First-timers guide to visiting Big Ben and Houses of Parliament in London

First-timers guide to visiting Big Ben and Houses of Parliament in London

There are many iconic London landmarks dotted about the city, but none stands out as more recognizable or symbolic of London’s culture than Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

It’s hard to envision London without thinking of the Houses of Parliament and the incredible clock tower. 

Today visitors will note this magnificent landmark is referred to as the Elizabeth Tower and stands over 96 meters tall, while the Palace of Westminster is the current seat of parliament. Visitors looking to explore these two incredible structures in London book a stay at Hotel In Cumberland Place and check out this first-timers guide to visiting Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London. Also, check out some of these incredible  London Hotels Special Offers if you plan on travelling over London’s peak period.

Highlights of Big Ben and The Palace of Westminster

Despite the gorgeous architecture and massive clock tower of the Palace of Westminster, you may be surprised to learn that British politicians convene there, and you may even get to attend a House of Commons meeting. Furthermore, this popular attraction features a display of plaques that list prominent historical figures who were tried here. This includes the likes of Guy Fawkes, William Wallace and Charles I. Finally, as you make your way to other parts of the palace, expect to see the largest hammer to have been built globally. 

Interesting Facts about Big Ben 

  • A clockmaker did not design the clock tower
  • There are pennies on the pendulum of the clock
  • The first chimes of Big Ben chimed were 160 years ago

Best things to do near Big Ben

  • Explore Westminster Abbey
  • Take a picture next to the Winston Churchill Statue
  • Capture the incredible architecture of the UK Supreme Court
  • Grab a drink at St Stephen’s Tavern
  • Visit the impressive Nelson Mandela Statue
  • Get a glimpse of London history at the Battle of Britain Monument
  • Enjoy a relaxing day exploring St James’s Park

Places to eat near Big Ben

  • Cafe Nero
  • The Red Lion
  • Peers Dining Room at the House of the Lords
  • Switchroom Cafeteria at the Churchill Museum
  • Houses of Parliament Afternoon Tea
  • The Library at County Hall
  • The Strings Restaurant London

Top Tips

  • Over the summer holidays, queues can be extremely long, so arrive early. Generally, the Public Gallery at the House of Lords lines is shorter.
  • The buildings are open to the public for free tours that provide historical information and guide visitors through sections not accessible to the public. However, self-guided tours are available if you are not interested in taking a guided tour. 
  • Travellers looking to enjoy the experience are advised to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier than their scheduled time. 
  • Visitors looking to walk up to the clock must be over 11 years old and prepare to climb up 334 steps unaided without assistance. 

What to expect 

Ayrton Light on Clock Tower will fly a flag at night when parliament is sitting, and the flag outside Victoria Tower during the day when parliament is sitting. Only UK residents are allowed to tour Big Ben, while international visitors are allowed to attend debates and watch committee meetings.

While parliament is in session, visitors can view the Visitors’ Gallery, but queues can be extended. The Public Galleries can be accessed for free via the visitor entrance at Cromwell Green during Question Time. In addition, each committee session is free of charge, but you must provide proof of identification to enter. Before visiting the Houses of Parliament, check their website if you want to watch a committee or attend a debate when parliament is in session.  

The Strangers Gallery of the House of Commons and the Gallery of the House of Lords are available to UK residents through MPs and Lords, respectively. However, when the House of Commons is in session, foreign visitors must take part in a queue to retrieve their tickets. In addition, as a foreign visitor, your viewing spot in parliament is not guaranteed as there is limited seating availability. 

There is a good chance you will spend between 15 and 30 minutes going through an intensive security screening before entering the Houses of Parliament; up to 45 minutes if you plan to visit the public galleries on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Also, the station does not have its own storage facilities or lockers, so do not bring large bags with you. Instead, use the luggage facilities at Charing Cross, Victoria, or Waterloo stations. 

After enjoying an insightful political debate in parliament, continue your experience of London by exploring some of the many other attractions in the city. A relaxing and therapeutic massage with these Spa Breaks London is something to end your day of sightseeing and an overwhelming amount of information.

When to come and get your tickets

Every Saturday throughout the year, guided tours are offered at the Houses of Parliament from 9:15 am until 4:30 pm.

Over the summer months, tours are every:

  • Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from 9:15 am until 4:30 pm.
  • Wednesdays from 1:15 pm until 4:30 pm.

Tickets are available online or can be purchased at the venue. In addition, some Travel agents and these  5 Star Hotels London can arrange tour passes to most London attractions upon request. If you didn’t manage to get your tickets online, it is best to arrive early and head to the ticket office at Portcullis House.

Getting Here

Taking the tube

Tube passengers can reach Westminster in four minutes by walking from Westminster station.

Travelling by coach

It will take about one minute to walk from The Palace of Westminster to Abingdon Street if you are travelling by coach.

Taking the bus

You can travel by bus to Parliament Square on Victoria Street, where countless routes stop.

Using a car

Smith Square, Great Peter Street and Matthew Parker Street are the nearest parking spaces if you are driving, and an underground parking garage is opposite the Houses of Parliament.