The most recognisable buildings in Britain, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster are a global symbol of London.
Topped by the instantly-recognisable clocktower of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament (also known as Palace of Westminster) are the location where the two houses of the British parliament meet. The House of Commons is made up of members elected by the public at general elections held every three to five years. Members of the House of Lords are either appointed by the monarch (on the advice of the incumbent prime minister) or hold a seat by virtue of the position within the Church of England.
Perched regally over the River Thames, the location alone makes it well worth a visit, but the architecture and the window it provides on to the British political system are also compelling reasons to make the trip there.
The site of the current Houses of Parliament has been important since the 11th century and a palace, in one form or another, has existed there since Cnut the Great built the first one, lately expanded by Edward the Confessor between 1045 and 1050. Parliament has met on the site since 1295 when the Model Parliament (the first official parliament) met in the contemporary palace. Its modern form has gradually evolved over several hundred years and the locations of each House have moved around quite significantly. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the entire complex was rebuilt and extended to accommodate the growing parliament and attendant offices. In 1834, almost the entire structure was razed to the ground in a fire. It took 34 years to rebuild it in the Gothic style that you see today.
Parliament is in recess several times a year including July and August, so you can explore most of the Palace of Westminster, but that does mean that it is not possible to watch Parliament actually making laws.
For visitors from the UK and overseas wishing to get a comprehensive view and history of the Houses of Parliament, the Audio Guided Tour is a great option. The tour takes approximately 60 to 75 minutes and takes visitors through key areas of the monument, including the Queen's Robing Room, the Lord's Chamer, Central Lobby, Common's Chamber and Westminster Hall. Tours are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin. A screen-based tour in British Sign Language is also available.
Houses of Parliament
Westminster, London SW1A 0AA