westminster, The Westminster Arms is slap bang in the middle of the action, a short walk from both the houses of parliament and Trafalgar Square.
You’ll find the place populated by people nipping in to enjoy a pint on the way around the tourist sites and a few well-suited men, probably fresh out of a day in government looking to take the edge off.
For that reason it also becomes a bit of a hotspot for journalists on the political beat. It’s even seen a few famous faces: Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton and Angelina Jolie have all dropped in for a drink when in the capital.
Where to Stay in Westminster
Opulence with a Stunning Spa
Famous for being the home of the best spa in London, The Corinthia is a chic escape overlooking the river.
St James’ Court
Taj’s 5* St James’ Court is just a hop and skip from Buckingham Palace, with plush rooms you won’t want to leave.
An option for anyone looking for a super-expensive, experiential hotel stay, the Guardsman has all you’ll need for a comfortable stay without the high-end amenities that push the price up.
Practical Tips for Exploring Westminster
- Westminster has always been a destination for political protest in London – even more so at the moment than in years past. Check to see if there are planned demonstrations if you don’t want to get caught up in the crowds.
- Go and see the Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards rather than Buckingham Palace – it can be a bit quieter (not much though).
- Do visit the Tate Britain – it really is one of London’s best museums.