Many visitors to London probably only travel along Whitehall in tour buses but this important road is worth exploring on foot as Whitehall is arguably the heart of London and certainly the centre of governance of the United Kingdom.
Starting from Parliament Square, which is overlooked by Westminster Abbey on one side and the Houses of Parliament on another, the visitor should head north towards Trafalgar Square. The first building on the left corner is HM Treasury and just beyond is a side turning into King Charles Street at the bottom end of which Churchill’s War Rooms are located.
Continuing along Whitehall, the imposing Victorian building of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office comes next on the left while the main offices of the Department of Health are on the right-hand side. In the centre of the road between these two is the Cenotaph, the memorial to the soldiers who died in the First and Second World Wars and subsequent conflicts.
The next side road on the left is Downing Street. Number 10 is the official residence of the Prime Minister and next door is the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Number 11. For security reasons, the entrance to Downing Street is blocked by gates with police on duty but many years ago it was possible for the general public to walk freely past Number 10. Opposite Downing Street will be seen the Ministry of Defence.
Continuing northwards, you will pass the entrance to the Horse Guards Barracks and inside this entrance beyond the arch is Horse Guards Parade where many important ceremonies such as Trooping the Colour take place. During the day on Whitehall itself two mounted Horse Guards in their ceremonial uniforms stand guard at the entrance and are a great attraction for tourists.
Opposite Horse Guards is the Banqueting Hall, the only remaining part of the Palace of Whitehall after which the road is named. The Banqueting Hall has a ceiling painted by Rubens. In 1649 following the end of the English Civil War a scaffold was constructed immediately outside this building, upon which King Charles the First was beheaded.
A relatively short walk now leads into Trafalgar Square with the facade of the National Gallery on the far side. However the square is dominated by Nelson’s Column, which commemorates the 1805 victory of Admiral Lord Nelson over the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar during the Napoleonic wars. Nelson himself was mortally wounded during the battle but following his victory Britain was the dominant world power at sea for the next hundred years.
To the left as one enters the square is a turning into The Mall, which runs between St James’s Park and Green Park and which is the main ceremonial route up to Buckingham Palace.
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