London is massive on just about every definable scale: size, history, culture. We broke up our sightseeing by neighborhood, starting in the most iconic area: The City of Westminster. With Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Parliament, we had a full day of Westminster sights to see.
Westminster, London Map
Westminster Sights: The Wellington Arch
Completed in 1830 to celebrate the British victories during the Napoleonic Wars, it has been moved and statues have been switched out, but it still stands as a triumphant arch.
Westminster Sights: Buckingham Palace
Built in 1705, the Royal Family has resided in Buckingham Palace since 1837, when Queen Victoria moved there from James’s Palace. The grand size – 355 feet by 393 feet with 775 rooms, including 78 bathrooms – is more impressive than the architectural design.
Westminster Sights: Queen Victoria Memorial
In front of Buckingham Palace, facing the Mall (the road that leads from the palace to Trafalgar Square), is the Queen Victoria Memorial. It honors the British Empire, featuring Queen Victoria, the Angel of Justice and the Angel of Truth and Charity.
Westminster Sights: St. James’s Park
Adjacent to Buckingham Palace is St. James’s Park – the oldest of the eight Royal Parks. The grounds used to be marshland, but now provide open space and benches for Londoners and tourists to play, picnic and rest.
Westminster Sights: Admiralty Arch
At the opposite end of the Mall from the Queen Victoria Memorial is Admiralty Arch. Ceremonial processions begin under the arches and proceed down the Mall to Buckingham Palace.
Westminster Sights: Trafalgar Square
The expansive square was built to celebrate the victory at The Battle of Trafalgar. Now, it is a gathering place for tourists, street performers and artists.
Westminster Sights: Nelson’s Column
The focal point of Trafalgar Square is Nelson’s Column, built to honor Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar. Sitting at 169 feet tall, the base is guarded by four lion statues.
Westminster Sights: St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church
Situated on the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square is the quaint St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church. The church was built in 1724 and is known for helping the homeless. The Crypt houses a café and there are regular concerts at the church to raise funds.
Westminster Sights: Horse Guards Building
Built in 1753, the actual reason to visit is the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. Crowds gather for the changing of the guard.
Westminster Sights: 10 Downing Street
Number 10 Downing Street is the official residence and office of the Prime Minister. Although impossible to get close to, it’s fun to look through the gates and past the coppers for a glimpse.
Westminster Sights: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament
The iconic Westminster Abbey is a magnificent church with soaring Gothic spires, more than a thousand years of history and a strong royal connection. Sixteen royal couples, including Will and Kate, have said their vows at the Abbey and the next to be crowned will celebrate their Coronation at Westminster Abbey, as has every other king and queen since 1066.
Officially known as the Palace of Westminster, for the past 900 years the Parliament building has been the center for British government. Two of its 1,100 rooms are used by the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The clock tower, which is often referred to as Big Ben, is actually Elizabeth Tower – only the bell is Big Ben. Nonetheless, it’s an iconic symbol of London.
Westminster Sights: London Eye
Visible from nearly everywhere in London (perhaps viewed best from Westminster on the north banks of the River Thames) is the Ferris wheel called the London Eye. It allows passengers a bird’s eye view of the city. Already iconic, it was only built in the year 2000.
Westminster Sights: Victoria Embankment Gardens
Along the north side of the river between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge are a series of gardens collectively called Victoria Embankment Gardens. The grounds feature colorful flowers and benches for the weary, like us.
Where To Stay
During our visit to London, we stayed in an awesome Airbnb Apartment. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip:
Or These Hostels:
Before You Go: Our top tips for your trip
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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