"Glorious inside of Palace of Westminster" Houses of Parliament - Palace of Westminster Tip by Trekki
Houses of Parliament - Palace of Westminster, London: 268 reviews and 484 photos
When I realised that Houses of Parliament would be open for a guided tour in summer, I didn’t hestitate a second to book this. It was very much worth the visit and I can only highly recommend to book this tour, also to British citizens! Visiting Parliament during house sessions might be nice, but you won’t be able to visit the surrounding rooms then.
The tour starts inside Westminster Hall, which is also the only part where photo taking is allowed (but it is quite dark, despite the big stained glass window on the southern side – photos 2 and 3). This hall is already fascinating in its structure, it is the oldest part of the palace and was built in 1097 and modified to its (almost) today’s appearance. Again, UK Parliament’s webmasters have created virtual masterpieces on their website, please make sure that you have a look at their Westminster Hall 3D animated photos and video. This is fantastic to see all this most magnificent hammerbeam roof in detail and how the hall was equipped in the past.
The tour then continues through St. Stephen’s Hall with huge paintings themed “The Building of Britan” together with statues of former statesmen. Then comes the Central Lobby, a real masterpiece in art and architecture. It is the centre of Palace of Westminster, the other rooms are grouped symmetrically to its north (Commons’ area) and its south (Lords’ area). And it is also the third tower of the whole complex, once designed by Barry for ventilation as well. It is of octagonal shape, with four archways leading to the Commons’ and Lords’ area and to St. Stephen’s Hall and a Waiting Hall (unaccessible for tourists). These four archways have magnificent mosaics of the four patron saints which represent Great Britain: St. George for England, St. David for Wales, St. Andrew for Scotland, St. Patrick for Ireland. Next the tour will lead to the southern part of the Palace, which, apart from housing the Lords’ rooms is the centre of the State Opening of Paliament every year end November (2008: on Dec. 3). The Queen then enters through the Sovereign entrance and puts on state robe and crown jewels in the Robing Room. This room is full of artwork, such as frescos depicting scenes of King Arthur and two large portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert left and right of the Chair of State. From there, procession and the guided tour lead through the Royal Gallery with two huge paintings by Daniel Maclise (the hugest paintings I recall to have ever seen) with scenes of Lord Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. Noteworthy is also the magnificent ceiling coffer ceiling, all in gold and red and with Tudor roses. Next comes the rather small Prince’s Chamber with paintings of Henry VIII and his wives, painted by students of the Royal School of Art in mid 19th century. Well, what can I say about the House of Lords that hasn’t been mentioned already? It is again a masterpiece of art with so many magnificent details like the two brass candelabra left and right of the throne (by Pugin) and the huge frescos of the virtues of justice, chivalry and religion or the 18 statues in the middle of the walls who represent barons who witnessed the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. The famous woolsack is the place where the Lord Speaker sits over the sessions, behind him (actually her, Baroness Helene Hayman since July 2006) the Ceremonial Mace which represents the authority of the Sovereign. The next room is Peers’ Lobby, again a masterpiece in white with decorations in red and gold. Red is dominating in the Lords’ part by the way, all chairs and seatings, carpets, decoration is mostly red. From the Peers’ Lobby the tour leads back through the Central Lobby into the Commons’ area, the actual centre of Britains’ power and government. It is here where laws are discussed and passed in complicated yet so simple procedures. I am not at all in a position to describe this (as I would have to understand it first), but I really like the very much practical method of voting: left and right of House of Commons are chambers called “aye” (yes) and “no”: the MPs have to go into the chamber of their vote, and when they come back through a little gate, they are counted. Amazing, how this old method still survives in today’s electronic times, but in my opinion it is better than anything else. House of Commons is a mirror to House of Lords, but green is the dominating colour in the Commons’ part. But also here a mace (the second one in Palace of Westminster) is present while the house is sitting (on a table, however). The current Speaker is Michael Martin, Glasgow.
There is so much more to tell about Palace of Westminster, but it is better to go and see yourself. The tour guides will be happy to answer every question, the one I had certainly was. Take your time and don’t miss the amazing details in every room. The symbols like portcullis, Tudor rose, lions are visible everywhere, at the walls, ceilings, floors. What amazed me most was how very well balanced the overall decoration was. At no point I had the feeling that it was too much, it fit all together perfectly.
If you want to know how British Parliament works, you should read Sarah's (@toonsarah) detailed explanations about the government.
Ok, now to the practical things:
As the name suggests, summer opening is only in summer. In 2008 it was from July 28 to September 27. The dates for the next years will be available at UK Parliament’s website. I bought my ticket at the official booth next to Jeweil Tower on the other side of the road (photo 5) and paid £12. Kids’ fee is £5, reductions for seniors and students with ID card. Tours in French, German, Spanish and Italian are available several times daily, but this depends on the availability of the guides. I planned to book an English tour but then I saw that a German tour would be available at the time I showed up. The tour takes approximately 70-90 minutes, it involves a lot of walking. There is heavy security checking like at airports at the entrance, a photo of the visitor is taken for a visit pass. I had my small backpack with me which wasn’t any problem, but I was told that bigger backpacks or trolleys cannot be brought in.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
Address: Parliament Square, SW1
Directions: Palace of Westminster. Tube station: Westminster (exit 3) (District, Circle, Jubilee Line).
othercontact: Fax: +44 (0)20 7219 5603
Phone: 0870 9063773
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