How To Visit The Houses of Parliament And The Palace of Westminster
Most visitors to London intend on taking in all the most famous sites and visiting all the most popular tourist attractions. However, there is one London landmark that even some UK residents are not aware they can visit: The Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). The Houses of Parliament are located entirely within the Palace of Westminster and it is open to the public at various times and prices throughout the year. History, politics, and associations with royalty all come together in a single place, making the Palace of Westminster one of the most interesting stops on a visit to London.
If you can’t make it to Parliament for a tour, then view the video clips below. They cover tours of the House of Commons, the House of Lords as well as parts of the Palace of Westminster, such as Westminster Hall.
The Palace of Westminster is located in the City of Westminster on western bank of the River Thames. Due to its central location, it is within walking distance to many popular London attractions (see green circles below). The closest Underground station is Westminster, which is served by the Jubilee, Circle and District lines. It is also near the Embankment station, which is also serviced by the Bakerloo and Northern lines. We recommend using this Google map for directions to the palace from anywhere in London.
Originally built as a royal palace in the 1000’s, the Palace of Westminster was home to a number of monarchs until the time of Henry VIII. Henry’s son, no longer wishing to reside in the old palace, left the building to Parliament in 1547 as a permanent place to meet and work. Parliament has been meeting on this site ever since. Although a terrible fire in 1834 destroyed the majority of the original building, parts still survive, and the beautiful architecture of the Victorian re-build is worth seeing entirely on its own merit.
Because it is a working building and Parliament sits at various days and times throughout the year, finding out when and how you can visit can sometimes be a bit tricky. There are numerous ways one can visit, to either take tours, take tea, or to sit in the Public Gallery. And since you are reading this blog post, you are already on the right track to arranging your own trip to the Palace of Westminster!
One of the ways is to take a paid guided tour offered through the Houses of Parliament. If you are wondering is this is a good option for you before buying tickets, we can offer some insight. Reviews for this tour are mostly favorable, with over 800 visitors giving the experience a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor. Some guests say that without a guided tour, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information on display. Many people note that the guides are very friendly and easy to understand. Some reviews say that this tour is a must if you want to get the most out of your visit. Here is information you need to know to plan your visit:
- You can pre-book tickets online or purchase them on the same day from the Ticket Office in front of Portcullis House on Victoria Embankment. The Ticket Office is open on Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm, Saturday 8.45am to 4.45pm.
- Guided tours run on Saturdays throughout the year (except 24 and 31 December 2016); Tuesday to Friday, 16 September to 7 October 2016 and Wednesday to Friday, 22 to 30 December 2016
- Guided tours in English start every 15 to 20 minutes throughout the day between 9 am and 4.15 pm.
- Guided tours in French, German, Italian and Spanish are offered every tour day but at set times.
- Tours run about 1 hour and 15 minutes
- Guided Tour Prices
- Adults £25.50
- Children (5-15 years) £11
- Concessions (over 60s, students, members of the UK Armed Forces) £21
- Children (under 5) FREE but will require a ticket for admission (Note: This tour is not recommended for young children due to the length of the tour and the amount of walking)
- Note: Residents of the UK can visit for free by writing to your MP to request a free tour which will be delivered by an ‘in house’ Parliament guide. Tours have limited capacity until end of February 2017. Bookings for March 2017 will open on 3 October 2016.
For any other information visit the official guided tour page for more information.
Self-Guided Audio Tours
After years of offering guided tours of the Palace, Parliament now has audio tours available for the public. Guests are issued headphones and guided along the line of route whilst listening to the history and current politics of the Houses of Parliament. Important figures in Parliament help provide some of the commentary on the audio guide so guests will get to listen to people such as Black Rod and the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Reviews on TripAdvisor indicate that these self-guided audio tours are pretty darn good. As a matter of fact, there do not appear to be any negative reviews for this particular service. Guests who enjoyed this tour suggest that it is the best option for those who wish to experience the Houses of Parliament at their own pace which is nice if you’re hoping to take your time. According to many reviews, this is a great way to avoid the crowds while discovering one of the most historic locations in all of London!
- Audio tours follow same schedule as guided tours above.
- Audio tours last 75 minutes and are available in many languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Brazilian Portuguese. There is also a separate audio guide aimed at children aged 7 – 12.
- Audio Guide Tour Prices
- Adults £18.50
- Children (5-15 years)
- One child free with each paying adult, but will require a ticket for admission
- £7.50 for each additional child
- Children (under 5): Free, but will require a ticket for admission
- Concessions (over 60s, students, members of the UK Armed Forces) £16
- Click here to book your tour of Houses of Parliament!
For visitors who are interested in witnessing the world’s oldest democratic body in action without the cost of a public tour, it is possible to do so by sitting in one or both of the public galleries. All the legislative work of the Houses of Parliament takes place in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords – and both of these chambers have sections that are open to the public.
The House of Commons Public Gallery is located behind bullet-proof glass and visitors are escorted up the back stairs of the House of Commons to sit in the balcony and observe the debates. The House of Lords Public Gallery is also up a set of back stairs but this Gallery has no glass which means guests are actually sitting on a balcony inside the House of Lords itself. Throughout both chambers there are microphones built into the benches to bring the sound of the MPs and Lords working into the Galleries.
Video tour of the House of Commons. Click here for a tour of the House of Lords.
Sitting in the Galleries of both the Commons and the Lords is entirely free – but only accessible when either House is in session. When Parliament is not sitting, the Galleries are closed to the public and whenever Parliament is in session (even as late as 11:00pm) guests are allowed inside. Occasionally you may find that there is a queue to get in, and visitors are put into a first-come-first-serve system inside the Palace. This is particularly true for Wednesday mornings when the Prime Minister addresses the House of Commons. Visitor access to the Galleries while the Prime Minister is speaking is limited to ticket holders only, who obtain their tickets by contacting their Member of Parliament. For this reason, it’s advisable to avoid visiting the Galleries at this time.
To gain access, go to the main entrance at Cromwell Green (see map link and image below) and speak to the Visitor Assistants (wearing gold and blue) outside, who will let you know if the Houses are in session, what they are debating, and how long the wait may be. To find out which days Parliament will be sitting, simply visit their website to plan your trip: www.Parliament.uk
Also note: Children under 5 are not allowed into the Public Gallery and older children can be denied access if the Doorkeepers feel this necessary.
The visitor entry point to the Palace of Westminster is located at 3 St. Margaret’s Street (map), just across from St. Margaret’s Church. The closest Underground Station is Westminster, which services the Jubilee, District and Circle lines.
Visitors coming to the Houses of Parliament – either for the tours or to attend the debates – are subject to tight security screening. Described as “airport style security” guests must pass through metal detectors and have all bags x-rayed and searched. Guests will then have their photographs taken and issued a temporary pass which MUST be worn at all times and marks them out as visitors. Anybody attempting to go anywhere else in the Palace aside from the designated tour route or the public galleries will be stopped by security and may be asked to leave.
Certain items are restricted when visiting the Houses of Parliament and visitors should be aware that possession of these materials may see them prevented from entering. In general, most lists of banned items on airplanes match with the list of banned items in Parliament. So sharp objects like scissors or blades of any sort are forbidden as are some aerosol sprays. It is worth noting that here in the United Kingdom pepper spray for individual use is illegal and not only is not allowed into Parliament but can lead to prosecution if found in the bag of somebody attempting to enter the Palace.
Guests will also need to leave their belongings at the Doorkeepers before entering any of the Public Galleries as mobile phones, cameras, and any other personal effects are banned in the Galleries.
Many of the people who visit the Houses of Parliament each year are concerned about whether or not they need to dress a certain way for the occasion. If you’re worried about wearing the appropriate attire, you can rest assured that there is no dress code for the tour through the Palace of Westminster. Although we do recommend choosing inoffensive attire, you are pretty much free to wear whatever is comfortable.
- Trafalgar Square
- Changing of the Guard
- Big Ben
- Buckingham Palace
- 10 Downing Street
- Westminster Abbey
- The Churchill War Rooms
- The Horse Guards
- St. James’s Palace
**Tip: Come along on one of our Westminster tours! The tour finishes at the Palace of Westminster and your guide will show you the facade of the Palace during your walk, and will point you in the right direction for your visit to Parliament once the tour has finished. On Saturdays, you can buy a ticket for a guided tour of the Palace. During the week, your tour will finish in perfect time for you to get a space in the Public Gallery. Don’t miss your chance to experience one of the best kept tourist secrets in London!** Also check out how to get into Westminster Abbey for free.
When it comes to ratings and reviews on TripAdvisor, it’s clear that a lot of guests have enjoyed our Westminster tour. Not only is our London service rated 5 stars, but there are no negative reviews for this particular walking tour. Reviewers mention that our guides are very friendly and informative, which is definitely an experience we strive to provide. One word keeps popping up more than any other among these reviews: historic. If you want to learn all about the history of Westminster before entering the palace, consider this free walking tour!