The U.K. Parliament in London has a fascinating history dating back to 1215, when disgruntled barons made King John sign the Magna Carta. The king was now subject to the rule of law, and this paved the way for the beginnings of Parliament in 1265 under Simon De Montfort. If you’re visiting Parliament and want your planning and history research to run smoothly we can help. I, a London expert, have prepared a visitors’ guide with info on tickets, admission, time-budgeting, and a brief history.
Pro tip: You might want to bookmark this article in your browser so you can circle back to it when you are in or around the UK Parliament.
What We’ll Cover
- Opening Hours and Admission
- How Long to Budget for Your Visit
- What To See at the U.K. Parliament
- Places To Eat Nearby
- U.K. Parliament Facts and History
U.K. Parliament Opening Hours and Admission
Despite its high-profile politicians and tight security, visitors are allowed inside Parliament for specific purposes: guided tours, certainly, as well as Committee Room events, parliamentary debates or Prime Minister’s Questions. But its high security means you cannot just wander around unguided or without a specific invite or ticket. The recent pandemic has also affected opening times and booking requirements.
You have a choice of guided tours and multimedia tours. Multimedia tours allow you up to 90 minutes inside Parliament buildings using their audio guides. The guided tours last 75 minutes. All tours mostly take place on weekdays and Saturdays. Also, access is more likely during Easter, summer, and Christmas, when Parliament is not in session. Still, visits are allowed at selected times even when Parliament is in session. You can book time slots for either multimedia or guided tours as long as they are between 9 am and 4:15 pm.
Contact the ticket offices at Portcullis House, Victoria Embankment for further information on guided tours in French, Spanish, Italian, and German, all of which are available on selected dates.
Visits Without Tours
There are three options. Firstly, you can watch Prime Minister’s Questions or Minister’s Questions without a guide. These take place in the House of Commons and House of Lords. Secondly, you can see a parliamentary debate or a committee at work. Thirdly, there are parliamentary talks, events, petitions, and Private Members Bills where visitors are permitted.
The guided tour costs £28 for Adults, while Young Adults (16 – 18 years old) pay £23.50. Concessions (Over-6os, students, and U.K. Armed Forces) are £23.50. Children (5 – 15 years old), £12; Children under 5 get in free.
For the multimedia tour, Adults pay £22, while an Adult With a Child (ages 5 – 15) also has to pay £22. Young Adults (16 – 18 years old) £19; Children (5 – 15 years old), £9.00; Children Under 5 get in free. Concessions are £19.
Note: U.K. residents can book both these tours for free.
How Much Time To Budget for the U.K. Parliament
Short answer: 75 minutes for a guided tour; 90 minutes for the multimedia tour.
Your tour includes visits to the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and Westminster Hall. This talk covers the history of the building, the creation of Parliament, and the democratic and legislative processes within Parliament today. Since both tours are for set times, you’re unlikely to run over.
However, if you are attending a separate ticketed parliamentary event, it all depends on the times for the event itself.
What To See in and Near the U.K. Parliament
- Commons Chamber: Prime Minister’s Question Time, Parliamentary debates
- The Lords Chamber: Question Time, Debates and Legislation Work
- The House of Lords Committee Rooms: Select Committee work
- The Parliamentary Archives
- The Churchill Arch
- Statues in the Palace
- The Speaker’s Chair
- The Royal Gallery
- Central Lobby
- The Cloisters
- Parliament Square (includes statues of Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, and Winston Churchill)
- Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Burghers of Calais (in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to Parliament)
Places To Eat Nearby
There’s a cafe in the Palace of Westminster. But you are just as likely to find healthy, filling snacks and meals—and perhaps rub shoulders with politicians—in the nearby cafes and restaurants.
This cafe in Westminster Hall has a selection of snacks, paninis, and sandwiches, plus pastries, sweets, and cakes. The quaint English Jubilee cream tea is a visitor favourite, but there’s also barista coffee and other beverages.
Address: St Margaret Street, Houses of Parliament, London | Hours: Mon – Wed, 9:00 am – 5:30 pm; Thurs closed; Fri 12:30 pm – 5:00 pm; Sat, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Sun closed | €€€
This is a short but soul-lifting walk through parklands known as Victory Tower Gardens, and then over Lambeth Bridge. The cafe has the best views of Parliament and the Thames river compared to other eateries in the area. It serves the full English Breakfast, of course, as well as pizza, burgers, baguettes, salads, and hot and cold beverages.
Address: Lambeth Pier, Albert Embankment, London | Hours: Mon – Sat, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm; Sun, 12:00 pm – 2:30 pm | €€
The Cinnamon Club
There’s an elegant and exclusive atmosphere to this classy Indian restaurant. The curry, seafood, and soup dishes have a gourmet touch. Traditional English game such as venison is served in an artisanal Indian culinary style. There are a few menu surprises, too, such as snake!
Address: The Old Westminster Library, Great Smith St, London | Hours: Mon – Sat, 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm and 5:30 pm – 11:00 pm; Sun closed | €€€+
U.K. Parliament Facts and History
- The Houses of Parliament are also known as the Palace of Westminster.
- Westminster Hall was built in 1097 by William II, son of William the Conqueror. It was the biggest and grandest hall in Europe in that time. It is the oldest building in the Houses of Parliament.
- The first English Parliament was held in 1265, when French nobleman Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, led a group of rebellious barons seeking representational democracy and the curbing of Henry III’s absolute power.
- The medieval parliament burned down in 1834. The fire destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster.
- Oliver Cromwell was sworn in as Lord Protector in Westminster Hall. He was anti-royal but was sworn in wearing regal-looking robes.
- In 1605, a zealot Catholic called Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. He was caught in the House of Lords basement with barrels of gunpowder.
- The Queen is banned from the House of Commons. This convenion was introduced in 1642 after King Charles I entered the Commons with soldiers to try and arrest five MPs for treason.
- A parliamentary official with the title Black Rod has the Commons door ceremoniously slammed in his face before the Queen’s Speech. After this ritual he bangs on the door three times with his rod. This traditional act occurs when he summons MPs from the Commons Chambers to hear the Queen’s Speech. The slamming of the door represents the independence of the Commons.