Visiting London's Houses of Parliament

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    History of the Houses of Parliament

    Palace of Westminster
    Getty Images/John and Tina Reid

    The Parliament of the United Kingdom is one of the oldest representative assemblies in the world. Parliament consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The site of the Houses of Parliament is the Palace of Westminster, a royal palace and former residence of kings on the River Thames. Edward the Confessor had the original palace built in the 11th century. The layout of the palace is intricate, with its existing buildings containing nearly 1,200 rooms, 100 staircases, and well more than two miles of hallways. Among the original historic buildings is Westminster Hall, now used for major public ceremonial events. The iconic Big Ben, symbol of London, rises above the Parliament buildings. 

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    Getting There

    Sign, Westminster Station Underground
    Getty Images/Dennis K. Johnson

    The Houses of Parliament are directly opposite the London Underground's Westminster station exit. You can't miss Big Ben as you leave the station. Use Journey Planner to plan your route by public transport.

     

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    Stop for Lunch or Dinner

    There is a cafe inside the Houses of Parliament where you can stop once you are inside the building after your tour, but if you want to have lunch before your visit you have several convenient options. The ​Central Hall is a two-minute walk from the Houses of Parliament and has a peaceful cafe on the lower ground floor. The cafe is open daily and serves a full English breakfast, sandwiches, salads, hot lunches, and desserts, cakes. 

    Another great little-known location for a cuppa is the Supreme Court, which is on the other side of Parliament Square and has a free permanent exhibition and a basement cafe worth knowing about.

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    Houses of Parliament Tours

    City of Westminster, House of Lords, interior
    Getty Images/David Murray

    Tours of the Houses of Parliament last an hour and 15 minutes, and tours start every 15 minutes. You'll be in a group of about 20 people with a Blue Badge qualified guide. The tours are usually at their busiest in the afternoon so try to get there in the morning for a chance at a smaller group if you would like more opportunities to ask questions. Tours are available every Saturday all year and during the summer recess of Parliament in August and September, when Parliament is not in session, or as the Brits say, does not sit. During the recess, you can take a tour from Monday to Saturday. There are no tours on Sunday or on bank holidays. Check the dates for the summer recess on the official website when you are making plans for a tour.

    Tours include the chambers of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, plus highlights such as the Queen's Robing Room, the Royal Gallery, Central Lobby, and St. Stephen's Hall. A bit of bad news: You won't be able to take photos except in Westminster Hall.

     

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    Seeing Parliament in Action

    House of Lords chamber
    Getty Images Europe/WPA Pool

    If you just want to turn up and go to the public galleries to watch a debate and maybe history being made, you can simply join the public queue outside St. Stephen's Entrance, but there is usually a one- or two-hour wait in the afternoons. To keep your waiting time down, it's best to arrive at 1 p.m. or later. The House of Commons Information Office can let you know in advance what is to be debated on specific days in the House of Commons. The public gallery is open when the House is sitting (​check the website for official times).

    You can also sit in the public gallery and watch the House of Lords, which usually has a shorter waiting time.