10 DOWNING STREET ULTIMATE GUIDE
Open: Everyday: Open 24 hours
Time Needed: 30 min
It has one of the most famous addresses in the world and the most photographed door in England, yet many don’t even bother including 10 Downing Street in their London travel because they can’t even get close to it. But even though you can’t even step inside 10 Downing Street, let alone walk down Downing Street, just snapping a photo of the iconic front black door is a tourist activity in itself.
10 Downing Street is essentially London’s White House, and has been the official address for British prime ministers since 1735. The first residential home which was built on the site of 10 Downing Street was constructed by Sir Thomas Knyvett in 1581; (who was perhaps best known for arresting Guy Fawkes after the gunpowder plot). Some of the many famous political figures who once lived and/or worked at 10 Downing Street include Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Pitt the Younger, Robert Walpole, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone and David Lloyd George.
Both the first and second world wars were directed from inside 10 Downing Street, and some of the many key decisions related to the British Empire were developed here as well; (such as the building of the British nuclear bomb, the Great Depression, and many more).
10 Downing Street also stretches all the way to 12 Downing Street (because of its interconnected corridors and buildings which make up much of the street), and many important world leaders visit 10 Downing Street throughout the year whenever the British prime minister hosts a reception or charitable event.
10 Downing Street’s front door is said to be the most photographed front door in all of Britain, and can only be seen when looking through the gates from Whitehall; (where you can see the single white stone step and the black steel door with the number “10” on it). The door was originally made of oak, but was replaced with blast-proof material in 1991 after an IRA bomb exploded in the nearby garden.
For those with good eyesight and/or a camera with a good zoom, you should be able to see the front door’s black iron knocker (in the shape of a lion’s head) as well as the brass letter box with the “First Lord of the Treasury” inscription.
The iconic black bricks of the house are also famous (although they are actually yellow underneath). They were blackened by the London smog during the 19th century, and as a result were painted black during the 1960s since people were accustomed to seeing them that way.
Inside 10 Downing Street is a treasure trove of architectural delights that very few people get to see (unless you’re famous, or a royal, of course). Its main staircase is perhaps one of the most famous highlights of the house, as the walls along the staircase are lined with portraits of past British prime ministers.
For the best views, you can get a clear shot of 10 Downing Street when taking a ride on the top deck of a double decker bus (specifically on route #11). You can also get a good view of 10 Downing Street when taking a ride on the London Eye as well.
If you're hoping to snap a photo of the prime minister entering or leaving the residence, be sure to bring a good camera with an extra good zoom.
If you're lucky, the armed police officers may be friendly enough to pose for a photo with you or answer your questions.
Try to avoid lingering around Downing Street during a protest or demonstration; (although this only happens on rare occasions).
10 Downing St, London SW1A 2AA, United Kingdom (See map).
The closest you can get to 10 Downing Street would be to walk down Whitehall, and look down Downing Street with the River Thames to your back.
The nearest station is Westminster (which is an eight-minute walk away).
The nearest station is Charing Cross Station (which is a ten-minute walk away).
The best route to see 10 Downing Street from is route #11.
You can park in the Q-Park Westminster car park (an 11-minute walk away), but this can be expensive especially during the weekend and on holidays. If you want to save some money, you can park your car in Southbank (at Waterloo Station or on Leake Street) and then walk across Westminster Bridge to Downing Street.
Unfortunately for tourists, 10 Downing Street (as well as the majority of Downing Street itself) is blocked off by a black gate and heavily patrolled by police at all times. (However, visitors can now take a look at the inside of 10 Downing Street by taking a 360-degree virtual tour on 10 Downing Street’s official website).
If you’re lucky enough, you might even be able to see the Prime Minister leaving or entering the residence in his armed car. You’ll know if the prime minister is en route to or from Downing Street because there is normally a flurry of activity with lots of people and police officers standing around (and possibly even some photographers too). But don’t let the flurry of activity deceive you, because the prime minister may be leaving or entering the residence when there is no one around at all!
The closest you can get to 10 Downing Street would be to stand on the edge of the street next to the FCO building (near the Captain James Cook statue) and peer through the black barriers. In your view you should be able to see 10 and 11 Downing Street, as well as a group of armed forces with machine guns standing near the famous black door.
Unfortunately for tourists, 10 Downing Street is not open to the public. As a matter of fact, you can’t even walk up to the residence, let alone walk down Downing Street.
However, if you’re hoping to see the prime minister enter or leave the residence, check to see if the gates are open. In that case, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister from far away, or even snap a photo through the high iron gates at the end of Downing Street.
Your best chances of seeing any kind of activity on Downing Street would be on a Thursday morning, which is when the cabinet meets the prime minister every week. The prime minister usually leaves for Parliament between 11 and 11:30 a.m. every Wednesday as well.
Although there’s no telling when the cabinet minister and/or prime minister will enter or leave the building, your chances of spotting them will be higher during weekday mornings, rather than at night, or on the weekends.
If you are checking out Downing Street you might also want to join any of the free tours that are available on offer.
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