To many the name ‘Whitehall’ evokes ‘British Government’. And, indeed, the Houses of Parliament are at one end of the road running north from Parliament Square. But there’s much more along this major London artery than the Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The name derives from the original Palace of Whitehall, home to royalty and its ministers for centuries until destroyed by fire in 1698. Fortunately for today’s visitors The Banqueting House, completed in 1622, survived.
Used today for official receptions, the 17th century building is a remarkable work of art inside and out. One of the most outstanding examples of Italian Renaissance in London, the view from the street is spectacular.
But the interior is no less worth a visit. Inside, there are dozens of paintings, decorative items and furniture from the period and later. Visitors can also enjoy lunchtime concerts of classical baroque while they dine.
Nearby are the beautiful Whitehall Gardens. Hosting several memorial sculptures, including one of the famous Gordon of Khartoum, the setting is a pleasant oasis within bustling London. Parts of the destroyed Palace of Whitehall can still be seen, including the wine cellars.
Further along are The Admiralty, the Ministry of Defense building and Horse Guards Parade. Be sure not to miss the two mounted Horse Guards, bedecked in colorful uniforms capped by plumed helmets. If you’re visiting in June, arrive in time to see the ‘Trooping the Color’ ceremony held to celebrate the Queen’s Official Birthday.
Continuing the military theme, Trafalgar Square merits a visit where you can see the statue of Lord Nelson in the plaza built to honor his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. At least, you could if it weren’t atop a column 53m (174 ft) high.
Fortunately, you don’t need binoculars to get a good look at the four bronze lions at the base. Designed by the renowned Sir Edwin Landseer, the large sculptures constitute some of his best work.
There are several other outdoor sights, including the Cenotaph. Designed to commemorate the fallen of WWI, the empty tomb is the site of a Royal ceremony held in November to honor them.
A recent addition is the excellent Churchill Museum. Used by the famed statesman during WWII to house war planning activity, the Cabinet War Rooms and other areas have been completely restored to the period.
Visitors can see Churchill’s private living quarters within the War Rooms and there are dozens of memorabilia about. The £13.5 million ($24 million) Churchill Project has accurately depicted the scenes the British leader and his aides would have seen and lived with.
At the end, Whitehall becomes Parliament Street. Visitors can see Big Ben and (by prior arrangement) view debates from the public galleries of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Tours are available for two months during the summer when Parliament is out of session (‘not sitting’, as the British say).
Whitehall is easy to reach via the Tube (the London Underground, i.e. subway). Exit at Westminster.
“Mirror Pool (Trafalgar Square), London” by flatworldsedge