Tucked underneath of a complex of buildings in Whitehall, The Churchill War Rooms are often overlooked (literally) by those who pass by. But if you're interested in learning more about life in London during World War II, no other attraction does it better than the Churchill War Rooms.
The Churchill War Rooms are now part of the Imperial War Museum, but were once used by the British government between 1939 and 1945. During this time, the War Rooms served as a wartime bunker for Churchill and his government during the Blitz, as well as an intelligence area to provide summaries for King George VI.
The museum dedicates an entire section to the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who served from 1940 to 1945. Churchill used the bunker to have secret telephone conversations with President Roosevelt, film broadcasts to update British citizens throughout the war, and even declare war on Germany. But most importantly, the bunker provided Churchill and his cabinet with a private, safe area to plan what action Britain should take during World War 2 in order to defeat Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
It is said that hundreds of people lived here at any given time throughout the war, and the bunkers eventually included sleeping dormitories for staff, private bedrooms for both military officers and senior ministers, as well as rooms for typists and telephone switchboard operators.
The bunker also provided Churchill with his own office-bedroom where both his daughter (Mary Soames) and wife sometimes slept. There was even a private bathroom for Churchill which had a permanent “engaged” sign on it, (but unbeknownst to many it was actually a secret telephone room that had a direct line to President Franklin Roosevelt).
After the war ended, the rooms in the bunker were left untouched for many years, but in 1984 the War Rooms finally opened to the public to educate visitors on Britain’s involvement during World War 2.
Churchill War Rooms Highlights
Wandering through dimly-lit hallways, visitors will walk past various sections of the War Rooms like the Map Room, the Transatlantic Telephone Room, Mrs. Churchilll’s bedroom, and even the room where Churchill used to record broadcasts to the British public during the war.
In the Churchill Museum there is an interactive gallery with a 15 metre-long “Lifeline,” so visitors can stroll past each section to read more about Churchill’s life in chronological order. Tourists can easily spend an entire day reading up on the former Prime Minister's life, which starts from his birth up until his death. This “Lifeline” also includes intimate photographs of Churchill and his family, as well as photographs of the War Rooms during World War 2, and even documents famous film clips and interviews with his closest staff.
You can also read letters between Churchill and his wife Clementine, see his cigar and famous red siren suit or one of his early paintings, and listen to extracts from some of his most famous speeches.
- Be prepared to get lost in the maze-like corridors. It's not uncommon for visitors to walk past certain sections or even lose members of their group without realizing it until after they exit the museum.
- There is a ton of reading material so if you're visiting with small children and/or not interested in standing for hours on end, then you may have to cut your visit short.
- Be prepared for long queues during the holidays or summer months. If you plan on spending a fair bit of time reading all the material in the museum, then try to arrive just before the War Rooms open.
- If you only have a limited amount of time in London but also want to see the nearby Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, you could easily do so in one day (but make sure you get up early to give yourself enough time!)