Aerial shot of London's Westminster neighborhood
Ian Packham

Things to do in Westminster London

Often used as a descriptor for all the goings on in the British parliament, the Westminster neighborhood of London is actually a city within a city. One of the richest areas of the capital financially, historically and culturally, it’s an area jampacked with sights, from the grandeur of Buckingham Palace to bronze and stone statues of giants from the country’s past.

As a tourist, you’re probably going to spend at least a day here, so don’t forget to check out all the great things to do in Westminster London before hitting the thoroughfares of The Mall or Petty France.

Meet with Big Ben

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Occupying one of few areas of the Thames riverbank in central London not directly accessible to the public, the Houses of Parliament are a symbol of democracy throughout the world. Showing off the pomp and financial power of the Victorian era – when the complex was rebuilt after a massive fire – Big Ben has to be one of the most snapped structures in the world.

In fact, to be strictly accurate the name doesn’t refer to the tower but to its largest bell. Its structure was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – that’s 60 years on the throne.

The parliamentary chambers have witnessed many historic moments, including several important speeches by Sir Winston Churchill, the country’s wartime leader. The underground lair protected by secrecy and thick steel girders where the government sought sheltered office space during the London Blitz can be explored at the Cabinet War Rooms a few hundred meters away.

But if it’s hundreds of years of history you’re keen to discover, Westminster Abbey should be the next on your list of things to do in Westminster London. Forming a loose triangle alongside the Houses of Parliament and Cabinet War Rooms, its origins predate the Norman Conquest of 1066. Since then it has seen the coronation of every British monarch except two. The simple wood coronation chair is almost lost in this celebration of monarchy and nationhood.

Walk amid royalty

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Cross into St James’ Park and you’ll be treading the same path that royalty has since at least the sixteen hundreds. At the park’s southern end is Birdcage Walk, once the location of a long-disappeared royal aviary. However, some of the park’s most popular residents remain its pelicans, whose generations have waddled their way around the lake for almost 400 years since first being gifted by one of the Tsars of Russia.

At its western end St James’ links up with Green Park on the opposite side of The Mall, and Buckingham Palace – official residence of the British monarch. A short route through the palace gardens is open to the public over the summer as part of tours to the state rooms.

Two further royal residences just around the corner can be admired from afar. Clarence House has provided homes for the late Queen Mother as well as the Prince of Wales. Next door’s Saint James’ Palace is the oldest of central London’s remaining palaces, although you’ll need ambassadorial credentials to take a look inside.

Make time for the museums in Westminster

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No such career choice is necessary to enjoy the spectacle of the red frock coats and bear-skin hats of the Household Cavalry and their allied foot troops at the Changing of the Guard outside of Buckingham Palace. About as dramatic a way to switch shifts as it’s possible to get, it takes place every day in the summer and several times a week over the winter with music, marching and plenty of horsemanship on show.

To learn more about the division responsible for the protection of the head of state – Queen Victoria endured numerous assassination attempts – there’s the Household Cavalry Museum. Situated between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade, visits not only allow a peek into 350 years of history but also the chance to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony from a very special vantage point.

Attached to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Gallery is open throughout the year, displaying important artefacts from the Royal Collection. These include gilded silverware purchased by George III and paintings by Van Dyke, official artist to King Charles II.

The works of more modern artists can be seen at Mall Galleries just off Trafalgar Square. Home to the Federation of British Artists, it’s also a major player in the contemporary figurative arts scene.

Spend some time by the Thames

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Although it’s partially blocked off by the Houses of Parliament, the River Thames shouldn’t be forgotten about. For one thing, almost diagonally opposite Big Ben is Westminster Millennium Pier, where Hop-On Hop-Off sightseeing cruises arrive and depart on their way to the Royal Museums Greenwich further east.

The Thames path is a pleasant place to explore at any time of year, with each season giving something different to an area of riverside as stuffed with monuments and landmarks as any part of London. They include memorials to the Battle of Britain pilots of World War Two and, within Whitehall Gardens, William Tyndale – a leading figure in the protestant reformation. The Thames path also provides an ideal spot to capture shots of the London Eye or eat and drink in barges converted into restaurants and bars.

But wherever you end up in Westminster you’ll never be far from the government ministries you’ll recognize from the movies. Many stretch along Whitehall, a major thoroughfare connecting up Parliament Square with Trafalgar Square, where there’s the National Gallery and Nelson’s Column. On Whitehall itself, the war dead are honored at the Cenotaph, and the prime minister’s office at 10 Downing Street can be peered towards through the security gates.

Uncover all the things to do in Westminster London

A neighborhood which basks in the historic, cultural and political, Westminster is a part of London no visitor is going to want to miss out on. It’s home to the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, but beside the buildings of state are side streets with churches and verdant squares leading to yet more opportunities to understand the British capital in greater detail.

Is it possible to get too much of a good thing? Not in Westminster. And not when traveling with Go City. Our passes provide visitors of all ages with incredible savings on admission to many of the top attractions in London and beyond. So, when you’re thinking about the things to do in Westminster London, make sure Go City becomes a part of your plan!

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