London: Places to Explore

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Westminster and Royal London

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This is postcard London at its best. Crammed with historic churches, grand state buildings, and major art collections, Royal London and Westminster unites politics, high culture, and religion. (Oh, and the Queen lives here, too.) The places you'll want to explore are grouped into three distinct areas—Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, and Buckingham Palace—each occupying a corner of triangular St. James's Park. Happily, there is as much history in these few acres as in many whole cities, so pace yourself—this is concentrated sightseeing.

Trafalgar Square is the official center of London, but what will bring you here are the two magnificent museums on the northern edge of the square, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. From the square two boulevards lead to the seats of different ideas of governance. Whitehall drops south to the neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament, where members of both Houses (Commons and Lords) hold debates and vote on pending legislation, and, just opposite, Westminster Abbey, a monument to the nation's history and for centuries the scene of daily worship, coronations, and royal weddings. Poets, political leaders, and 17 monarchs are buried in the 13th-century Gothic building. Halfway down Whitehall, No. 10 Downing Street is both the residence and the office of the prime minister. One of the most celebrated occupants, Winston Churchill, is commemorated in the Churchill War Rooms, his underground wartime headquarters off Whitehall. Just down the road is the Cenotaph, which acts as a focal point for the annual remembrance of those lost in war.

The Mall, a wide, pink avenue beyond the stone curtain of Admiralty Arch, heads southwest from Trafalgar Square toward the Queen Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace, the sovereign's official residence. The building is open to the public only in summer, but you can see much of the royal art collection in the Queen's Gallery and spectacular ceremonial coaches in the Royal Mews, both open all year. Farther south toward Pimlico, Tate Britain focuses on prominent British artists from 1500 to today.

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