Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament) were originally built on an eyot – a small island – called Thorney Island and have existed, in one form or another, for around 1,000 years. Thorney Island has now been subsumed into the mainland, but the area's status as the centre of England's political life is unchanged. Westminster and St James is one of London's most traditional areas and is rich with the city's living history. St James in particular, with its private members' clubs and traditional shops, affords a glimpse of centuries-old customs.
Not many places can match Westminster for its stunning range of attractions. The Palace of Westminster is one of London's four World Heritage Sites. Some of London's major galleries and iconic attractions are in Westminster, including:
- National Gallery
- National Portrait Gallery
- Big Ben
- Houses of Parliament
- Westminster Abbey
- Buckingham Palace
- Royal Academy
- Tate Britain
- Cabinet War Rooms
It's not all sightseeing in Westminster. The area also houses the University of Westminster, with more than 22,000 students and a range of degrees, masters and short courses.
Head to the glamorous lights of London's West End in Westminster for a night to remember. Many of the big musicals are performed here. You can get a pre-theatre dinner at a delicious West End restaurant and get ready to sing your heart out at a musical.
Look out for the statue of famous dandy Beau Brummel on Jermyn Street
Not only will you find some fantastic shops in the West End, including Selfridges and Topshop's flagship Oxford Street store, but Piccadilly and St James contain a range of tempting, unique boutiques. Pick up delicious treats at Fortnum & Mason, buy traditional country clothes at Cordings or head to Jermyn Street for everything an elegant man requires. The Westminster and St James area contains many superb places to eat. Enjoy a contemporary British lunch at Petrichor, a delicious pastry at the National Café or a futuristic dining experience at Inamo St James.
If you need a break, why not take a walk in St James's Park? This huge Royal Park is just a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace. Here you can hire a deckchair and spot the wildlife (including a few pelicans which live in the park.) You can continue your walk up through Green Park and then straight across to Hyde Park – or stop off at Apsley House to see where the Duke of Wellington lived.
Westminster's central location makes it an ideal place to stay. There are several hotels in the area, with accommodation ranging from budget hostels to luxury hotels. Try the Royal Horseguards or The Goring as five-star options. Or for cheaper accommodation, you can't beat the YHA London Central. More accommodation in London.