Out of all the London landmarks scattered throughout the city, none are more recognizable or synonymous with London's culture than the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
The Houses of Parliament and its magnificent clock tower (famously nicknamed “Big Ben”) have become iconic symbols of London for centuries, and it's hard not to imagine these two attractions when an image of London comes to mind.
The Houses of Parliament (also known as the Palace of Westminster – not to be confused with the nearby Westminster Abbey) was originally built as a royal palace and residence during the reign of Henry VIII. In 1547 the building was given to the British Parliament, and it has been its permanent location ever since.
Big Ben (now named The Elizabeth Tower) which is located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, stands at 96 metres in height and also contains the second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world.
Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament Highlights
Unbeknownst to many visitors admiring its glorious architecture and massive clock tower from the outside, the Palace of Westminster actually serves as a meeting point for British politicians; and if you're lucky enough, during your visit to London you may even be able to sit in on a House of Commons meeting (for free!)
But that's not all the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben have to offer. Inside the Palace of Westminster you can see plaques commemorating the trials of William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and Charles I (just to name a few); and the oldest section of the palace (The Hall) is an architectural delight which contains the largest hammer-beamed room in the world.
St. Stephen's Hall is another famous section inside the Palace of Westminster, which is located at the far end of Westminster Hall. St. Stephen's Hall was once used as a royal chapel, and some of the most important parliamentary events in British history took place here.
- Be sure to arrive extra early as queues can be incredibly long, and be prepared to stand out in the rain for up to an hour; (the queues for the Public Gallery of the House of the Lords, however, tend to be shorter, as well as any queue during the evening hours).
- If you don't feel like going on a guided tour, there are self-guided tours available so you can walk at your own pace. The guided tour, however, offers much more historical information about the construction of the buildings, and leads visitors through sections that are not accessible to the public. It may be a good idea to sign up online beforehand as availability may be limited.
- Although it is recommended you arrive 15 minutes before your tour starts, it may be a good idea to arrive even earlier (at least 30 minute beforehand).