Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Walking in Whitehall - A Perfect Day in London

Our first Perfect Day in London starts at Westminster Underground Station.  Revel at the views of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Bridge & the River Thames when you return to street level.  It's pretty fantastic that so many iconic London structures are within a 360° view.  If it happens to be near the top of the hour, do hang out to hear Big Ben serenade you.  Westminster Abbey* is just a short stroll toward the traffic signal along the Parliament fence.

Turn right at this intersection (Westminster Abbey will now be behind you) to begin walking up Whitehall.
The first thing you notice along Whitehall is that the buildings are stately pieces of architecture.  In just a few blocks you will walk by 10 Downing Street; this is the Prime Minister's residence.  Do not be alarmed by the presence of police with automatic weapons patrolling the sidewalk, they are just protecting the leader of The United Kingdom.  While you are near the nice policemen, turn around and face Whitehall for a dandy view of the London Eye. Go on, take a photo. 

Keep moving down Whitehall until you happen upon some handsome horses guarding the entrance to Horse Guards Parade. Walk between the guarding sentries through to the open space beyond the arches. This pad of land is used for state functions, such as the recent welcoming of the President of Mexico and his wife to London.  The Queen and all of her horses and men dusted off the royal carriages to put on quite the fanfare.  This space is also where the athletes played beach volleyball during the 2012 Olympics.  (Side note, the President of Mexico and his wife are gorgeous.) 

If you are at Horse Guards around 11:00 during the week you should stick around for a changing of the guard; it's not as flashy as the one at Buckingham Palace.  In my opinion, it was a lot of the horses just standing in formation, and I think the two guys in the middle were talking about football to pass the time.  Like I said, if you are already there.....  
Now you have a three choices for what to see next, and it should all be based on when you get hungry. 

1.  If you know you'll be hungry soon, tour the Household Calvary Museum (£7/$10.50) that is right by the arches you walked through.  With the abridged version of the audio guide, 30-45 minutes is all you need.  You will learn a little history of the calvary and maybe even see a few horses through the glass partition.  If you are a lover of useless facts, look for the display that explains the origin of The Riot Act.  

2.  If horses aren't your thing, walk across the street to Banqueting House (£6.60/$10 - slightly cheaper if you buy online).  The thing to see here is the gigantic ceiling painting by Peter Paul Rubens. It's quite impressive when you learn the ceiling is the only painting of its kind in it's original installation space - the fancy art term for this is in-situ.  Banqueting House provides comfy beanbags to use when staring at the ceiling and listening to the audio guide. It provides a great history of the building and the famous beheading that happened outside. 

3.  If you've packed a granola bar in your bag or ate a hearty breakfast, you can wait a little longer for lunch.  Backtrack a few blocks down Whitehall to the Churchill War Rooms (£18/$27 - yes a bit steep but completely worth every pence/penny).  Winston Churchill directed the war from the very rooms you'll tour. Fair warning that some of the mannequins are lifelike and sometimes cause a little jump when rounding the corner.  

You've got to be hungry by now.  One of my favorite lunch spots is up at the top of Whitehall where it runs into Trafalgar Square.  

Take a few minutes before (or after) lunch to admire more amazing London landmarks in this square. Check out the fountains, the lions & Lord Nelson way up on the column, the National Gallery, and the long view of Big Ben.  Trafalgar has four plinths (aka platforms) for statues and art, and the Fourth Plinth is a rotating art installation. They've just removed the blue cockerel and replaced it with a horse skeleton sculpture. If you visit in 2016  a hand with a long skinny thumbs up is said to replace the horse.  As with most tourist spots in London, a group of buskers (usually magically floating characters) shall beg for your coins as you walk through.  

Back to food....

Face the National Gallery and look to the right. St Martin-in-the-Fields church is across the street.  Walk over there and find the glass-dome entrance to the left of the main building. That's where you are eating today. Yes, in the crypt.  Trust me on this one. 

The Café in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields puts on an amazing spread each day. From 11:30am they serve several lunch options: salads, meat main dish, vegetarian main dish, and my favorite - soup. I particularly like the soup because they frequently have a deal for soup & fruit crumble for £6.95/$10.50. An absolute deal for lunch in the heart of London. 

One thing you'll notice as you settle into your subterranean table, the clientele is on the older side; at my age of thirty-something I'm totally skewing the age average.  The double bonus of this lunch spot?  The Crypt has clean bathrooms, which is a win-win for the day. 

Depending on where you toured before lunch you might be exhausted or ready for more!  The Crypt puts you in good proximity of many Underground stations if you need to call it a day: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, and a little further down Tottenham Court Road or Embankment. If you have more energy, you can walk back over to the National Gallery (free!) to see a few pieces of art or wander the streets of nearby Chinatown & Covent Garden for some good old people watching.

No matter what you decide it's a Perfect Day in London!

Every day can be a Perfect Day in London as long as you are prepared.  Always have a collapsible umbrella in your bag. No matter the weather, dress in layers.  The shade-filled streets and parks can be significantly cooler than the sunny sidewalks.  The museums tend to keep a cooler temperature as well.

I recommend avoiding Westminster Abbey during any high tourist season. It's just my opinion, but the abbey is so jammed that you really can't experience its true beauty.


  1. I totally love this new feature!!!!! Thanks for saving everyone all the time on extensive research!

    1. Thank you, Lisa! I've been to so many places that it seems such a shame to keep it all to myself.