City of Westminster overview
What it's all about?
The UK’s seat of power since the first official Parliament of England gathered here in 1295, the City of Westminster has evolved over the centuries to become one of the world’s top tourist destinations that around a quarter of a million people call home. This central London borough is the location for some of the capital’s most iconic tourist attractions – Big Ben, the Royal Parks, Oxford Street, Theatreland and Buckingham Palace – not to mention the city’s largest and busiest shopping and recreational areas. The borough also covers many quite residential areas. Soho, St James, Mayfair, Belgravia, Pimlico, Bayswater, St John’s Wood, Maida Vale and Marylebone each have their own personalities with much to recommend them.
- The City of Westminster has more than 11,000 listed buildings.
- Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey is where many of the greats of English literature have been buried or memorialised. These include Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Lewis Carroll, Ted Hughes, CS Lewis and many more.
- For Beatles fans, the Apple Boutique – opened in 1967 at 94 Baker Street – and the Apple HQ at 3 Savile Row are places of interest. The rooftop of the latter was the location where the band made their last ever appearance in 1969. The Old Marylebone Town Hall hosted the weddings of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. In 1965, McCartney paid £40,000 for the Regency townhouse on Cavendish Avenue in St John’s Wood, which he still owns. Today, the property is worth around £15m.
Architecture and property
Terraced period townhouses and mews houses make up the attractive enclaves in Marylebone and Mayfair, as properties in these areas are considered among the most expensive in the country. These properties are supplemented by a mix of grand mansion blocks and recently-built luxury apartments. Close to the Palace of Westminster and a favoured spot for MPs and civil servants, Pimlico has also many early 20th-century mansion blocks as well as a smattering of affordable ex-local authority properties. In the north of the borough, Maida Vale and St John’s Wood have a higher percentage of family homes with Victorian villas and large townhouses.
For house price information please visit our resource centre.
Eating: The West End has thousands of restaurants at varying price points. Soho is bustling with crowds enjoying its noodle canteens, tapas bars and gourmet burger joints. The borough is also home to long-established venues including Rules, the oldest restaurant in London. Its Covent Garden location has been beloved by the theatrical and literary set through the ages, with a menu featuring British classics, such as pies, puddings, game and seafood. With an opulent dining room overlooking Regent Street, Veeraswamy is London’s oldest Indian restaurant, offering a dynamic menu of reimagined regional classics.
Drinking: There are plenty of illustrious pubs in the area, including Fleet Street’s Grade-II listed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. It was a favourite of author Charles Dickens, who features it in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Another authentic pub, dating from the 17th-century, is Covent Garden’s Lamb & Flag. There are also the grand hotel bars of Mayfair and Piccadilly, such as the Art Deco-styled Claridge’s Bar and the legendary American Bar at the Savoy. For those looking for a more relaxed experience, Old Compton Street’s Bar Termini is a hip cocktail and coffee lounge.
Nightlife: The West End and Soho are the beating heart of London’s clubland, where long-running venues are joined by those riding current trends in music and fashion. The retro and flamboyantly disco-themed Carwash club in Mayfair has three floors of dance floors, as well as a Jacuzzi and swimming pool. Alternatively, catch a show at Soho’s iconic Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, going strong since 1959.
Entertainment: With Theatreland right on your doorstep, take advantage of the many booths that offer discounted and last-minute tickets. Cinema is represented by the giant screens of Leicester Square – Vue West End, Cineworld and Odeon Luxe, but also by the arthouse offerings at the Prince Charles Cinema and Picturehouse Central.
Culture: Westminster is the location for many of the art world’s heavy hitters – the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy of the Arts and the Wallace Collection. Kensington Gardens is the attractive setting for the sculpture and art shows of the Serpentine Galleries, while a concentration of smaller commercial art galleries can be found around New Bond Street.
Events: Hyde Park hosts many big festivals, including the annual British Summer Time concerts, which typically feature some of the world’s biggest music acts. Likewise, Somerset House hosts outdoor concerts in summer, while its central courtyard transforms into a winter wonderland from November to January.
- Marylebone Farmers’ Market, which is open weekly on Sundays, was one of the first of its kind in London. It regularly features around 40 stalls offering fresh produce and street food.
- The beautiful wood-lined and light-filled rooms of upmarket department store Liberty were built out of the timbers of battleships in the 1920s. Located just off Regent Street, the shop remains a treasure trove of ornaments, accessories, objets d’art and the world-famous Liberty fabrics.
- With a history reaching back to the 1700s, the turf at Lord’s cricket ground in Marylebone was once kept short by grazing sheep. As the home of cricket, it’s a must-visit for fans of the game, with a museum and tours on site.
The City of Westminster is home to four Royal Parks – Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park. All are beautifully maintained with sweeps of lawn, wooded areas, lakes, duck ponds and cafés, located just moments from the packed streets of Central London. Little Venice is another pleasant spot for a stroll, surrounded by a picturesque stretch of canals and waterways beyond Paddington station.
Redevelopments are constantly underway in the borough. In Marylebone, a major development of Moxon Street Car Park promises around 75 new apartments, plus shops and community facilities. The area around Paddington Basin has seen a huge amount of new development, most recently some 200 new flats built at West End Gate. Also, the area around Victoria station has been transformed by new office, retail and mixed-use blocks.
Rail: Offering access to the commuter belt and beyond, Charing Cross serves southeast London, Kent and the south coast; Marylebone has trains to northwest London, the West Midlands and Birmingham; trains from Paddington go west to Bristol, Wales and the West Country; and services from Victoria travel to Kent, Sussex, Brighton and other south-coast destinations.
Bus: Buses from all over London converge on the West End and mainline stations, and the borough has the highest concentration of nightbuses and 24-hour services.
Tube: The City of Westminster is served by 27 London Underground stations and 10 tube lines. The ‘Night Tube’ means there is a 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays across the whole of the Victoria and Jubilee lines, and most of the Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines.
Road: The majority of the area falls within the Congestion Charge zone, and there are many restrictions to cars in central Westminster and Oxford Street. The A40 Westway cuts through the centre of the borough, taking cars to west London and beyond.
Cycle: Several Cycle Superhighways cross the borough, offering separate cycle lanes along Central London’s busy roads and bridges. You can also find docking stations for the Santander Cycles public bike hire scheme across the central area.
Getting away: As well as the mainline services listed above, the Heathrow Express runs four times an hour from Paddington with a 15 to 21-minute journey to the airport (depending on terminal). The Gatwick Express runs from Victoria and takes just under 30 minutes.
There are a wide range of state and private primary schools to choose from in the borough. There are a number of independent preparatory options for boys, including Westminster Abbey Choir School and the Catholic Westminster Cathedral Choir School. The co-educational L’École Bilingue Elementaire and EIFA International School are also good options for a bilingual education. State secondary schools include the well-regarded St Marylebone Church of England School for Girls, which specialises in the performing arts, maths and computing, and the co-educational Pimlico Academy in the south of borough. The independent American School in London is popular with expat parents, and the world-renowned Westminster School, which has a history and buildings dating back to medieval times, offers boarding and day options for boys from 13 to 16 with a co-educational sixth form.
Please see our education resource for more information on schools in this area.
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