Houses of Parliament

If you have time for only one walk in London, then this is the one. It will take you past the seat of government; not only the Houses of Parliament, but the classical buildings of the old War Office and Admiralty, and the current Foreign Office and Treasury. Plus the sites of four palaces: Whitehall and Westminster, long gone, and Buckingham and St James, both very much there. The political parties for many years had their bases in Smith Square, and the area is still home to many MPs.

Throw in a cathedral, and one of Londonís finest parks, and finish up in Trafalgar Square which is the centre of London as measured by the map drawers and signpost makers.

Watch out for blue plaques commemorating memorable people (and some youíve never heard of), and donít be afraid to divert onto a bridge for the view, or poke your nose in a side street to see whatís there, before returning to the walk.

The above picture of the Houses of Parliament might be the clearest view you manage. The tower is swathed in scaffolding, as will be the entire complex, in a major refurbishment which will take many years to complete. Nevertheless, the walk is worth every step.

The Horse Guards

What you will see

You will see much more than I shall describe, but here are a few of the sights.

Early on you'll pass Whitehall Court and the Old War office, their architecture uncelebrated because they were built in the late nineteenth century in out of date styles; yet both are impressive and beautiful and their rooflines compliment each other.

This picture is looking towards the Horse Guards, with the Old War Office visible on the right, and the end of the Banqueting Hall on the left.

The Banqueting Hall is the only remaining part of Whitehall Palace. One of the very first classical styled buildings in England, it was also where Charles I stepped out of an upper window onto a specially erected scaffold to be executed.

The Old War Office

This is the Old War Office again, looking back from the Horse Guards.

No doubt you'll notice the horses and the guards at the Horse Guards, but also admire the symmetrical design of their building.

From the gravel yard at the back youíll see the red brick rear portion of the Admiralty, from where Britainís great navy was commanded in the years of Empire. Itís just possible you wonít be allowed on that gravel if the Trooping of the Colour ceremony is taking place, as it does on a Saturday each June.

The Houses of Parliament are pictured at the top of the page, not from the walk but from the other side of the river.

Pedants may tell you Big Ben is the name only of the largest bell, but Londoners have been using it as the nickname for the distinctive tower for probably 150 years.

Lord North Street

These simple, elegant Georgian terraces in Lord North Street were put up early in the eighteenth century, and have been used as homes and sometimes offices by Members of Parliament through the years.

Soon you will enter Dean's Yard, a quiet sanctuary surrounded by Church buildings and those of Westminster School. When you leave you'll see the main entrance to Westminster Abbey. It's not pictured here, but you'll spot it.

The same applies to the Methodist Central Hall and the stunning houses in Queen Anne's Gate, adorned with a surprising number of blue plaques.

St James's Park

Here is the view from the bridge in St James's Park, looking across the lake which is populated by many varieties of waterfowl, including pelicans. The fairytale castle effect is created by the roofs of Whitehall Court towering above those of the Old War Office and the Horse Guards.

On a summer Sunday, you might have to wait to occupy the best spot by the railings, but it's worth it. Londoners who live in Pimlico, as I once did, might use this as part of their route to work in the West End, and enjoy the view just as much on a damp Tuesday in November.

Buckingham Palace

The walk has taken you through the sites of Whitehall Palace (burned down 1698) and Westminster Palace (burned down in 1512, though the name is still used for the Houses of Parliament). Now we turn and look the other way to see Buckingham Palace, principal residence of the Queen.

You will go close to the Palace, to peer through the railings and admire that golden memorial to Queen Victoria which you can see in the picture.

From there you'll walk through another park to pass another palace, St James's, main residence of eighteenth century kings, derided by some foreign diplomats and courtiers as a dull place lacking luxury.

St Martin in the Fields

The remainder of the walk takes you along Pall Mall, where clubs for distinguished gentlemen line the road. You may be able to glimpse chandeliers and hints of luxury. If you're nosey, the top deck of a number nine bus will enable you to peer inside.

The most spectacular of these is the Atheneum, on the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place, distinguished by its blue frieze. Near here there are fine terraces designed by John Nash, architect to the Prince Regent and originator of the Regency style.

Finally you will see Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's Column, King Charles I's statue (which marks the centre of London), its view down Whitehall to Big Ben, and the fountains which people throw themselves in on New Year's Eve.

On the northern side of the square is the National Gallery, with the largest and finest collection of art in Britain. Near the gallery is St Martin's in the Fields, arguably the prettiest classical church in London (see left).

Westminster Walk Directions

Distance 6.2km / 3.8 miles.

1. Start with your back to the main entrance of Charing Cross Main Line Station on The Strand.
2. Turn left along The Strand. Immediately left again down Craven Street (Georgian terraces).
3. At the end, bear left onto Northumberland Avenue, and at the lights, cross Victoria Embankment and turn right to walk with the river on your left. (On right, see the tall spired Whitehall Court; over the river are County Hall and London Eye).
4. When you reach a lights controlled pedestrian crossing on your right, cross the road and walk up Horse Guards Avenue. (Whitehall Court then Old War Office are on your right, and Ministry of Defence on left. The Banqueting House is on left at the junction with Whitehall).
5. Cross Whitehall and go through the central archway of the Horse Guards (early C18th, by William Kent).

6. Out on the gravelled Horse Guards Parade. (Views of St Jamesís Park ahead, the red brick Admiralty building to your right, and the back of Downing Street where the Prime Minister is based behind trees to your left).
7. Continue to road and turn left, passing Downing Streetís armed policemen.
8. Turn left up steps past the statue of Clive of India, enter King Charles Street. (On your left, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on your right the Treasury).
9. Go through arch at end of King Charles Street, look left to the Cenotaph in the middle of the road, but turn right along Parliament Street. At the traffic lights, cross Whitehall and then cross Bridge Street to reach the Houses of Parliament.
10. Pass Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on your left. (The first part is the House of Commons then, after St Stephenís entrance, the House of Lords. On your right is Parliament Square, then St Margaretís church and, right next to it, Westminster Abbey, then the ancient Jewel Tower).

11. Beyond Victoria Tower on the end of the Houses of Parliament, turn left through a gate into Victoria Gardens.
12. Follow the path across to the river, and turn right onto the riverside path. (St Thomasís Hospital and the ancient Lambeth Palace are on the opposite bank).
13. Turn right by the Buxton Memorial onto a path which leads to a zebra crossing. Cross into Dean Stanley Street.
14. Turn left into Smith Square, and go clockwise round the square until you reach Lord North Street. Turn left into Lord North Street. (Georgian houses favoured by MPs).
15. Go straight across Great Peter Street to enter Cowley Street. Follow as it bends left and then right, becoming Barton Street.

16. At end of Barton Street, go left into Great College Street. Where the road turns left, you go right, through a gateway into Deanís Yard. (Westminster School and church buildings).
17. The gate out of Deanís Yard is diagonally opposite from the one you entered through, so go along the right hand side of the square and left at the end to reach it. After stepping through the gate, youíll see Westminster Abbey to your right.
18. Bear left to a pedestrian crossing, and cross Victoria Street to enter Storeyís Gate, which runs past the Methodist Central Hall on the left and the modern conference centre on the right.
19. Turn left into Old Queen Street. At its end, you have to go left, but turn right immediately in to Queen Anneís Gate. (Very early 18th century, note the blue plaques). Where the road turns left, you go right and continue past wrought iron gates .
20. Go straight across Birdcage Walk into St Jamesís Park, and continue straight onto the bridge across the lake. From the bridge, look right to the roofs of Horse Guards, War office and Whitehall Court, and left to Buckingham Palace.

21. Turn left off the bridge to walk alongside the water. Near the end of the lake, thereís a stone wall straight ahead, but you turn right, passing a food kiosk to leave the park.
22. Turn left towards Buckingham Palace and find your way across the roads to the Palace.
23. After looking at the Palace, turn your left shoulder to its railings and cross the busy Constitution Hill to enter the Green Park.
24. In the park, initially take the path signposted to Green Park tube station and Toilets, but turn along the second path on the right, between black lamp posts, heading towards a white building.
25. At the end of that path, turn left, passing the guarded entrance to Clarence House (Prince Charlesís residence), before taking a small gate in the railings. (Donít miss it). Up a few steps then follow the right hand footpath to walk alongside a narrow roadway.

26. Walk straight on to pass St Jamesís Palace on the right.
27. Cross Marlborough Road, looking right to the side of the palace, and yellow stuccoed Queenís Chapel. Peer through gateway at the red brick building tucked behind the Chapel; this is Marlborough House.
28. Take the zebra crossing near this point and go straight on along Pall Mall.
29. Turn left into St Jamesís Square, the oldest London square. Go round three sides of the square and out again, turning left onto Pall Mall. Cross when you reach a zebra crossing, but continue in the same direction. (These are all Gentlemenís clubs on your right).
30. Turn right into Waterloo Place, past the Atheneum Club, see Duke of York on column.

31. Turn left into Carlton House Terrace for a quick look and come out again, back up Waterloo Place and turn right into Pall Mall beside the Institute of Directors. (Designed by John Nash).
32. Continue on Pall Mall but look left up Haymarket to the Haymarket Theatre.
33. Bear right with the pavement as you pass Canada House on your left.
34. Arrive at Trafalgar Square. Take the first crossing on left to a traffic island. Then cross to the right to a bigger island with King Charles Iís statue. You are now at the centre of London or rather, he is. Look down Whitehall.
35. Turn round and cross to the main Trafalgar Square. With Canada House on your left, South Africa House on your right, and Nelsonís Column behind, walk up the steps in front of the National Gallery and turn right.

36. Cross over to St Martin-in-the-Fields church. Go left past its entrance, and turn right to walk alongside the church, then right behind it. The former Charing Cross Hospital (with pepper pot towers) is on your left. Two crossings will take you to Charing Cross station, with the Charing Cross itself (19th century version) in amongst the taxis.

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