Perched beneath the sprawling facade of Her Majesty’s Treasury building, a small entranceway leads visitors through a time portal to the epoch of the Second World War. It’s May of 1940. The Germans have just begun their invasion of France. Beneath the worried streets of London a newly appointed prime minister arrives inside a secret underground bunker for the first time. He looks around the narrow corridors, removes a cigar from his mouth and declares, “This is the room from which I will direct the war.”
Months later, as the Germans carried out a series of devastating air raids over the capital, it was here in the Cabinet War Rooms that Winston Churchill plotted the course for Allied victory. This historic space has been preserved exactly as it was during Britain’s darkest hours, and it’s now part of the greater Churchill War Rooms, a museum dedicated to the life of Sir Winston.
In the Map Room, visitors can see where military officials held daily briefings for the prime minister and King George VI. Walk around the corner and you’ll see the BBC broadcasting equipment used by Churchill to deliver four wartime speeches. Then there is the Transatlantic Telephone Room. This area, which was disguised as a bathroom, contained a secret line to Washington that Churchill used to speak privately with President Roosevelt (as dramatized in the film Darkest Hour).
The attached museum presents a detailed account of Churchill’s life, from a young man at military academy to an elder statesman during his second tenure as prime minister. The museum also displays an impressive collection of personal effects, including Churchill’s signature homburg hat, his preferred Scotch and Havana cigars, even the honorary U.S. passport that was presented to him by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
After the museum, stroll around the block to Parliament Square and visit the Churchill monument overlooking the Palace of Westminster. From there, it’s only a short walk to the National Portrait Gallery, which houses some of the most famous depictions of the prime minister.
Ambitious tourists can also venture south about 25 miles to Chartwell, Churchill’s country home. Much like the War Rooms, the estate has been preserved to offer a glimpse into the private life of Churchill. You will see the desk where he composed his famous speeches, his opulent study and his art studio with a large collection of paintings.
Back in London, The Churchill Arms is the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing. The eccentric 18th century pub was frequented by Churchill’s parents in their early days and renamed in the family’s honor after WWII. It’s loaded with Churchill memorabilia, as well as a selection of libations. The prime minister would approve.