Whitehall is a road that exudes history along every inch. We consider Whitehall to be the very heart of London, which is renowned for its regal architecture, iconic landmarks, and government institutions. And for the benefit of this post, we’ve included Parliament Street, which is bolted onto the end of Whitehall, and if you walk down Whitehall, you won’t realise it’s not the same road.
I (Joel) have worked on both sides of Whitehall. Once at the MOD and once elsewhere, but you’ll have to read on to discover where! Spending so much time on Whitehall has led to me getting to know the road pretty well.
So, Whitehall, what’s so good about it, and what can you see along it? It’s a pretty grand street with tons of history, and there are a ton of things to see, surprisingly. Whitehall is more than just fancy buildings; there is stuff to do! Whitehall is the home to the UK Government, which is spread across several sites spanning the length of Whitehall, where you’ll find the following government buildings.
The famous 10 Downing Street, Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Scotland Office, Horse Guards, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales, Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Office, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, HM Revenue & Customs and the Houses of Parliament. Technically, the Houses of Parliament and HM Revenue & Customs sit on Parliament Street, but it’s near enough!
A Brief History of Whitehall
Whitehall London holds a rich historical legacy as a significant thoroughfare and administrative centre. Its history dates back to the Middle Ages when it served as the location of the Palace of Whitehall, the principal residence of English monarchs. Over the centuries, Whitehall became synonymous with government institutions and power.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Whitehall emerged as England’s epicentre of political and administrative activities. The area housed the royal court, government offices, and the Privy Council. It was also the site of significant historical events, including the execution of King Charles I in 1649, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
9 Reasons to Visit Whitehall
If you’re visiting London, you have to take a stroll along Whitehall and soak in the grandeur of its iconic landmarks because it’s probably one of the finest streets in the city. And here are a few things to look out for while you wander this wonderful road.
1 | Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is one of the best and most famous squares in London. We recommend you start your journey along Whitehall from here. It’s the perfect place to enjoy some lunch, listen to the street performers, peruse the National Gallery, and admire Nelson’s Column and the surrounding lions before heading down Whitehall. It’s a hive of activity and one bursting with atmosphere. It’s no wonder it’s a popular destination to visit, especially when the sun is out!
2 | Houses of Parliament
At the opposite end of Whitehall sits the Houses of Parliament. The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, is an iconic symbol of British democracy and a monumental architectural masterpiece. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most famous buildings in London and the world, and it’s also home to one of the most famous clock faces on the planet, if not the most; the one on Big Ben. And did you know the actual name of the tower is Elizabeth Tower?
3 | Parliament Square
Another of London’s famous squares is Parliament Square. It’s home to a few famous things, including the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. But the centrepiece of Parliament Square is the famous statue of Sir Winston Churcsymbolisingsing figure in British history.
The square is also adorned with statues of other prominent political figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi, symbolising the values of freedom, equality, and justice.
4 | The Cenotaph
The Cenotaph is the centrepiece of Whitehall and is a poignant memorial that holds a deep significance in honouring the sacrifices of fallen servicemen and women. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, this iconic structure stands in the centre of the road on Whitehall and serves as a focal point for national remembrance ceremonies.
The Cenotaph, meaning “empty tomb,” is a symbol of collective grief and gratitude for those who lost their lives in conflicts and each year, on Remembrance Sunday, the nation gathers around the Cenotaph to pay tribute, lay wreaths, and observe a solemn silence. It serves as a reminder of the immense sacrifices made by servicemen and women and stands as a timeless symbol of remembrance and unity in the face of adversity.
5 | Horse Guards
If you spot a gathering of people along Whitehall, they are likely outside Horse Guards. That’s because you will find Army soldiers dressed in fancy uniforms sitting on horses. They are a highlight of Whitehall and attract a lot of visitors every day.
There’s even The Household Cavalry Museum you can visit. Here, you can see the changing of The King’s Life Guard. It’s like a less famous version of Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but with Horses. And if you have time, we recommend walking through Horse Guards and heading into St James’s Park. It’s a beautiful park, with plenty of things to see.
6 | King Charles Street
Just off Whitehall is King Charles Street. It sits between the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and HM Revenue & Customs, and it’s good for two reasons; it’s usually pretty quiet, and it’s rather grand. So grand; it’s been there setting of a few films, including one of the final scenes of Goodbye Christopher Robin.
It’s quite something that you can walk from Parliament Square, which is rammed, and just a few metres away, head down a street with almost no tourists and zero traffic, yet it’s a beautiful street to admire.
7 | Churchill War Rooms
The Churchill War Rooms, just off Whitehall, at the end of King Charles Street, are an iconic historic site that played a pivotal role during World War II. Housed underground, the Churchill War Rooms served as the nerve centre for the British government’s military operations and strategic planning. Originally constructed as a basement complex for government departments, the site was repurposed in 1938 as a secure location for war operations.
Within the War Rooms, key decision-makers, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Cabinet members, and military leaders, coordinated the war effort. The museum showcases preserved rooms, such as the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill’s private quarters, complete with authentic artefacts and exhibits that provide insight into the challenges and triumphs of wartime Britain.
They are part of the wider Imperial War Museums. If you’d like to visit a free museum, check out our guide to the Imperial War Museum London – it’s a superb museum not so far away and worth a visit.
8 | 10 Downing Street
Aside from having one of the most famous buildings and clock faces in the world, Whitehall also has one of the most famous front doors in the world, the one at 10 Downing Street. Beyond the door is the building that is the Prime Minster’s Office. I used to work behind it as the Official Photographer to the Prime Minster when Theresa May was in the hot seat. Sadly, you can’t get on the street, but you can see along it. But from Whitehall, you’ll catch a glimpse of the ironwork in front of the door and the odd celebrity or politician.
9 | Banqueting House
Last but not least of the places to see along Whitehall London is the Banqueting House. You would likely walk past Banqueting House and pay it no attention, but it has some fascinating things in its history.
Designed by renowned architect Inigo Jones, this building is the only remaining part of the Palace of Whitehall, which was once the largest palace in Europe. The Banqueting House is famous for its ceiling painted by the esteemed artist Peter Paul Rubens and, rather gruesomely, was the location of the execution of King Charles I in 1649.
The King’s sentence was carried out on a scaffold erected outside Banqueting House, forever marking this location as a poignant part of British history. You can see a plaque on the wall, and if you’d like to take a look inside, you can take a tour around Banqueting House.
Whitehall London Location & Map
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Is Whitehall worth visiting?
Yes, it is! If you’re in central London, a wander down Whitehall is worth it. There are plenty of things to see on the road, and it’s topped and tailed by two of London’s best squares – Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square, where you will find even more things to do.
What is Whitehall London famous for?
Whitehall is famous for being the seat of the UK government. It’s home to several government departments, including the home of the Prime Minister; 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, the Ministry of Defence; HM Revenue & Customs, the Scotland Office, plus a few more.
What is the best time to visit Whitehall London?
Whitehall London can be visited throughout the year. However, the summer offers pleasant weather for exploring the district on foot. During the day, the best time is early in the morning or later in the evening. It gets pretty busy during the day, with crowds forming at Parliament Square and Horseguards.
What is there to see on Whitehall?
Tons of stuff! It’s home to two of London’s most famous squares, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square, the Houses of Parliament, the Cenotaph, and the remarkable King Charles Street. You might even catch a glimpse of 10 Downing Street, the home of the UK Prime Minister.
Why is Whitehall called Whitehall?
‘Whitehall’ was used for a few buildings in the Tudor period. It was used as a general term for any festival building or a building made of light stone, which included the Royal Palace of Whitehall, later giving its name to the street.
- Whitehall London
- A Brief History of Whitehall
- 9 Reasons to Visit Whitehall
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