The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are some of the most iconic sights in the city of London. Parliament is open to visitors from all over the world and offers impressive access to a variety of sights and tours, an inside look at house debates and an active schedule of events and exhibitions.
The Houses of Parliament are located on the Thames next to Parliament Square, which also holds Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church. Situated next to a number of London's famous landmarks, Parliament is easily accessible via tube or bus lines. Westminster station, located at the corner of Bridge Street and Victoria Embankment, is the closest tube stop to Parliament Square. More detailed information is available via London's Transportation site.
Visitors can arrange to have a tour of the House of Lords or the House of Commons. Tours of the clock tower, or Big Ben (which is actually the name of the tower's bell), are also available.
Big Ben with the London Eye in the background. Photo by Erin Connelly.
Visits to the archives are possible Monday to Friday, while tours of the Houses typically occur on Saturdays or by arrangement with a local MP. Specific details are available at Parliament's website. Note that tours of the clock tower are only available to UK residents who have obtained entrance permission from their local MP or a member of the House of Lords.
Westminster Hall is the oldest building in Parliament Square and has been an integral part of the site since around the 11th century. For a long part of its history, the hall served as a legal and administrative centre as well as an area for large celebrations and banquets. Currently, the hall is used for special events or public exhibitions. The hall can be visited without a tour or prior arrangement.
Attending a debate is an excellent way to witness government in action. Entrance to debates in the House of Lords and the House of Commons is free. The public galleries are open from Monday to Thursday with differing times for each House. Visitors must wait in a queue to be admitted to the public galleries, which sometimes can take up to two hours.
Tickets are necessary for admittance to the Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons. The tickets are free but are only issued to UK residents who obtain them from an MP or Lord. Overseas visitors may obtain entrance to Question Time but must wait in a general queue for non-ticket holders, which means that entrance is based on available space and not guaranteed. Specific details are available at the official website.
Richard the Lionheart outside of Parliament. Photo by Erin Connelly.
You can also take a fascinating tour of the Houses of Parliament on Saturdays and during the summer recess led by London's Blue Badge Tourist Guides.
You actually get to stand in the Commons and the House of Lords and other galleries too.