I tend to regard the southern part of Whitehall as the political end, and the northern part as the military end. I’m not sure if it was meant to be that way, but that’s the way I see it.
From a tourist’s perspective the one thing that shouldn’t be overlooked at the northern end is Horse Guards and its Parade Ground. As you walk up Whitehall past Downing St and the Scotland Office you can’t fail to notice the handsome looking Horse Guards Building with two mounted troopers of the Household Cavalry symbolically protecting the entrance to Horse Guards Parade. This used to be the formal entrance to St. James’s Palace via St. James’s Park and only the monarch is usually allowed to drive through the central archway.
The Palladian style building and the Parade Ground was built on the former tiltyard of the Palace of Whitehall which was destroyed by fire in 1698 (apart from the Banqueting House). This was where King Henry VIII held his jousting tournaments and Elizabeth I held her birthday celebrations, and Elizabeth II continues the tradition today with Trooping the Colour to celebrate her ‘official’ birthday.
Several years ago I was given the opportunity of buying a ticket to see the rehearsal for this royal occasion. I didn’t even know it was taking place and without going into how it happened I took up the offer. I’m glad I did because even though it was only a rehearsal for the real thing a week later it was quite a spectacle.
The original Horse Guards building was replaced in 1753 by the one that’s here now and was the headquarters of the British Army and its Commander-in-Chief, one of whom was the Duke of Wellington.
You can walk through the arch into the Parade Ground which faces St. James’s Park. Looking back to the Horse Guards building you’ll see (from left to right) the Old Admiralty Building, the Household Cavalry Museum, the Scotland Office, and on the right hand side, the back of Downing St. There are also several monuments and statues, most of which have a military connection in one way or another.
Horse Guards and Horse Guards Parade to me represents an area of London where politics, military, and Royalty seem to all meet together. Try not to miss it.