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Want to Visit the Houses of Parliament on a Tour? Here’s How…

Want to Visit the Houses of Parliament on a Tour? Here’s How…

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Planning to visit the Houses of Parliament and not sure where to start? Check out this step by step guide to the types of tours, ticket prices and what to expect before you go. 

The Houses of Parliament are more than just an iconic London landmark. They function as the heart of British power. 

Set in the Palace of Westminster, a Victorian Neo-Gothic affair on the banks of the Thames, the 1000+ rooms of the palace count among them two of the most important locations in UK politics – the House of Commons and House of Lords. 

Little wonder then that visiting the Houses of Parliament is one of the first things that people think of when visiting London. 

Who wouldn’t want to take a peek at the innards of authority, the place where decisions that shape the lives of British citizens are made on a daily basis? I certainly did for sure. 

Visiting Houses of Parliament

Having taken a Houses of Parliament tour previously, I can honestly say that it is one of the most fascinating things I’ve done in London full stop.  This coming from someone who spends a lot of time researching and writing about London and who’s as reticent to give out high praise as Scrooge was to give out money before his Christmas Carol transformation. 

In other words – you should totally go. 

The difficult place is knowing where to start. That’s why I’ve written this guide to walk you through the options for visiting with and without a tour, the different kinds of Houses of Parliament tours available, where to get tickets and what to expect when you do. 

 

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Do I Have to Book a Tour to Visit the Houses of Parliament? 

Usually, no. But, we all know things are a little bit strange at the moment, so it’s best to book in advance or you risk being turned away. 

There are several ways that you can usually visit the Houses of Parliament without booking a tour – the main ones are: 

  1. Watch a debate or a committee
  2. Watch Prime Minister’s Questions 
  3. Watch Minister’s Question Times in the House of Commons or House of Lords 
  4. Book onto one of Parliament’s special events or talks.

You do not have to book tickets for the first three, although it is advisable to book tickets for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) as it is very popular and you are not guaranteed entry without a ticket. I’ve gone into more detail on each of these in the section “Visiting the Houses of Parliament Without a Tour” below if you want to know more info but I thought it was worth dealing with the tours first as this is what I’ve been asked most questions about.

Choosing Which Houses of Parliament Tour to Book 

If you’ve been waiting for the Houses of Parliament to reopen, then wait no more. From the 28th July until 4th September, the UK parliament is opening up its doors again. 

Pre-lockdown there were several different types of Houses of Parliament tour that you could go on – I’ve given you a breakdown of each of them as well as options for how to get your hands on tickets and (where relevant) lead times for each when they return.

Houses of Parliament Guided Tour

Guided Tour

This is a 90-minute guided tour of the Houses of Parliament for which you have to pay. 

On the face of it, the tours are relatively similar to the free tours that were offered before lockdown, just slightly longer and at a slower pace. They’re also held in French, Spanish, German and Italian on selected dates.

The tours are usually held on weekdays when Parliament is not in session and most Saturdays throughout the year.

Cost: £22 for adults, £9 for kids, £17.50 for concessions, £17.50 for groups and under 5 free. Disabled visitors are charged as per the above but an essential companion is free. 

How to Get Tickets: For the latest information on when these tours will return, click here.

Self-Guided Audio Guide Tour of Parliament 

Rather take things at your own pace instead of going on a group tour but still want to explore the Palace of Westminster? You should consider an audio tour. 

It’s worth mentioning that this is currently the only in-person tour Parliament is running, but fingers crossed they all return soon.

Parliament audio tour
©UK Parliament/Roger Harris

The 90-minute audio tour provides a wealth of information about the buildings and the politics that happen within Parliament’s walls – in audio and video formats. 

It’s also available in a much wider range of languages than the guided tours and there are different versions for children and adults. 

Cost: £22 for adults, £9 for kids, £17.50 for concessions, £17.50 for groups and under 5 free. Disabled visitors are charged as per the above but an essential companion is free. 

How to Get Tickets: Get your tickets for Parliament before they sell out here.

Private Guided Tours 

Want to explore in a private group? Book a private guided tour. 

On the face of it, the £500 fee looks pretty steep but when you consider that it covers up to 10 people for a completely tailored tour, it doesn’t actually look so bad after all.

Parliament guided tour
©UK Parliament/Roger Harris

You’ll have to enquire about this privately as you can’t book online, but the tours generally begin first thing in the morning (Monday to Wednesday) and last around 75 minutes. 

Cost: Starts from £500 per group of up to 10 people 

How to Book: For bookings of 10 people or more, contact groups@seetickets.com

How to Take a Tour of the Houses of Parliament for Free

Exterior of Parliament

Did you know that UK residents can visit the Houses of Parliament for Free?

Scrap that, if you’re a UK resident, you can take a Democratic Access Tour of the Houses of Parliament for Free. 

I’ve taken one of these tours and it was riveting – 75 minutes of sights and information that had every single person fixed on every word our tour guide Sean had to say. 

The locations you cover during the tour depend on what’s happening on the day  – we were lucky enough to visit both houses (we literally squeaked into the House of Lords just in time). 

The tour is informative and educational, walking you through the daily business of MPs while they’re in the houses, the procedures that govern them and showcases the highlights of the Palace of Westminster along the way. 

I cannot recommend this enough – if you’re a UK resident and capable of getting to London, do it. 

The decisions that are made here influence every aspect of your life – not in an obscure and difficult to define fashion, but directly and with significant impact. Taking the time to understand how it works is never going to be a bad idea. 

Cost: Free

How to Get Tickets: These tours haven’t yet restarted post-lockdown, but keep an eye out on the Parliament website for more news. 

You have to be a UK resident to book one of the Houses of Parliament free tours. You’ll need to book through your local MP or a Member of the House of Lords to book up to six months in advance. 

There are often last-minute Houses of Parliament tickets available (within the next seven days) – you can email Parliament to book a space on one of them, or pop into the Ticket Office in front of Portcullis House. 

Behind the Scenes Houses of Parliament Guided Tour 

Medieval Hall

This tour isn’t run by Parliament itself and is significantly more expensive than the standard guided tours I included above. 

So why am I listing it? Because it’s a much more in-depth and intimate tour that allows you to really immerse yourself in the world of Parliament past and present. 

In the course of two hours, you explore sections of the Palace of Westminster – including several places that aren’t covered by the other tours. 

This is really a tour for those who want to get down to the nitty gritty of the history and architecture of the Houses of Parliament and want to do it as part of a smaller group. 

Cost: £65 Adults, £59 Children (4-12), Infants three and under are free. 

How to get Tickets: Book online on Get Your Guide

Take a Virtual Tour

Can’t make your way to Parliament right now? Don’t stress. 

Take a virtual tour lasting 45 minutes with a presenter giving you a peek into several rooms like the Commons Chamber, Lords Chamber and Central Lobby. 

You need to book a time slot, but this is a great way to see everything in Parliament from the comfort of your own home.

Cost: Absolutely free. Hurrah.

How to get Tickets: Book online here.

Visiting the Houses of Parliament Without a Tour

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben / Shutterstock

Now you’ve got a good grasp of the kinds of tours that you can take of the Houses of Parliament, I’m going to walk you through the ways that you can usually visit Parliament without a tour. 

It’s probably worth noting that you’re not allowed to just walk around the Palace of Westminster unguided (unless you’re doing an audio tour), so if you want to look around the buildings and learn about their history, a guided or audio tour are the only ways to do it. 

Make sure you check the Parliament website for the most up to date news, as many of these options are not available yet post-lockdown. But when they open back up, you’ll be first in line at Parliament ready to explore. No need to thank me.

Watch a Debate or Committee 

MPs in the House of Commons and Peers in the House of Lords debate issues and proposed legislation on a daily basis – all of which anyone is able to view from the public galleries of the respective houses. 

Parliament Tour
©UK Parliament/Roger Harris

In addition to this, both houses also hold committee meetings examine issues in detail on subjects large and small – all of which are open to the public. 

Though the waiting times vary dependent on the popularity / contentiousness of the subject, you are normally able to just turn up and hop into the queue for both debates and committee meetings.

The visitor attendants can give you a good idea of how long you can expect to wait when you arrive. 

Cost: Free

How to Get Tickets: Not ticketed, just turn up and queue. Not currently running, but keep your eyes peeled for updates.

Watch Prime Minister’s Questions 

Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) happens every Wednesday at 12pm when Parliament is in session.

Even before the explosive events of the past few years, PMQs has always been the most popular event at Parliament, which is why it’s a ticketed event. 

Cost: Free

How to Get Tickets: Contact your local MP to request a ticket. If you’re not a UK resident or you haven’t booked a ticket in advance you can turn up on the day and try your luck but the pool of seats available is small. Not currently running but keep your eyes peeled on the website.

Watch Minister’s Question Time

This happens in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – generally at the beginning of the day Monday to Thursday and you can go and watch it from the public galleries of the respective houses. 

Cost: Free 

How to Get Tickets: You can contact your local MP to request a ticket or turn up on the day. Minister’s Question Time can be popular, but it’s generally OK to turn up on the day. Not currently running but check the website for updates.

Book a Special Event or Talk

There’s so much going on at Parliament – they really take their role of educating the public about aspects of life in Parliament, the history of the buildings and issues we face as a country.

The only problem is… only a select number of people know about them, buried as they are in an obscure section of Parliament’s website. 

Now I know that I’m full-on geeky (I’ve learnt to embrace it), but the subject range is fascinating. These are the kind of talks that if you put them on TED Talks millions of people would be watching them, but when it’s Parliament… they’re hardly the talk of the town (don’t get me wrong – they still sell out but when’s the last time you saw them on a list of interesting things to do in London this week).

It’s a shame – I want to thoroughly encourage you to go and check out the calendar and book onto any that interest you. 

At the moment, these talks are all virtual. Current ones on the calendar include The Elizabeth Tower’s Conservation and How UK Parliament Works – a great place to start if you’re looking to learn more about Parliament.

Cost: Varies – most are free

How to Get Tickets: Check the Calendar of Upcoming Events and book tickets (mostly free) online.

Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster: Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between the Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster?

They actually refer to the same place. The Palace of Westminster, where the Houses of Parliament are based today, actually used to be a royal palace: Henry VIII was the last monarch to use it as such. 

These days, it’s no longer a royal palace and serves as a meeting place for the House of Commons and House of Lords, together the Houses of Parliament.

Can you go into the Houses of Parliament?

Yes, you can go into the Houses of Parliament – either on a tour, to go and see a debate or committee, to watch Prime Minister’s Questions or Minister’s Questions, to attend a talk or event or to go and petition your MP. 

You can’t, however, just walk around and see the inside of the Palace of Westminster unguided. 

Can You Visit the Houses of Parliament for Free? 

Yes, you can visit the Houses of Parliament for free by going to watch a debate, Prime Minister’s Questions or Ministers Questions in the appropriate house.

You can also book a spot on one of the free Democratic Access Tours run by Parliament on a frequent basis. 

How Long is a Tour of the Houses of Parliament? 

It depends on which tour you book. The free tours of the Houses of Parliament are around 75 minutes while the paid guided tours last for 90 minutes. They also recommend allowing at least 90 minutes for the self-guided audio tour. 

Is there a Dress Code for Visiting Parliament? 

No, there is no formal dress code for visiting Parliament… but it is illegal to enter Parliament wearing a suit of armour, just in case you were thinking of doing that. 

Can You Take Photos in the Houses of Parliament? 

You can take photos in Westminster Hall and St Stephen’s Hall in the Houses of Parliament if you’re visiting but no, you can’t take photos in the rest of the Palace of Westminster.

Map of the Houses of Parliament, London 

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