It’s been less than a year since the EU referendum and only two years since the last general election, but the stoical Brits will be trudging back to the polling booth today to cast a vote in this year’s unexpected snap poll.
This momentous occasion provides a perfect excuse to gawp at grandiose buildings and learn more about matters of government and democracy in the capital. If you’re a history buff, a committed politics junkie or just a casual observer, read on for the lowdown on London’s best political sights and attractions.
Parliament Square Garden
A hotbed of protests and a favoured location for broadcast interviews with MPs, Parliament Square Garden is one of London’s best known green spaces and a great place to begin your civic explorations. Flanked by the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the Supreme Court, it lies within one of the city’s most photographed intersections, and offers peerless political people-watching opportunities. Dedicated heritage wardens provide information on the park’s history, as well as tips on nearby attractions.
The Houses of Parliament
Whether you’re a UK resident or a visitor from overseas, you can gain an insight into the lofty world of lawmaking on a guided Houses of Parliament tour. Home to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Parliament of the United Kingdom building – more correctly known as the Palace of Westminster – is open for a variety of visits, including some which end with afternoon tea overlooking the River Thames. Highlights include Westminster Hall and the Queen’s Robing Room, as well as the Members’ Lobby and the Commons Chamber. [Note that Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower tours are currently suspended while refurbishment works take place.]
A main road running between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square, Whitehall is known as the centre of government in the United Kingdom. It’s home to major departments such as the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence, is adjacent to the Cabinet War Rooms – site of the underground bunker from where Churchill hatched his Allied victory strategy – and is the access point for Downing Street and Horse Guards Parade (for the Changing of the Guard). For the complete insider’s guide to this grand historic thoroughfare, consider a Wonders of Whitehall walking tour with London Guided Walks.
Found in the northeast corner of Hyde Park near Marble Arch, Speakers’ Corner has hosted a variety of political pundits and soapbox orators since its establishment in 1866, including Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx and George Orwell. It’s also been the preferred gathering place of peace and social justice movements from the suffragettes to anti-war campaigners, and to this day remains a national focal point for debaters, preachers, free speech enthusiasts and anyone wishing to make their voice heard.
Finish with a pint in one of London’s traditional politics-inspired pubs, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the Red Lion on Parliament Street, mere moments from the Prime Minister’s front door. This Grade II-listed establishment has been a hangout for the political elite for centuries, including patronage from Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Edward Heath and their assorted hangers-on, though its nearby neighbour St. Stephen’s Tavern is more likely to provide sightings of modern-day MPs. For somewhere less in the thick of it, where you can watch the results of the 2017 general election unfold, head to the Lexington in Islington who are hosting an all-night viewing party across two floors with all the action beamed from big screens.
Visit our London destination guide for more information on the capital’s highlights and attractions.