The Palace was the residence of the Kings of England from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. In Medieval England Kings simply summoned their courts to wherever they happened to be, but by the fourteenth century the judicial and parliamentary courts resided in Westminster. Though the Lords resided in the Palace, they had no permanent meeting place until 1547 when the Royal Chapel of St. Stephen was given to the Commons.
In 1834 almost the entire Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire, with only Westminster hall, the Crypt of St. Stephens Chapel, the cloisters and Jewel Tower surviving the blaze. Westminster Hall and the remains of St. Stephens where then incorporated into the new Houses of Parliament, a building designed by Sir Charles Barry that took more than thirty years to construct.
The Houses of Parliament were hit by an air raid during the Second World War and the House of Commons Chamber was destroyed. The Chamber has since been rebuilt in the image of the original. The Houses of Parliament contains one thousand rooms, eleven court yards, eight bars and six restaurants, some of which are open to the public on selected dates. Members of the public can watch a session of parliament by either the Lords or the Commons from the public gallery.
Insightful and entertaining guided and audio tours are available on Saturdays and weekdays when Parliament is not in session. Guided tours are led by Blue Badge guides and last around 90 minutes, audio tours last around 75 minutes and are available in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, Mandarin and Welsh as well as English. For families with children there is also an engaging 'family' version of the audio tour, along with 'family guided tours' which are led by our friendly visitor assistants.
All tours follow the processional route taken by Her Majesty the Queen when she performs the State Opening of Parliament. The magnificent Neo Gothic architecture of the Royal Rooms, such as the House of Lords, are richly decorated with the highlight being the wonderful golden throne designed by Pugin.
The Chamber of the House of Commons is one of the most iconic political arenas in the world and visitors can stand where the Prime Minister takes questions.
Tours end at Westminster Hall, which was built in 1097 and is one of the most atmospheric spaces in London. Once the Royal Family’s banqueting hall, the great and the good from Britain’s past 900 years will have walked on its stone floor.
A gift shop and cafeteria are available at the end of the tour.