The Houses of Parliament may be the most obvious landmark of British politics, but the real corridors of power are trudged by the grey mandarins of Whitehall. This is where the Treasury, Foreign Office, and the Cabinet Office, amongst others, make some of the country’s most important political decisions.
Sandwiched between these large buildings of Portland stone is Downing St where the Prime Minister resides at No.10 and the Chancellor next door at No.11. For security reasons there isn’t much to see because everything is well guarded by gates, barriers and armed police.
The Ministry of Defence has its offices here and some of the other buildings used to belong to The Admiralty and War Office. Even the Metropolitan Police had their original headquarters at the famous ‘Scotland Yard’.
To put things into context ‘Whitehall’ can mean a couple of different things – the road called Whitehall, and the area surrounding it.
The road, for all intents and purposes, runs from Parliament Square to Charing Cross, although it’s not strictly true because from the Cenotaph to Parliament Square it’s known as Parliament St.
It gets its name from the Palace of Whitehall which covered this area until it was destroyed by fire in 1698, the only surviving building being the Banqueting House. Apart from the government offices, things to look out for are The Cenotaph, Horse Guards, and any number of statues, which are mostly of famous British military figures.
As regards the area surrounding this road, the government offices cover an area roughly bordered by Horse Guards Rd and The Embankment from west to east, and from the bottom of Parliament St to the top of Whitehall at Charing Cross. When media reporters talk about Whitehall they’re usually referring to the area rather than the road.
The walk from Parliament Square up to Charing Cross is only about half a mile but it can take a fair bit of time if you stop at places like The Churchill War Rooms, the Banqueting House, and Horse Guards Parade. Keep a bit of energy in reserve though because when you get to Charing Cross you’ve come to Trafalgar Square and the rest of the ‘West End’ where shopping and entertainment takes over.