Houses of Parliament
& Big Ben
London SW1A 0AA
TfL Fare Zone 1
Also known as the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament are amongst some of the best known London buildings. Situated on the north bank of the River Thames beside Westminster Bridge, the Gothic Revival building dates from 1870 and houses the two governing bodies of the United Kingdom.
The House of Commons is where elected Members of Parliament debate the business of the day. The House of Lords is the house of review and its members are either hereditary Aristocrats or people who have been given life peerages for services rendered to the Government or Crown - see article Houses of Parliament: House of Lords in this website.
The Houses of Parliament at Westminster are close to the Ministerial buildings in Whitehall where government business is conducted, and 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minster lives while in London.
The Houses of Parliament are situated on what was originally the palace of the Anglo-Saxon kings. The palace was named ‘West Monastery’ which was contracted to ‘Westminster’. When William of Normandy conquered England in 1066 he chose the Tower of London to live in but he later moved to the palace at Westminster. None of the Saxon or early Norman buildings has survived. The oldest parts are Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower which date from c. 1087.
The Model Parliament
The precursor to Parliament was the Royal Council which met in Westminster Hall when the monarch lived at Westminster. The Council moved with the monarch as he/she travelled to other palaces. The Model Parliament which met in Westminster Palace in 1295 was the first official Parliament of England. Most Parliaments have been held there since.
In 1834 most of the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. Only Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower, the crypt of St Stephen’s Chapel and the cloisters survived. It was decided to rebuild the Houses of Parliament on the old site incorporating the surviving buildings. A competition was held to choose the architect and Sir Charles Barry was chosen. It was decided that the building should be in the Gothic Revival style as it represented conservative values.
The buildings as we see them today cover 8 acres (3.4 hectares) and have 1,100 rooms around 11 courtyards. It has four floors.
The ground floor includes offices, dining rooms and bars.
The first floor has the main rooms including the Chambers, the Lobbies, and the Libraries. The Robing Room, the Royal Gallery, the Prince's Chamber, the Lords' Chamber, the Peers' Lobby, the Central Lobby, the Members Lobby, and the Commons' Chamber all lie in a straight line on this floor, from south to north.
The 3rd and 4th floors hold offices and committee rooms.
Big Ben & Elizabeth Tower
Visitors will notice there are four towers in the Houses of Parliament, the most famous of them being the Elizabeth (Clock) Tower colloquially called ‘Big Ben’. This tower is at the north-western end of the building (near Westminster Bridge) and has a large gilded clock face on each of its four sides. Five bells chime the quarter hours and the Great Bell of Westminster (‘Big Ben’) chimes the hours. The sound of these chimes represents England to visitors from around the world.
For further information about the Elizabeth Tower & Big Ben go to Web: Visiting UK Parliament
In the middle of the building is a short tower with a spire. This is the Central Tower. Octagonal in shape it stands over the Central Lobby, an important meeting place for MPs to congregate and discuss tactics. The tower’s original purpose was to act as an air vent for the building.
St Stephen's Tower
The Victoria Tower
The tallest tower is the square Victoria Tower at the south-western end of the building. The flagstaff on top flies the Royal Standard (a yellow and red flag) if the Queen is in attendance or more normally, the Union Jack. At the bottom of the tower is the Sovereign’s Entrance where the Queen enters the Houses of Parliament on official visits.
Victoria Tower Gardens
Most of the grounds surrounding the Houses of Parliament are not open to the public. However, The Victoria Tower Gardens on the south side of the Houses of Parliament and running alongside the river is a public park. The park becomes part of the Victoria Embankment and stretches as far as Lambeth Bridge.
- The Burghers of Calais
There are several sculptures in the park – the most striking is a reproduction of Rodin’s sculpture 'The Burghers of Calais'. Other statues include a statue of suffragette Emeline Pankhurst and a stone wall featuring two modern-style goats with kids. The Buxton memorial fountain commemorates the Emancipation of Slavery.
Opposite the Houses of Parliament is Parliament Square where a number of statesmen’s statues stand, oblivious to the surrounding traffic. There are statues to Sir Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Jan Christian Smuts, Robert Peel and many others. A statue of the South African statesman, Nelson Mandela was added on the 29th August 2007.
Visiting Houses of Parliament
Parliament is open to all UK and overseas visitors to attend debates and watch committee hearings. Debates may be viewed from the public galleries (Strangers’ Galleries). Queue for admission on the day. Seating is limited and admission is not guaranteed.
Guided Tours of the interior are available during the summer Parliamentary Recess.
Either Book Online at Web: Tours of Parliament or Tel: +44 (0)2072 194 114
Further information on visiting & Online Tours
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster (Parliament) website has an excellent downloadable map showing the layout of the different parts of the Parliament as well as Public transport options Web: UK Parliament Map & Transport
TfL Fare Zone 1
To find the best way for getting to the Houses of Parliament, visit the TfL 'Journey Planner'.
- By Underground
Westminster Station Circle, District and Jubilee Lines
- By Bus
Many buses pass the Houses of Parliament. A list of these buses is on the website of the Palace of Westminster - UK Parliament Map & Transport.
- Open Top Bus Tour
Do not forget that Visitors can use their ‘Open Top’ sightseeing bus ticket to travel to 10 Downing Street, Horse Guards, The Banqueting House and the Houses of Parliament & Big Ben precinct.
Google Maps - Houses of Parliament