Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
The Palace of Westminster, as the Houses of Parliament are properly called, was built originally as a royal palace in the 11th Century and remained the principal London residence of the Kings of England until a fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512.
Big Ben, an iconic symbol of London, which has featured in countless movies as a scene setter and is one of the best known London landmarks. is the first thing most visitors recognise as they approach the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben is one of three principal towers rise above the magnificent Gothic building which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Situated in Parliament Square next to the River Thames, the Houses of Parliament are where the House of Commons and the House of Lords sit. The very first meeting to claim the name ‘parliament’ was the Model Parliament of 1295.
The public galleries, at the Houses of Parliament, are open to the public when the Houses are sitting ( meeting ). There are differing times for each of the House which sit from Monday to Thursday and on Sitting Fridays.
UK residents and overseas visitors can watch debates, free, on current issues or proposed new laws in both Houses by visiting the public galleries. Guided tours of the Houses of Parliament are also available.
The public galleries are not open during recess, when neither House is sitting.
Except for Question Time, when tickets are required, admission to the Public Galleries is FREE. through the Cromwell Green visitor entrance. The House of Commons sits from 2:30 - 10:30pm.
Long queues often form during the day for the public galleries. The queues for the Public Gallery of the House of Lords is often shorter.
Queues in the evening are shorter. You can always tell when the Parliament is sitting by a flag flying from the Victoria Tower during the day and the Ayrton Light on the Clock Tower after dark.
Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605 and although he failed a second fire, in 1834, destroyed most of the palace. The only significant structures to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.
The Palace of Westminster, we see today, is a magnificent Gothic building designed by the classical architect Sir Charles The palace is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Victoria Tower, in the south west corner of the Palace is the largest and tallest at 98.5-metre of the three main towers. The 'Sovereign's Entrance,' at the base of the tower, is used by the monarch when entering the Palace of Westminster to open Parliament.
The Clock Tower, commonly known as Big Ben is only slightly shorter, at 96 metres but much slimmer, houses the Great Clock of Westminster.
The Central Tower, standing above the Central Lobby in the middle of the building, at 91-metres is the shortest of the Palace's three main towers..
Westminster Hall, dating back to 1097, is the oldest part of the original Palace of Westminster still has a magnificent medieval hammer beam roof.
Coronation banquets honouring new monarchs were held in Westminster Hall from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. The last coronation banquet was for 'King George IV'.
Primarily used for judicial purposes Westminster Hall is where the trial 'King Charles I', who was executed in 1649, was held after the English Civil War.
Other noteable trials in Westminster Hall include Sir William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Cardinal John Fisher, Guy Fawkes, the Earl of Strafford and the rebel Scottish Lords of the 1715 and 1745 uprisings.
Big Ben, one of the most prominent symbols of London, is the nickname of the officially named the 'Great Bell,' which stands in the tower on the north west corner of the Palace of Westminster.
Today, 'Big Ben is commonly used to describe both the tower and the clock. Over a 150 years old this is the largest four faced clock in the world and third largest free standing clock tower.
UK Residents can go on a tour of the clock tower, with a guide to take you up the 334 spiral steps and tell you as you climb the history of the clock and the tower. At the top you will see Big Ben, a 13 ton bell.
Guided tours of the Houses of Parliament are available during the summer opening, usually August to September.
Guided tours take about 75 minutes and includes the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen's Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall.
Houses of Parliament Guided Tours
Guided tours of the Houses of Parliament are available every day during summer opening (usually August - September)
The clock tower “Big Ben” does not form part of these guided tours.
Times for Guided Tours of the Houses of Parliament
Tours most Saturdays during the year
Saturday Tours from: 9:15am - 4:30pm
August - September
Monday -Saturday ( during summer opening)
27th July to 1st September 9:15am – 4:30pm
19th September to 6th October 9:5am-4:30pm
Closed Sunday &
Ticket Prices for Guided Tours of the Houses of Parliament
Guided Tour tickets can be purchased in person in advance or on the day ( subject to availability ) from the ticket office located adjacent to the Jewel Tower, (location 'E' on the map ), opposite the Houses of Parliament.
- Adult: £15
- Child (5-15 years): £6
- Child (under 5): Free admission, but will require a ticket for admission.
Please note that tours are not recommended for young children as there is a lot of walking.
- Concessions (students, over 60s and members of the armed forces): £10
- Disabled visitors: Standard prices as listed above
(carers have free admission, but will require a ticket for entrance).
The ticket office is open from 8:45am to 4:45pm on all days when Saturday or Summer tours are in operation.
Getting to the Houses of Parliament
Address: Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.
Getting to the Houses of Parliament by public transport
Underground station closest to Houses of Parliament:
Westminster station - District, Circle or Jubilee lines
Westminster station is fully wheelchair accessible
Coming by car is not recommended. Parking is expensive and extremely limited. In congestion charge zone.
Mainline stations closest to the Houses of Parliament:
Victoria, Charing Cross & Waterloo -
Approximately 20 minutes walk
Buses that stop near the Houses of Parliament:
Numbers: 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 77A, 211, 453 -low floor buses
Numbers: 88, 109, 159, 184, 511
By Tour Bus
Original Hop-on Hop-off tour buses stop nearby