Taking the Houses of Parliament tour

Date Posted: 17/05/2012

It’s a real privilege to take a tour of the Houses of Parliament, says Rob Yandell. Find out how you can experience the Palace of Westminster with a group.

I’ve seen this iconic building so often from the outside, in print and on television; I found it rather odd to be on the inside, to be honest.

Walking the corridors of power on a Saturday, when David and Nick are presumably cutting the grass or shopping at Tesco (not together I hasten to add), was not only fascinating, but I even found myself getting mildly enthusiastic about politics - madness.

The experience also reminds us of our right to come and visit anytime; to watch a debate or track down our local MP.

But to learn about the history of a place bursting with historic significance and tradition is something that should provide a memorable group trip. Whether you like politics or not, this is a light, enjoyable and easy tour for groups of all ages.

Forget the fact that fuel duty is on the rise or that the economy is dipping more than its rising; the Houses of Parliament is a national treasure and this is one excellent tour.

I’ve wanted to take it for a while, but even more so since group travel organisers voted it Best UK Attraction at last year’s Group Leisure Awards.

In addition to tours running through the summer, the introduction of a Saturday programme year-round in 2010 has seen more group travel organisers including it when putting together a group trip to London.

The tour lasts approximately 75 minutes and is conducted by a Blue Badge guide, so you know you’ll be in knowledgeable hands. Our guide was clear and easy to listen to and the stories and facts are interesting. But it’s easy to immerse yourself in the history a little too much and forget your surroundings, so make sure you take in both.

The tours take in the Lords and Commons Chambers plus other highlights such as the 900-year old Westminster Hall, the Queen’s Robing Room, the Royal Gallery, Peers’ Lobby, Central Lobby, Members’ Lobby and St Stephen’s Hall. 

As you first enter, the wonderful Westminster Hall greets you. It is something more fitting for a medieval banquet than the home of British politics. And plenty of those have taken place. Here, you start your tour and can use the cafe for light refreshments.

Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster having been built in 1097 and it certainly feels different to the rest of the building. I saw the stained glass window presented to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee and our tour group was reminded that it was here that Elizabeth, The Queen Mother lay in state in 2002.

Today’s Palace of Westminster, to give it its proper name, was re-built after the Great Fire of 1834 by Charles Barry and is typical of the Gothic revival of the late Victorian period. But it was the red and green benches of the Lords and Commons Chambers that really captured me. Much smaller than you imagine, it is hard to believe where you are standing. It looks more like a film set than the real thing.

Aside from the magnificence of your surroundings, the tour is very much about the people that have played a part in its history, such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. You get to understand where some of our most common sayings have come from, the quirks and traditions that are still alive in Parliament today, and the ceremonies that play a part in its decorated calendar.

This year’s Houses of Parliament Summer Opening dates

Group travel organisers will be able to book a tour between the 27th July and 1st September, Monday to Saturday, and 19th September to 6th October, Wednesday to Saturday. Tours run throughout the year on Saturdays.

Tickets cost £15 for adults while for OAPs, students and the armed forces cost £10. Tickets for children under 16s are available for £6.

Prices for groups of over ten people start from £8.25 but vary depending on the time of day. 

Tours run from 9.15am to 4.30am each day apart from the 15th, 22nd, and 29th of August when tours run from 1.15pm to 4.30pm.

Information and reservations are available from Ticketmaster on 0844-847 1672 or 0844-847 2498 for groups, or by visiting the Parliamentary website.



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