- Type: Landmarks
NileGuide Expert tip:
The best photos of these landmarks are captured from Westminster Bridge
The Houses of Parliament, along with their trademark clock tower, Big Ben, are the ultimate symbols of London. They're the strongholds of Britain's democracy, the assemblies that effectively trimmed the sails of royal power. Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are in the former royal Palace of Westminster, which was the king's residence until Henry VIII moved to Whitehall. The current Gothic Revival buildings date from 1840 and were designed by Charles Barry. (The earlier buildings were destroyed by fire in 1834.) There are more than 1,000 rooms and 3km (1 3/4 miles) of corridors. The clock tower at the eastern end houses the world's most famous timepiece. "Big Ben" refers not to the clock tower itself, but to the largest bell in the chime, which weighs close to 14 tons and is named for the first commissioner of works, Sir Benjamin Hall.
You may observe debates for free from the Stranger's Galleries in both houses. Sessions usually begin in mid-October and run to the end of July, with recesses at Christmas and Easter. The chances of getting into the House of Lords when it's in session are generally better than for the more popular House of Commons. Although we can't promise you the oratory of a Charles James Fox or a William Pitt the Elder, the debates in the House of Commons are often lively and controversial (seats are at a premium during crises).
Those who'd like to book a tour can do so, but it takes a bit of work. Both houses are open to the general public for guided tours only for a limited season in July and August. The palace is open Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday from 9:15am to 4:30pm during those times. All tour tickets cost £12 ($24) adult; £8 ($16) for seniors, students, and children 4-16; £30 ($60) family ticket. Children 3 and under may enter free. For advance tickets call tel. 08709/063773.
If you arrive just to attend a session, these are free. You line up at Stephen's Gate, heading to your left for the entrance into the Commons or to the right for the Lords. The London daily newspapers announce sessions of Parliament.
Insider's Tip: The hottest ticket and the most exciting time to visit is during "Prime Minister's Question Time" on Wednesdays, which is only from noon to 12:30pm, but which must seem like hours to the prime minister, who is on the hot seat, exchanging barbs with the MPs (members of Parliament). Foreign and Commonwealth visitors should apply to their embassy or High Commission in the U.K. for a card of introduction, which will normally permit entry around 11:30am. Embassies and High Commissions may issue no more than four cards on any day, so visitors from certain countries may find cards are booked for several weeks ahead. Please note that such cards do not guarantee entry. Quite often, it will not be possible to admit their bearers until after Question Time. British embassies abroad do not issue such cards.
Across the street is the Jewel Tower, Abingdon Street (tel. 020/7222-2219), one of only two surviving buildings from the medieval Palace of Westminster. It was constructed in 1365 as a place where Edward III could stash his treasure trove. The tower hosts an exhibition on the history of Parliament and makes for a great introduction to the inner workings of the British government. The video presentation on the top floor is especially informative. A touch-screen computer allows visitors to take a virtual tour of both houses of Parliament.
- © Frommer's 2013
Ask a local about Houses of Parliament & Big BenLocals have answered 120 questions about London.
Ask London Locals about Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
- Highly Recommended 2010
- visit website
- tel: House of Commons 020/7219-4272
- The Palace of Westminster
- Westminster Palace, Old Palace Yard, SW1. Join line at St. Stephen's entrance
- London SW1A 0AA
- Mid-Oct to Aug Mon-Tues 9am-noon; Wed 9-9:20am; Fri 3:30-5pm. Both houses open for tours
- No Sweat
- User Rating