The houses of British Parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, have met in the Palace of Westminster since around 1550. A royal palace has been on the site for around 1,000 years, but most of what you see dates from the mid 19th century when the Palace was rebuilt after a 1834 fire destroyed the medieval buildings. The oldest part of the Palace is Westminster Hall, built between 1097 and 1099 by William Rufus. Henry VIII was the last monarch to live there; he moved out in 1512.
Where Is It?
Westminster Palace is located next to the Themes River between the Westminster and Lambeth Bridges, south of Trafalgar Square. You can get the view you see in the picture by riding the London Eye.
How to Get There
You can take the tube, exiting at Westminster or St. James Park stations. The Waterloo train station is just across the Themes from Westminster Palace.
Big Ben is the bell in the Clock Tower (People often use "Big Ben" for the name of the clock tower itself). The bell was cast in 1858 and is said to be named either after the Commissioner of Works at the time, Benjamin Hall, or the champion heavyweight boxer Ben Caunt, take your pick. The musical note from the bell is E, just in case you're playing along. Big Ben weighs 13.8 tons (tonnes).
At the opposite end of the Palace from Big Ben is Victoria Tower, which holds the Parliamentary Archives. It was built for that purpose after the 1834 fire destroyed the Palace and most House of Commons records. It is the tallest tower in the Palace and was once the tallest in the world.
"The restoration of the Victoria Tower between 1990 and 1994 required 68 miles of scaffolding tube, and one of the largest independent scaffolds in Europe. Some 1,000 cubic feet of decayed stonework was replaced, and over 100 shields were re-carved on site by a team of stonemasons." ~ The Victoria Tower - UK Parliament
Westminster Palace Tours and Visits
Overseas Visitors can no longer tour the Houses of Parliament during a session. They can tour the Parliament during the period of the summer opening, however.
Those wishing to tour the houses of Parliament should consult this page for dates, times, and ticket prices.
Overseas visitors can still attend debates in both houses. The Strangers' Gallery in the House of Commons is open to the public when the House is sitting. A seat in the Gallery in the House of Lords is easier to procure. You can line up (queue) for tickets at the St. Stephen's entrance between Cromwell Green and the Old Palace Yard on St. Margaret Street. Check our links in the upper right for a pdf format map of the Palace and Parliamentary estate.
Take a virtual tour of Westminster Palace through our Picture Gallery, including pictures of the buildings and grounds as well as Rodin's statue "The Burghers of Calais" which stands in Victoria Tower Gardens.