Visit the Palace of Westminster, seat of the British Parliament
The Palace of Westminster is the symbol of the British parliamentary monarchy, with 650 MPs in the House of Commons and 780 Lords in the House of Lords.
A neo-Gothic architectural masterpiece, the palace is one of the most famous buildings in the world with the clock tower which houses Big Ben as a symbol. This tower was renamed The Elizabeth Tower in 2012 following the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.
A few weeks a year, the Palace of Westminster is open to the public, a rare opportunity to enter such an emblematic building and the nerve center of British politics.
An informative visit that allows you to better understand the parliamentary monarchy and the between deputies and the monarch.
What is the Palace of Westminster?
Built in the 1531th century, the Palace of Westminster was the main residence of the kings of England until XNUMX when a fire destroyed part of the building. In order to limit expenses, Henry VII summarily renovated it and settled not far from there, in the whitehall palace. From then on, the Palace of Westminster was used as the seat of the two parliamentary chambers and as a court.
In 1834, a violent fire destroyed a large part of the building but spared Westminster Hall, the XNUMXth century crypt and the cloister of St. Stephen's Chapel. The decision was therefore taken to begin its reconstruction, which was entrusted to the architect Charles Barry. He built a neo-Gothic style building and incorporated a bell tower which would become the symbol of the British capital.
The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, consist of two chambers: the House of Lords (House of Lords) and the House of Commons (House of Commons). Heart of British democracy, it is in this palace that parliament sits 35 weeks a year, submits, studies and votes on laws.
The palace consists of 1200 rooms (parliamentary chambers, offices of parliamentary committees, libraries, vestibules, dining rooms, etc.), 3,5 km of corridors, 11 interior courtyards, 100 stairwells and a 290 m façade overlooking the Thames.
Only 19 rooms are open to the public, here are the most emblematic rooms below. You will visit other equally spectacular and richly decorated rooms.
The Palace of Westminster tour begins at the impressive Westminster Hall with its oak ceiling in English Gothic style.
Built in 1097 during the reign of William II, this room is the oldest in the palace. Covering an area of 1 square meters, it was at the time the largest hall in England and probably Europe and was intended to impress the king's subjects and to establish his authority.
Today Westminster Hall hosts state ceremonies during which foreign leaders address the Houses of Parliament.
St Stephen's Hall or St Etienne's Chapel
St Stephen's Hall stands on the site of St Stephen's Chapel Royal, where the House of Commons sat until the chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834.
Central Lobby in the heart of the Palace of Westminster
The lobby is the heart of the Palace of Westminster, served by two corridors, one leading to the Houses of Lords and the other to the House of Commons. It is in this octagonal room that the members of the two chambers meet and allows the deputies to meet their constituents.
House of Lords - House of Lords
Located in the southern part of the palace, the House of Lords is the most lavishly decorated room in the Palace of Westminster. Easily recognizable with its red leather benches, it is embellished with stained glass windows and allegorical frescoes.
It is in this chamber, called the upper house of Parliament, that the royal throne is located on which the monarch delivers the speech to mark the start of the parliamentary session. This speech which presents the legislative program of the government is not written by the sovereign himself but by the Prime Minister.
Currently, the Lords number 780, of which about 630 are life peers (appointed for life), 26 archbishops and bishops and 92 hereditary peers. Historically the majority of lords were life members but since 1999 the transmission of a seat to its descendants has been abolished. Today, only 92 seats are occupied by hereditary peers who can no longer pass their place on to the next generation.
They exercise expert power and perform a government oversight function by asking questions. Furthermore, the Lords do not represent constituencies and many of them do not support any of the Big Three parties.
Formally, they are appointed by the Queen on the proposal of the Prime Minister; they sit 35 weeks a year, or about 140 days.
House of Commons - House of Commons
Green in color, the House of Commons is the lower house of the British Parliament where 650 deputies oversee the work of ministers, particularly during Question Time. The most popular are questions to the Prime Minister, which take place once a week, usually on Wednesdays.
Elected by universal suffrage for 5 years, they represent a constituency.
The government deputies occupy the benches to the right of the president, called Speaker, while the opposition sits on the other side.
The Royal Gallery - Royal Gallery
Originally called the Victoria Gallery, the Royal Gallery is the largest in the Palace of Westminster still used for parliamentary ceremonies, receptions or dinners.
The Palace of Westminster: a must visit?
Like Buckingham Palace, the parliament is an emblematic monument of London and is part of the “postcard” image that one can have when one thinks of the city. The visit is extremely rewarding and accessible. Indeed, no need to have done Political Science to understand the functioning of parliament, the nerve center of political power in the United Kingdom.
This visit can also be done with children from middle school, who will be totally in line with their school program and will allow them to understand bicameralism in concrete terms. A system of political organization which divides Parliament into two distinct chambers, an upper chamber and a lower chamber. This political system is also present in France but also in Germany and Spain.
Therefore, take advantage of the school and parliamentary holidays to share this family visit which will be instructive and will leave an impression. Personally, I visited the Parliament for the first time in 4th grade and this visit really marked me.
Finally, last little advice, the visit being rich in information, take a notebook with you to take notes.
Practical information for visiting the Palace of Westminster
- Entrance to Cromwell Green where a security check of the same type as in airports takes place. (allow 15 to 20 minutes of queue to enter).
- Photographs are only allowed in the first 2 rooms namely Westminster Hall and St Stephen's Hall.
- It is forbidden to sit in most rooms and more particularly on the benches of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
- Audio guides are available in 9 different languages including French.
- In August and September, tours take place every 15 minutes, between 9 a.m. and 15 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
- The visit to the parliament is accessible to people with reduced mobility using a wheelchair.
- Wheelchair loan possible by contacting the "Visitor Assistant".
When can you visit the British Parliament?
Parliament is open to the public every Saturday, and most weekdays during holiday periods: Easter and summer in August and September.
How to book your visit to the Palace of Westminster?
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office located at Portcullis House on Victoria Embankment. However, given the crowds, it is strongly recommended that you book your visit online.
The visit to the parliament is free for children less than 5 years old.
Guided tour of the parliament
To benefit from the service of a guide for 1h30, you can book your visit either on the Expedia website or directly on the website of parliament
Visit of the parliament with an audio guide
The visit of the parliament in audio guide is reserved on the See Tickets website. The visit usually lasts between 60 and 75 minutes.
Can we visit the Palace of Westminster for free?
If you live in the UK, you can visit the Parliament for free in contacting your local MP's office which will give you free entry.
In addition, residents and tourists can attend parliamentary debates free of charge which are held several times a week, the unique opportunity to be at the heart of British political life and to enter one of the two chambers free of charge.
To attend the debates, residents should contact their local Member of Parliament or a member of the House of Lords directly. Tourists must queue in front of the visitor entrance located at Cromwell Green.
To find out when parliamentary sessions are held and what are the subjects debated in the various Chambers of Parliament, consult the calendar directly on the parliament website.
Where is the Palace of Westminster?
For the visit, the public is greeted at Cromwell Green, located on St Margaret Street. No. 8 on the attached card.Metro