Perhaps no figure looms larger on the ally side of World War II than Winston Churchill. Now at the Churchill War Rooms you can see, nearly perfectly in tact, where he and the hundreds who worked with him lived and worked during the Blitz.
The Churchill War Rooms are an underground bunker built underneath the government complex of Whitehall to protect Churchill and his cabinet during Nazi bombing raids. When the war was over everyone left the war rooms. Literally they just left and turned off the lights. This meant that when they we once again stumbled upon in the 1980’s they were a physical snapshot, frozen in time. When something like this is discovered it is pretty much begging to be a museum.
I am a big fan of well done recreations, this is one of the things I love about Disneyland. But in the case of the Churchill War Rooms they didn’t have to do much recreation at all. They added some wax figures to represent a few people and some glass in front of most of the rooms to preserve them. But you mostly see them exactly the way they were found.
How to Get to the Churchill War Rooms
Because the Churchill War Rooms are found in tact exactly where they were when they were used, they are still in the heart of London. They are under the government area known as Whitehall. This is, as you would expect, just a short walk from the Prime Minister’s house, Number 10 Downing Street.
We went to the Churchill War Rooms just after visiting Buckingham Palace. From the palace it is just a short walk. You can either walk through St. James Park always staying on the south side of the lake, or you can go on Birdcage Walk just on the edge of the park. Then you turn onto Horse Guard Road and will either see the queue (line) for the museum or its sign.
If you are coming from Westminster Abbey or the Houses of Parliament just walk west on Great George Street and turn onto Horse Guard Road.
After You Arrive
The museum opens at 9:30 and getting there a little before it opens is probably a good idea if you can. The queue can get quite long. The Churchill War Rooms are on the London Pass which is how we got entrance. If you buy tickets from the museum make sure that you do it online ahead of time. Holding online tickets will get you into the priority line while the London Pass will not.
Tickets if bought online or at the counter are £17.25 for adults and £8.60 for children. I would say that it is worth the price of admission, but if you already have the London Pass (which we recommend) then just wait in the normal queue.
You enter the building in groups and then go downstairs. If you don’t already have tickets or the London Pass this is where you get tickets. Before you enter the exhibit make sure you pick up the audio guide which is included with your ticket.
What You Will See at the Churchill War Rooms
Their are two main areas in the Churchill War Rooms. A linear exhibit path takes you through the intact underground bunker, called the Cabinet War Rooms. Halfway through the bunker you come to the Churchill Museum. This museum inside a museum turns the focus from the war rooms to the scope of Churchill’s long life. Both parts are well worth seeing.
Because everything in the Churchill War Rooms is set behind glass to preserve it, we did not get very clear pictures. I guess you have to visit for yourself.
The Cabinet War Rooms
You will follow a path through the underground rooms that Churchill, his cabinet, and their staffers lived and worked in during much of the war. You will see where they worked, ate, and slept.
It is very cool, but a little eerie to walk past these rooms underground. The map rooms is one of the last rooms you see. It was essentially the nerve center for directing the British part of World War II. The map room was left completely as it was at the end of the war, freezing in time the moment of allied victory.
There are many rooms to walkthrough and most have an audio tour section attached to them. There is also a cafe part way through if you get hungry while you are here.
The Churchill Museum
About halfway through the Cabinet War Rooms is the Churchill Museum. This is an underground space dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill. It follows an interesting chronological path, beginning with World War II, following him to death, and then following his life from birth back to the beginning of World War II.
I did not know much about Churchill’s life before visiting the Churchill War Rooms. I found the Churchill Museum exhibit to be very informative and engaging. This exhibit is really where you pick up more time though. I could not read or listen to everything that was here, whereas I did listen to almost every audio tour point in the Cabinet War Rooms.
Once you finish in the Churchill Museum you will pick back up where you left off with the Cabinet War Rooms.
The Churchill War Rooms was one of our favorite museums in London. It is very unique in that it is an almost completely untouched historical space. It served a crucial purpose in the British war effort. We think it is well worth the price of admission, even better if you have the London Pass.
There are free bathrooms once you are inside, but since the path is very linear it is hard to go back to an area that you have passed, so take advantage when you can.
Going through both the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum took us about 2 hours, You should plan at least 90 minutes minimum to be able to really see this place.