Parliament, the powerhouse of a nation. The place of great tradition, ceremony and responsibility. It is also the place where highly qualified, sensible adults drop all their inhibitions and yell freely at anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
Years ago, my friend asked me what my favourite building was and my instant response was – Big Ben. Yes, technically it’s not a building, but in my eyes, it holds an unmatched iconic stature. Over the weekend, Mrs FOMOist and I had the pleasure of walking through the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, you could imagine my enthusiasm.
There are many people who don’t realise that you can tour the Houses of Parliament. You can either visit the public galleries in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and watch our nation’s fate being debated. Alternatively, you can do what we did and do a guided tour on Saturdays throughout the year and most weekdays when Parliament is not in session.
The tour lasts for approximately 1.5 hours and even if you are not interested in politics, the Houses of Parliament is an ornate architectural marvel that one can only be appreciated after walking through those corridors.
- There are 1,100 rooms, stretched over 3 miles from one end to the other. Don’t worry, you don’t walk the length of the entire Palace of Westminster (yes that’s what it actually is).
- The tour group meets at the Westminster Hall, which is the oldest part of the Palace. So, walking through the tour, is like time travel!
- For all its grandeur, when you’re walking through the different sections, you can’t help but notice the lack of sunlight inside the Houses of Parliament. Maybe it’s to ensure MPs don’t get distracted by the cracking weather we’ve had lately.
- Not sure if it’s the norm, but our tour guide was a former actor, which made the whole experience quite theatrical.
- If you do a guided tour (as opposed to a self-guided audio tour), you get to stand in the roped off sections of the Palace, which gets me very excited!
- You’re not allowed to take any pictures inside the Houses of Parliament apart from Westminster and St Stephen’s Hall(s).
- The House of Lords is an ornate temple of intricate details, whereas House of Commons is functional and well common.
- Even though you’re walking around areas that have benches and chairs everywhere, you are not allowed to sit on any of them.
St Stephen’s Hall
After meeting our group in the Westminster Hall, we headed towards the entrance of St Stephen’s Hall. On top of the main entrance is a contemporary light sculpture called, New Dawn, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the campaign for women’s rights. It is the first permanent contemporary art installation in the Houses of Parliament.
Queen’s Robing Room
After admiring the exquisite St Stephen’s Hall, we were ushered straight to the Queen’s Robing Room. Till this date, this is where the Queen prepares for the State Opening of Parliament by donning official robes and wearing the Imperial State Crown.
I am told that as the Queen exits her Robing Room, she walks the length of the Royal Gallery, which is one of the largest rooms in the Palace. At this point, our guide has mentioned several times that we are walking in Her Majesty’s steps and I am feeling well royale.
Once the Queen has walked through the Royal Gallery, she arrives at the Prince’s Chamber, that houses the large marble statue of Queen Victoria holding a sceptre and a laurel crown. We were told that the entrance doors are removed to the Prince’s Chamber when the Her Majesty the Queen is visiting for the State Opening to ensure she has clear view of the statue as she makes her way to the House of Lords.
The Chamber of the House of Lords
This has to be my favourite room of the entire tour. The decorations are lavish, the furnishings are plush and it houses the well-recognised ornate gold Canopy and Throne. While holding more of an advisory role in the modern-day politics, the House of Lords still exudes power that can only be felt while standing in between those walls.
After the House of Lords, we walked through the Member’s Lobby that has statues of four prominent Prime Ministers of the 20th century. The two that instantly caught my attention were Sir Winston Churchill, glowering down from his mammoth stature and the infamous finger of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher.
The Chamber of the House of Commons
The final and the most recognised room of the Palace was of course House of Commons. As mentioned earlier, unlike the House of Lords, this room was very functional and most “workplace like” for the lack of better words. One thing that did stand out though, was the size. It looks a lot bigger on TV, than it is in real life.
The guided tour of the Houses of Parliament has to be one of my favourite things I’ve done in London. In addition to being an impressive architectural gem, it’s the stories and traditions that I found really engaging.