London’s Secret WWII Tunnels Are Opening to the Public

One of the city’s coolest pieces of history is getting a $268 million transformation

September 28, 2023 11:43 am
Shelterers bunked down for the night in one of the tunnels of a deep shelter under London
The tunnels were orignially used as bomb shelters for Londoners during WWII.
Bettmann Archive

History buffs, this one’s for you. In what is set to be one of the world’s great underground tourist attractions, London just announced plans to turn their clandestine, WWII-era tunnels into an immersive experience, marrying education with leisure like food and beverage. The city says it will invest £140 million ($170.5 million) into restoration and an additional £80 million ($97 million) into the immersive elements. 

“The history of the tunnels, their scale and the location between London’s Holborn and the historic Square Mile could make these tunnels one of London’s most popular tourist destinations,” Angus Murray, CEO of The London Tunnels, said in a statement.

According to CNN, if planning approval is granted later this fall, architects who worked on Singapore’s Gardens and Battersea Power Station in London will be core members of the team. The Kingsway Exchange tunnels were originally built in the 1940s to provide shelter from blitz bombings, which was the last time they were open to the public. They were used again as headquarters of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, a branch of M16. And then in the 1950s, it became the Kingsway Telephone Exchange, a network of 5,000 trunk cables with 200 employees working the phone lines. It was even home to the hot line that connected U.S. and USSR leaders during the Cold War.

A billiards room from the British Telecommunications days
A billiards room from the British Telecommunications days
Getty Images

In the 1980s, British Telecom took over the tunnels and even established a licensed bar for government staff, complete with a game room. The technology eventually became outdated, and the site was decommissioned at the end of the decade. Now, the tunnels are going to receive new life. Plans for immersive screens, interactive exhibits and even scent-emitting technology are being proposed.

While the London Tunnels project wouldn’t be complete until 2027, it sounds like four years isn’t too bad of a wait for such an amazing experience. I mean, just look at this bar rendering — as if all of the amazing history isn’t enough, I just really want to drink a Martini here:

london tunnels bar rendering
A rendering of the makeover
DBOX/The London Tunnels


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.