Image credit: UK Parliament

When booking my visit to the Parliamentary estate for afternoon tea (yes, it’s actually a thing – read my review of it here!) I discovered that in order to have sandwiches and scones in this iconic establishment you have to book yourself a spot on either a guided or audio tour of the Houses of Parliament.

That was fine by me though as this was a place I’ve always wanted to visit!

I’d actually already been on the grounds before, but never entered the building proper. Back when my American penpal visited me, at the grand old age of 12, my granddad arranged for us visit the clock tower, climbing a hell of a lot of stairs for the opportunity to stand behind the world famous clock face and watch Big Ben himself chime 12. It was amazeballs (that’s 12 year old me talking, by the way).

So now, many years later, I had returned, and was just as excited as before by the idea of exploring those hallowed halls.

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel

Houses of Parliament – audio tour or guided tour?

Visitors have the option of either a guided or audio tour around the Houses of Parliament. We went with the audio option so that we could set our own pace and have a good old nosey around.

Headphones on and controller at the ready, we started the tour in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the houses of Parliament, dating back as far as the 11th century. This is the room you first enter and its size is remarkable – it has the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe.

Our guide; a voice with a rich aristocratic timbre, told us all about the history of the room, while we stood on the steps once trodden by everyone from the Queen and Nelson Mandela, through to Charles I and even William Wallace. Epic start.

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel

This is the tone of the tour throughout, which follows the route the Queen takes every year when she comes to officially open Parliament. As you walk you’re told the use of each room or hallway and important moments in history are highlighted to us.

It’s a lot of information to take in, and to be fair not all of it stuck, but lovers of history and politics will be in their element with the depth of the guide. As you walk around the building different speakers and MPs reach your ears, each sharing stories and in most rooms. If something really piques your interest, the audio guide often gives you the option to press a button to delve into the subject by listening to extra commentary on a particular room or event.

I was disappointed to discover that for a large part of the tour you’re not allowed to take photos. Such a shame, as there were so many Instagram-worthy sights, and moments I wanted to take back home with me, but understandably security is tight, so be forewarned that you can only take a few images at the start of the tour. The rest will be have to be mental pictures only…

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel

Going behind the scenes

It was great going ‘behind the scenes’ as such, and I loved things like getting to see the mail rack in the Member’s Lobby outside the House of Commons, where every MP has a box to collect any important documents etc. For me a real highlight was the stories that pointed out the small things you would otherwise pass by – for example in that same lobby on one of the arches you can see damage sustained from World War II bombing. During the war the House of Commons was destroyed and the government worked from the House of Lords. All was rebuilt, but Churchill requested some of the damage be left as a reminder. This is now known as Churchill’s Arch.

Other little things I discovered through the tour included the table in the House of Lords that’s scarred by the bashing received by Churchill’s signet ring, or very ornate cigar lighter that was found in the rubble of the bomb and restored, and my personal favourite, the broken statue of Lord Falkland in the beautiful St Stephen’s Hall.

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel

Image credit: UK Parliament

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel

Back when the suffragettes were campaigning for womens’ right to vote, they would come into the hall and chain themselves to the statues. If you look closely at Lord Falkland’s feet you’ll see that one of his spurs has been snapped off – damage caused from when suffragette Marjory Hume chained herself to the statue. You go girl!

Standing in the House of Commons and House of Lords

Of course though, one big wow moment has to be standing inside both the House of Commons and House of Lords. Both very different in style (and amount of glitz – Lords, I’m looking at you!), but both much smaller than they look on the TV.

Sadly you can’t take a seat, but you can wander along the rows, and looking up you can see hundreds of tiny microphones hanging down – something I’d never spotted on TV before. It’s an amazing feeling to stand in such an important room!

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel 11

Image credit: UK Parliament

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel 11

Image credit: UK Parliament

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel

Image credit: UK Parliament

Tour of the Houses of Parliament | Ladies What Travel 11

Image credit: UK Parliament

A tour of the Houses of Parliament

Tours of the Houses of Parliament are available on Saturdays and on most weekdays during parliamentary recesses.

An audio tour costs £18.50 for an adult, and £7.50 for a child. Guided tours cost £25.50 per adult, and £11 each for children, and last roughly 90 minutes. Both can be booked online, or by visiting the ticket office in front of Portcullis House.

Although I really enjoyed the tour I did feel it was expensive for what it was, especially when you go as a family of four! However, I did discover afterwards that UK residents can ask for a free tour via their MP – good to know!

If you’re interested in combining your tour with an afternoon tea experience, then why not check out my review of afternoon tea at the Houses of Parliament?

 


Our tours and afternoon teas at the Houses of Parliament were complimentary for the purposes of review but as ever, all views are my own.

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48 thoughts on “A tour of the Houses of Parliament

  1. I’ve spent a lot of time in London and in fact am moving there soon – but I’ve never actually been inside the Houses of Parliament. Sounds like a really interesting experience, and will definitely be putting it on my list. Have pinned for later. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ah cool Michelle, hope you enjoy the experience! I lived in London when I was at uni, but have seen much more of the city as a visitor than a resident lol!

  2. It sounds like a very interesting experience to tour the Houses of Parliament. I’d like to see it when I finally make it to London. #MondayEscapes

    1. How old are they Lisa? They do have family focused tours that might be interesting to them. I totally understand though, my stepson doesn’t always have the patience for places like this!

  3. Would love to do this one day! I know I went in to Westminister Abbey as a kid, but I don’t remember whether or not we went in to the Houses of Parliament. Pinned just in case! #CityTripping

    1. Hi Nicky, they have a special family friendly audio tour with a more story-led , engaging feel for kids, so yes I think it’s definitely kid friendly!

  4. I still need to do this! It’s funny my husband was there last week for an event and mentioned how small the Commons was in real life too. I was actually expecting the entrance fee to be a bit more expensive so that wouldn’t put me off. Thanks for linking #citytripping

    1. Ha ha, yes it’s odd, you’d expect it to be so much bigger. Must have been quite exciting to attend a work event there!

  5. That is so interesting! I have passed the houses of parliament about a hundred times during my visits to London and it never even occurred to me that it would be possible to visit as well! Love the floors and ceiling.
    #WanderfulWednesday

    1. Yep Esther, a lot of Parliaments have visiting options. I missed out at Budapest, but recently did a tour of Oslo’s parliament building too. 😀

  6. What a cool experience!! Also can I just say… “When booking my visit to the Parliamentary estate for afternoon tea” is the FANCIEST sentence I’ve ever heard ;P

    1. I know, the journo in me was really looking forward to standing where the tv guys do when they read the news!

  7. I studied politics at sixth form and think I enjoyed a number of visits to parliament. The highlight for me was always going in to the two chambers, it always felt so exciting! Funnily enough, they also serve afternoon tea at New South Wales Parliament House here in Sydney too 🙂

    1. Oh ace – that’s a reason for me to come to Sydney now, another stop for the global afternoon tea challenge!

  8. We loved our tour at the Houses of Parliament as well and also did the afternoon tea. It is definitely worth a visit if a tour time coincides with a visit. A question: you have a lot of photos from areas of the tour where photography is restricted (House of Commons, Members’ Chambers, etc.), are these your photos or ones used from another source? We have a contact there and even media are not generally allowed to take photos in the chambers…

    1. Oh yes, photography is very restricted – the ones from that area are from the Houses of Parliament’s press library – now credited! 😉

  9. I’ve been to London three times and I still haven’t seen the Parliament Houses (though the last time I was there was only for an hour, and only around Victoria station so it doesn’t really count). They look just as beautiful on the inside as they are outside. I was under the impression that you need to be a resident to see them, but I guess that’s only if you want to see Big Ben up close, isn’t it? #citytripping

    1. I think that’s the case with Big Ben but can’t say for sure Vlad. Still, it’s closed to everyone for the next few years while they renovate! But yes, anyone can book a tour of the houses of parliament. 😀

  10. We went on this tour last year, and chose the guided tour. It was fabulous! I was so blown away by how beautiful all the rooms were and like you somewhat disappointed that photos weren’t allowed. I’d love to go back one day and do the afternoon tea! #citytripping

    1. Same Hilary, I understand the security reasons but it was sad, would love to have been able to take some pics myself in those amazing rooms…

  11. The Houses of Parliament is such a fantastic place to visit. We loved our guided tour earlier this year and I too was very disappointed you weren’t allowed to sit down on the grand red or green seats of either of the Houses. The history in that building is just astounding. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  12. I really must do this, I’ve never toured the Houses of Parliament and that seems mad! Great idea to combine it with afternoon tea. #MondayEscapes

  13. Afternoon tea in the Houses of Parliament sounds good. I’ve been for Prime Minister’s Questions, years ago, and reading this really makes me want to return.

  14. We had a fantastic time doing the tour and tea experience last year. The guides really make the tour special don’t they? Our guide sounds very different to yours (quite cheeky and irreverent) so it might be worth going back for another perspective. Thanks for joining #farawayfiles

    1. Ah we did the audio tour – I can imagine that you get even more out of the experience with a guide though – and can ask them questions!

  15. Of course I have seen the building from the outside, but I have never gone in. I definitely want to do this tour. It is such a beautiful building both inside and out – and so much history. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  16. I still haven’t visited the Houses of Parliament, but now it’s on our to do list. I hope to go to London again beginning of next year. And the afternoon tea sounds like a great experience, too – even though I’m more a coffee person. 😉

  17. I would love to visit the Houses of Parliament one day and I think I would opt for the guided tour. I feel like that’s just much more interesting than an audio guide and you can always ask questions which I’d have loads of 🙂

    1. Yeah I do agree that’s there’s some big benefits to having a proper guide. We still learnt a lot from the audio tour though. 🙂

  18. Tea in the Houses of Parliament? Yes please. We see so many pictures of the buildings, but so few from inside that we never realized there were tours. It makes sense, of course, but just never dawned on us. Amazeballs – perfect description! 🙂 Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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