Touring the Parliament wasn’t originally on our schedule as we were quite unaware that it’s actually easy for people go inside and have a look. When we arrived in London, however, Alvin found out that since we were there during the session break, we could sign up for an audio tour! We booked our tickets just a day before and got slots! #WinningInLife
We have this sort of luck during our travels, you see. A similar thing happened in Japan – but that’s for a different post.
We got there at 8 in the morning – an ungodly hour for me – which explains the droopy eyes. All tickets come with a schedule and Alvin has this thing about never being late. So, despite my sluggishness that morning, we were able to make it 30 minutes early.
Security is strict in this building so being early was actually a good idea. I would usually use such an opportunity (read: having to wait) to justify my inherent tardiness but that wasn’t the day.
I didn’t even make a fuss about the extra standing time even though I can’t stand waiting. 😛 I was too excited to see the place where all the animated debates I used to see on TV happen! Being in the same place where Margaret Thatcher constantly put men down is more than enough to keep me smiling. 😉
After security, you will be ushered in to Westminster Hall – the oldest building in the entire estate. It survived a fire in 1834 that destroyed the House of Lords and the Commons and even a bombing during WWII. The first thing one would notice upon entering the hall is definitely its size. Massive is quite an understatement. The monarch who had it built, William II, was said to be disappointed that it didn’t turn out as big as he imagined it should be.
The beautiful stained glass window at the end of Westminster is the centrepiece that provides an opening for more sunlight to come in to the otherwise gloomy hall. The window is actually a replacement for the old Pugin window and is a tribute to those who died during the bombing of Parliament in WWII.
We were given audio guides in this hall for the tour. They were rather bulky but easy to figure out and use. While the Hall is famous for its fascinating ceiling, don’t forget to look down once you make it to the stairs. There are interesting information engraved on some of the tiles.
St Stephen’s Hall
From the steps, you will then be asked to proceed to St Stephen’s which is nothing short of luxurious. Sadly, this is the last bit of the entire estate (well, indoors) you will be allowed to take photos of.
Statues of famous parliamentarians line the walls and paintings that show important events in history can also be seen. Imagine having to walk down these halls regularly for work. It’s definitely good incentive when working for the government! 😉
To be able to share with you all the places that are included in the tour, I will be borrowing/embedding photos from the Parliament’s Flickr account since I had to stow my phone and trusty camera away for the rest of the tour. I figured it would be an injustice not to talk about the other areas we were able to visit.
The Central Lobby
This grand, octagonal lobby is where constituents usually do their lobbying to their MPs. It also gives MPs access to the House of Lords towards the South and the Commons in the Northern part of the estate.
Here you will also find statues dating back to the 12th century and mosaics of various saints – George, David, Andrew and Patrick. The last one being my favourite for the most obvious of reasons.
The Robing Room
This is where the Queen gets ready for the Parliament’s opening. She gets robed and puts on major bling (read: Imperial State Crown) for the ceremony before making her way to the House of Lords where she will be making a speech.
The Queen also uses a special chair during her robing – the 19th century Chair of State. No, you cannot sit on it during the tour. You can, however, fawn over it from a short distance.
The Royal Gallery
Yet another room in the Parliament which screams of grandeur and Britain’s colourful history is the Royal Gallery. Warm lighting casts an eerie glow on the faces of Britain’s monarchs making them look stern. You can almost imagine them telling you not to touch anything. 😛
The gallery’s walls have two Maclise paintings, showing important events during the war against Napoleon. Five points if you spot the Duke of Wellington in one of them.
Mmm. I want Wellington Beef for dinner all of a sudden.
The House of Lords
Red. Leather. Seats. No, you’re not allowed to sit here either so keep in mind to wear comfy, walking shoes. After her robing, the Queen goes here for the opening of the Parliament and sits at the end of the chamber – the best seat in the room, of course.
Even the Division Lobbies (where the Peers go for voting) on either side of the chamber are gorgeous and would have been the perfect place for reading after a long day – just in case there’s no vote and it’s not full.
** Don’t miss out on the history of the ‘Black Rod’ in Parliament. Make sure not to skip it and listen to it on your guide. It’s a really interesting part of the tour!
The House of Commons
By now, you would probably be tired of me describing how grand the various rooms in the Parliament are and while The House of Commons is supposed to be a little less flamboyant than the House of Lords, it’s still impressive.
This chamber is usually a lot more full than the House of Lords since the seats can only accommodate a little over 400 people when there are about 650 MPs. That’s why during debates on the television, you see some people standing near the chamber entrance.
… were places I wish they let us visit but alas, they weren’t part of the tour. The night before we went to the Parliament, I was looking at pictures of the libraries and already imagining myself doing a Belle on those movable stairs! (Which may still be an unlikely possibility even if we were allowed in – but still!) 🙁
Aren’t they pretty? If I ever win the lottery, my house would have a library modelled out of these two. I already gave up on the Beast’s library as seen on the animated Disney film since that would not fit in any home. 🙁
Oh, and the Victoria Tower was off limits as well, sadly.
At the end of your tour, you will find yourself in Westminster Hall once more. From here, you can make your way to the souvenir shop and the Jubilee Café. Try out their cookies, okay? You’re welcome!
So to answer the title of this post, I say visiting the Houses of Parliament is a must during your London trip. It gives visitors a chance to have greater appreciation of British history and government. They had their ups and downs and it’s quite an enjoyable ride going through most of it. It’s a history lesson on steroids!
They also have a ton of traditions that are just as fascinating! It’s such a treat learning about all these things while walking down the exact halls where they all happen/happened. Alvin and I had so much fun!
Or maybe, that’s just me. One of my teachers in high school did tell me I was too cultured (Read: nerdy. She was just being nice.) for my own good when we were discussing why my crush looked bored whenever I talked to him about the things I love. ???? In case you’re wondering, I’m still not a sports-discussing type of person. Guess I’ll never be cool. Ever.
Thank goodness I found someone as nerdy as I am. ????
You can find the Houses of Parliament at: Westminster, London SW1A 0AA
Nearest tube station is Westminster
You can find out the schedule here.
You can book your tickets for the audio tour via this link.
Hope this was helpful and you enjoy your tour as much as we did!
*Trip is not sponsored by any country’s tourism department, company, or brand but by my side of the family living in Europe. ????