A Tour Inside 10 Downing Street
This post covers tours of 10 Downing Street and includes information to such as how to get there, best times to go, as well as some virtual tours of the famous residence.
By Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/MOD, OGL v1.0
Number 10 Downing Street is one of the most famous addresses in the world. Since 1735, it has been home to the UK’s prime ministers.
Although it’s hard to get a good look at the street due to security, Downing Street still remains as one of the most visited sites in our capital city.
Should you want to visit this historic street to get a glimpse of the iconic black door of No. 10 Downing, check out our guided Westminster Tour and our London in a Day Tour, which both stop at Downing Street.
You can also try our GPS-enabled anytime audio tour which includes a stop at Downing Street.
How to Get Here
Click here to get exact directions from your point of departure.
To reach 10 Downing Street by tube, it’s best to reach it by either the Westminster or Charing Cross Station.
For obvious safety reasons, the public is not allowed to walk on Downing Street, let alone go into the residence of the Prime Minister (PM).
There have been barriers erected along both sides of Downing Street since the 1920s.
In 1974, it was suggested that permanent barriers should be erected to prevent the public from walking along the street.
However, the Prime Minister at the time, Harold Wilson, overturned the idea. He felt that it was not right that the public should be prevented from walking down the street and taking photographs outside Number 10.
That has changed, and now security is very tight, as one would expect for the home of a country’s head of state.
Today, the closest visitors can get is standing on the edge of the street to peer through the permanent black metal gates.
See below for some tips on how to get the best view of the street and door.
Things to Do Nearby
There are plenty of other significant London sites within walking distance of Downing Street.
- Buckingham Palace
- Trafalgar Square
- Changing of the Guard
- Big Ben
- Houses of Parliament
- 10 Downing Street
- Westminster Abbey
- The Churchill War Rooms
- The Horse Guards
- St. James’s Palace
Find some more ideas, read our post on what to see in Royal London.
Many of these attractions have ticket prices attached to them for entry. Most are included in a number of tourist attraction discount passes available to you in London.
Read our post which compares these city passes to see if any are a good fit for you.
As noted above, you cannot walk on Downing Street as a member of the general public, but there are a few ways that you can see what the inside looks like, and also potentially glimpse the PM or cabinet members coming or going.
An Inside Look at 10 Downing Street
This video below made for the 2012 Olympics, gives you a good look into the public rooms inside 10 Downing Street.
Also, take a look at the virtual tour of 10 Downing Street on the UK Government’s website.
Lastly, Google made this crystal-clear 360-degree virtual tour of some of the rooms in 10 Downing Street.
Here are some tips on how to get a good glimpse of the famous black door (and perhaps famous people as well).
(1) To get a quick photo-op of 10 Downing Street, you can take the #11 bus, and sit on the top deck of the doubledecker. You may want to take a video from the bus since a still shot might be hard to capture while the bus is in motion.
(2) You can actually see 10 Downing Street while taking a ride on the London Eye!
(3) Make sure to go to the gates on Whitehall, which is where you will get your best pictures through the heavy security and barriers.
(4) To see any comings and goings of the PM and other government members, Thursday morning is the best time, as this is when the PM and Cabinet meet. Also Wednesdays between 11 and 11:30 a.m. is good since the PM leaves at this time to head to Parliament.
Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office
Prime ministers come and go, but one resident of 10 Downing Street has no plans to leave any time soon.
Larry the cat, whose official title is Chief Mouser, has been living at 10 Downing Street since February 2011. He has now seen two PMs come and go.
He may the most beloved resident of 10 Downing Street in the modern era and his activities are watched closely by the press and the adoring public.
Here he is, on May 24, 2019, being escorted into the residence just minutes before Theresa May stood in front of the famous black door and announced her resignation.
Downing Street itself was built in the 1680s by Sir George Downing who had purchased a large tract of land near Parliament, on the edge of St. James’s Park.
He originally intended that the street should be full of fine townhouses designed specifically “for persons of good quality to inhabit in…”
When building these houses, Downing was assisted by master architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the buildings.
Most were actually built rather cheaply and were not of good quality – still the case when Winston Churchill resided at Number 10 and he is quoted as saying his house was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name that bear.”
Earls, Lords, and Countesses quickly moved into the prime real estate built here although it seems unlikely that Sir Downing himself ever actually resided on the street that holds his name.
Regardless of this fact, a portrait of him still hangs in the entrance foyer of Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1800s the houses had nearly all been taken over by the government. Some of the original buildings were demolished to allow space to build and expand the Privy Council Office, the Board of Trade and the Treasury Offices.
10 Downing Street
The majority of UK’s Prime Ministers, dating back to the very first, (Robert Walpole in 1720) have called Number 10 home.
The building itself is made up of over 100 hundred rooms – only part of which is actually residential.
There is a private residence on the third floor and a private kitchen in the basement. Everything in between is offices, conference rooms, reception halls, sitting rooms, dining rooms, etc.
These rooms are all in constant usage – Foreign dignitaries are entertained here and the Prime Minister and his government base the majority of their work at Number 10.
The front door to Number 10 is most likely the most famous feature of the building. Large, shiny and black and bearing ‘10’ in large brass numbers, the door is most likely one of the most photographed in the world!
Originally, the door was made of Georgian black oak; it is today made of blast-proof steel and takes a reported eight men to lift it.
The original door can be seen by the public – it is on display in the Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms.
According to Margaret Thatcher, Number 10 Downing Street is “one of the most precious jewels in the national heritage.”