The Palace of Westminster is commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, as it is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is located on the banks of the River Thames in central London, and is right next to Westminster Tube Station, making it very easily accessible to the public.
The Palace of Westminster and its neighbours, Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the palace itself is a grade 1 listed building. This incredible place was built during the eleventh century and remained the primary residence of the kings of England until a fire burned it down in 1512. At this point it was rebuilt and became home to parliament and remains so to this very day.
Overflowing with history and oozing British culture, the Palace of Westminster is easily one of the top ‘must-see’ attractions in England’s capital city. Whether you’re visiting from another country, or you’re a British person yourself, you simply can’t miss such an incredible place.
The outside of the Palace of Westminster has become one of London’s most iconic landmarks. The clock tower, known as ‘Big Ben’, is on most of the London souvenirs available to buy, and is recognised around the world. The tower’s official title is the ‘Elizabeth Tower’, and was named so to celebrate the jubilee anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II.
The tower is home to the largest four faced chiming clock in the world, and is the third tallest freestanding clock tower. It’s therefore no wonder it is such a prominent part of the London skyline. Standing for over 150 years, Big Ben has seen London grow and develop throughout the ages.
If you want to get inside the Palace of Westminster then there are a few ways you could go about it. UK residents can obtain a ticket from their MP for a seat in the gallery for the House of Commons, or from a peer for the House of Lords. As a UK resident you can also apply for tickets from your local MP for a guided tour of the Palace that lasts approximately 75 minutes. This includes a visit to ‘Big Ben’, which is forbidden to all children and overseas visitors.
As a tourist, you may queue up to obtain a place in the viewing gallery of either house, but places are limited and highly sought after. Both houses also reserve the right to meet in private whenever they want.
Over the years the Palace of Westminster has accumulated many weird and wonderful rules and traditions. Some of these include: strictly no eating, drinking or smoking is to be done within the Palace. The only exception to this rule is The Chancellor of the Exchequer who may have an alcoholic drink while delivering the budget statement!
Hats should never be worn, and you are not allowed to put your hands in your pockets. No animals may enter the Palace, with the exception of guide and police dogs, and applauding or the reading of newspapers is also disallowed.
As it was once the home of Royalty, the status of the palace as a ‘royal’ palace is something of a debate. This also means that those who consider it still to be a Royal palace argue that nobody can be arrested there or within its grounds.
The Palace of Westminster is definitely a thriving hub of history and culture within England’s capital city. If you have the chance to visit then snap up the opportunity; even if you only get to see the outside, Big Ben and the majestic architecture is definitely worth seeing.