For over 900 years this impressive assemblage of Gothic buildings has been the home of British government. The building cover... More
Houses of Parliament
For over 900 years this impressive assemblage of Gothic buildings has been the home of British government. The building covers an area of eight acres (3.23 hectares) and consists of 1100 rooms, 100 staircases and 11 courtyards. The House of Lords occupies the southern end of the building while the House of Commons occupies the area to the north. The best view of this massive expanse can be seen from nearby Parliament Square. Within the Houses of Parliament there is Westminster Hall, the Crypt Church, Members' Lobbies, the Commons Library and the Peers Library. The tower containing Big Ben looms just outside. To attend PMQ (Prime Minister's Question Time) in the House of Commons, UK citizens need to contact their local MP in advance. Otherwise, there is a line at St Stephen's entrance.
The Houses of Parliament, or officially, the Palace of Westminster, is to Britons what the Capitol in Washington, D.C., is to Americans. While it may not look quite as majestic without the dome (see St. Paul's Cathedral), it is just as imposing, especially when viewed from across the Thames, or while on the river itself. Admission into the Houses of Parliament is free, however, if you do not buy tickets for a guided tour, you will miss so much.
While you cannot sit on the benches of the House of Commons, you can pretend to be Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions, (or the Leader of the Opposition, depending on your politics) while standing at his podium. As for sitting in on PMQ, you have to contact the American embassy to get on a waiting list. I wish I could have done this, as I am a C-SPAN buff and love PMQ, but that didn't happen.
You can also go into the House of Lords, which is a much larger and more ornate chamber than the Commons. (today's Commons chamber is only about 60 years old; the Luftwaffe bombed out the old one in 1941) This is where the State Opening of Parliament occurs every year, when the Queen sits on her throne and reads a speech written by the Government, outlining what it is they plan on doing in the next year. Sometimes I wonder what she really thinks about some of the things she has to read in the speech.