BIG BEN AND THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT ULTIMATE GUIDE
Mon - Thurs: 9:30am to 5:30PM
Time Needed: 1,5 hours
Fri - Sun: 9:00am to 5:00PM
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.
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).
Any visitors wanting to purchase a tour ticket must go to the Ticket Office, which located at the front of Portcullis House; (a four-minute walk away from Big Ben).
If you are travelling by tube, the nearest station is Westminster which is a four-minute walk away
If you are travelling by coach, bus drivers can make a stop on Abingdon Street which is a one-minute walk away from The Palace of Westminster
If you are travelling by bus, there are countless routes to choose from which stop at Parliament Square on Victoria Street (opposite the Houses of Parliament)
If you are travelling by car, the nearest parking spaces are in Great Peter Street, Smith Square and Matthew Parker Street. There is also an underground car park opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Visitors are allowed to attend debates, watch committee hearings and take a tour inside the Houses of Parliament, but only UK residents will be allowed to tour the inside of Big Ben.
If you are interested in watching a committee or attending a debate when parliament is in session, make sure you check out the Houses of Parliament’s official website before your visit. (The House of Commons usually sits from 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) When Parliament is sitting, the flag outside the Victoria Tower will be flying during the day, and another flag will be flying at the Ayrton Light on the Clock Tower at night.
Visitors are allowed to view the House of Commons Visitors’ Gallery when Parliament is in session, but be aware that the queue may take as long as an hour. Both UK residents and foreign visitors must obtain their tickets during Question Time, and all visitors can get into the Public Galleries for free via the Cromwell Green visitor entrance. Admission is free for any committee session, but you will need to provide proof of identity before entering the building.
UK residents can get tickets from an MP to the Strangers Gallery of the Houses of Commons, or from a Lord for a seat in the gallery of the House of Lords. Foreign visitors, however, must enter a queue to retrieve their tickets at any time of the day (or night) when the House of Commons is in session. (Be aware that due to limited space, there is no guarantee that foreign visitors will be able to get a seat).
Before entering the Houses of Parliament, be prepared to go through an airport-style screening which could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes; (or up to 45 minutes on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons if you want to visit the public galleries). Avoid bringing any large bags as they will be refused at entry and there are no lockers or storage areas; (you can, however, use the luggage facilities at the nearby Charing Cross, Victoria and Waterloo stations).
The Houses of Parliament’s guided tours take place every Saturday throughout the year from 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..
During July and August, the are tours every:
Tickets cost £15 for adults, £37 for families, £10 for students and £6 for children (aged five to 16), however, children under the age of five can get in for free.
Parliament recesses for three months over the summer, as well as over the Easter and Christmas holidays. During this time, there are guided tours to both the chambers and various other historic areas, as well as every Saturday any time of the year. There are also audio tours as well as guided tours, which are ideal for children so you can explore the area at your own pace.
If you are checking out the House of Parliament Circus you might also want to join any of the free London tours that are available on offer.
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