The Houses of Parliament - otherwise known as the Palace of Westminster - is one of the most recognisable landmarks in London. Viewed from the River Thames or from Westminster Bridge, the grand design and palatial scale of this classic building comes into sharp focus, instantly conveying a sense of London’s rich cultural heritage and civic pride.
First and foremost, Westminster is home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords and is a symbol of a government that has endured for centuries. The building of the impressive Gothic landmark that we see today began in the 1840s after a devastating fire ravaged most of the previous Westminster structures in 1834. Gothic design was at the time a symbol of power and strength and its intricate detail may have been why it took more than thirty years to complete this great palace to democracy.
With its dramatic spires, impressive towers and powerful gothic design elements, Westminster is probably most famous for Elizabeth Tower, or what many refer to as Big Ben.
Arguably the world’s most famous clock tower, Big Ben is actually a bell, one that still chimes on the hour along with the ticking of the four famous clocks that keep perfect time with the fast paced metropolis below. At the opposite end of Westminster is Victoria Tower, and from where the Union Flag, or the Royal Standard when the sovereign is present, is so dramatically visible. These two great towers are set off by a smaller but equally beautiful central spire that was meant to add a further design flourish to the already impressive site.
Guided tours of Westminster and the houses of parliament are available every Saturday, however tours of the Big Ben clock tower and Victoria Tower are only open to U.K. residents. There is still much to be seen here and the ornate beauty of Westminster is not soon forgotten. If reserved far enough in advance there is even an afternoon tea sitting in the House of Commons’ Pugin Room which visitors can enjoy after their tour.
Westminster is located in the heart of London, just across the River Thames from the London Eye. There are many forms of transport that will take you there and it’s a short walk from South Bank or St. James Park and Buckingham Palace. If travelling by Underground, take the District Circle or Jubilee lines to Westminster Station.