Ummm, did you hear that Bethany visited me for my birthday? Okay, okay, I know – enough about my birthday! But seriously, it was awesome.
One of the great things about her visit (other than the obvious amazingness of the surprise) was that she’s already been to London, which means that she’s already visited all the really big tourist spots: The Tower, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s, Changing of the Guard, etc. So on this visit, we got to do some of the second tier things – those places that aren’t an absolute priority on a first visit, but are definitely worth checking out.
One of those spots was a place Bethany wanted to go the last time she was here, but we just didn’t have the time: The Churchill War Rooms.
That brown hut-like door on the right is the entrance. The museum is underground in the actual secret bunker used by Churchill and his cabinet during World War II.
Located on the edge of St. James’s Park, beneath one of the many buildings off Whitehall, the War Rooms are surprisingly close to both Parliament and Downing Street. It’s a testament to the absolute secrecy surrounding the place that it’s location was never revealed and therefore, it was never a direct target during the Blitz.
The War Rooms have been restored to their appearance during the war. The museum leads you through the halls with peeks into the bedrooms used by government ministers and their private secretaries; the Cabinet meeting rooms where Churchill argued with his team over strategy; the communications rooms (including a special Transatlantic Telephone Room for super secret conversations between Churchill and Roosevelt!); and Churchill’s private kitchen – to name just a few of the highlights.
In addition to the War Rooms, there’s a museum dedicated to Churchill’s life in the middle of it all. It was very interesting, though strangely laid out (it kind of led you backwards in time, starting with the War and his life afterwards, then taking you through his birth, childhood, and life before WWII).
Sadly, I took absolutely no pictures at this super cool place – even though the woman who checked our bags told us specifically that pictures were allowed! And I can’t find any great pics online, so you’ll have to visit the website to get a better idea of what this place is like.
The coolest room, I thought, was the Map Room.
Unlike some of the other rooms, this one remains exactly as it was left in 1945 (plus some creepy mannequins, of course). This was the informational center of the bunker, with a row of constantly active telephones and maps lining every wall (with thousands of tiny pinpricks from all the pins tracing the advancement of the Allies position). Apparently, the lights were never switched off in this room for the duration of the war.
On the way out through the gift shop, we perused the wartime posters and advertisements and found this gem:
All in all, a pretty cool place that I would highly recommend to residents or visitors. Bonus: the audio guide is included in your ticket price. I loooooooove an audio guide. Thanks to Bethany for coming to London and forcing me to finally check it out!
Have you been to the War Rooms? Do you know of any other fascinating “second tier” tourist spots that deserve more recognition?