Political, religious and regal power has emanated from Westminster for almost a millennium. It was Edward the Confessor (1042–66) who first established Westminster as London’s royal and ecclesiastical power base, some three miles west of the City of London. The embryonic English parliament used to meet in the abbey and eventually took over the old royal palace of Westminster. In the nineteenth century, Westminster – and Whitehall in particular – became the “heart of the Empire”, its ministries ruling over a quarter of the world’s population. Even now, though the UK’s world status has diminished, the institutions that run the country inhabit roughly the same geographical area: Westminster for the politicians, Whitehall for the civil servants.
The monuments and buildings in and around Westminster also span the millennium, and include some of London’s most famous landmarks – Nelson’s Column, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, plus two of the city’s finest permanent art collections, the National Gallery and Tate Britain. This is a well-trodden tourist circuit since it’s also one of the easiest parts of London to walk round, with all the major sights within a mere half-mile of each other, linked by one of London’s most majestic streets, Whitehall.