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? We certainly did for sure.
Having taken a Houses of Parliament tour previously, we can honestly say that it is one of the most fascinating things we’ve done in London full stop. This coming from a team that 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 thing is knowing where to start. That’s why we’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.
Do I Have to Book a Tour to Visit the Houses of Parliament?
Usually, no. But 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:
- Watch a debate or a committee
- Watch Prime Minister’s Questions
- Watch Minister’s Question Times in the House of Commons or House of Lords
- 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.
We will go 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 we thought it was worth dealing with the tours first as this is what we’ve been asked most questions about.
Choosing Which Houses of Parliament Tour to Book
There are several different types of Houses of Parliament tour that you could go on – we’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.
Houses of Parliament Guided Tour
This is a 90-minute guided tour of the Houses of Parliament for which you have to pay.
The tours are usually held on weekdays when Parliament is not in session and most Saturdays throughout the year. They go at a slow pace, allowing you to soak in the architecture and history of the buildings.
These tours also held in French, Spanish, German and Italian on selected dates.
Cost: £32 for adults, £16 for kids, £26 for concessions, 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.
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.
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: £25 for adults, £9 for kids, £18.00 for concessions, under 5s 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.
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 email@example.com
How to Take a Tour of the Houses of Parliament for Free
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.
We’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.
We 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.
How to Get Tickets:
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
This tour isn’t run by Parliament itself and is significantly more expensive than the standard guided tours we included above.
So why are we 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. You can take a virtual tour of the buildings online. You’ll walk your virtual self through the corridors of power. It’s not the same as being there in person, but at least you don’t have to get off the sofa.
Cost: Absolutely free. Hurrah.
How to get Tickets: Book online here.
Visiting the Houses of Parliament Without a Tour
Now you’ve got a good grasp of the kinds of tours that you can take of the Houses of Parliament, We’re 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.
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.
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.
How to Get Tickets: Not ticketed, just turn up and queue.
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.
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.
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, you know that we’re full-on geeky (we’ve learnt to embrace it), but the subject range is fascinating. These are the kinds 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 us 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 – we 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.