UK Travel Guide


Houses of Parliament

Known the world over as the Houses of Parliament, it’s officially the Palace of Westminster. Built by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century during the construction of the first Abbey, it became the monarch’s chief residence until the mid-16th century. During this time and after Westminster Hall had been added by William Rufus, the Palace established itself as the center of the institution of government as it was here that the Royal Council of bishops, noblemen and ministers held their meetings – the Royal Council evolved to become the House of Lords. It was also during this period that what is now known as the House of Commons evolved for in this time the town burgesses were often summoned by the Court to assemble at the Palace. Although the monarchy (Henry VIII) moved away from and out of the Palace to Whitehall Palace after a disastrous fire in 1532, members of both Houses continued to meet there. Then in October 1834 an horrific fire almost completely destroyed the medieval palace and its various additions made from time to time over the centuries. So bad was the damage that it was resolved that a new building would be put up in its place but the original layout would not be adhered to. The new building was designed in Gothic style by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin. Work began in 1840 and the magnificent building we see today ( apart from the Commons Chamber which was rebuilt in 1950 after bomb damage in World War II) was finished in 1870. Today only Westminster Hall, built some 900 years ago, the Crypt Chapel of St Mary dating back to the 13th century and Cloisters of St. Stephens Chapel have, in form or another, survived the ravages of war fire and time. The Houses of Parliament building is really quite astounding; it comprises some 1200 rooms, 11 courtyards, approximately 2 miles of corridors and passages, 100 staircases, bars and restaurants and in all covers about 8 acres. Big Ben the bell, not the clock, is situated in St Stephens Tower. The British Government, that is , the House of Lords and the House of Commons meets and conducts its business from here. The public is permitted to see and hear what goes on in the two houses from the public galleries but is advised to obtain tickets weeks beforehand either through your local MP if you are a UK citizen or for overseas visitors through your embassy in London or else join the lengthy queue outside St Stephens Gate. Evening sessions or morning sessions on Wednesday and Friday seem to be the easiest to get into. A flag flying from Victoria Tower indicates that Parliament is in session.

Located at: Parliament Square, London,

Telephone: 020 7219 4272

Opens: Please telephone to check for the dates you require

Cost: free

Closest Subway Station: Westminster Station (Click to see more atrraction at this station)