Want to Visit the Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster? Here’s How…

Planning to visit the Houses of Parliament and not sure where to start? Check out this step by step guide to the types of tours, ticket prices and what to expect before you go. 

The Houses of Parliament are more than just an iconic London landmark, they function as the heart of British power. Set in the Palace of Westminster, a Victorian Neo-Gothic affair on the banks of the Thames the 1000+ rooms of the palace count among them two of the most important locations in UK politics – the House of Commons and House of Lords. 

Little wonder then that visiting the Houses of Parliament is one of the first things that people think of when visiting London. 

Who wouldn’t want to take a peek at the innards of authority, the place where decisions that shape the lives of British citizens are made on a daily basis? I certainly did for sure. 

Having taken a Houses of Parliament tour yesterday, I can honestly say that it is one of the most fascinating things I’ve done in London full stop: this coming from someone who spends a lot of time researching and writing about London and who’s as reticent to give out high praise as Scrooge was to give out money before his Christmas Carol transformation. In other words – you should totally go. 

The difficult place is knowing where to start. That’s why I’ve written this guide to walk you through the options for visiting with and without a tour, the different kinds of Houses of Parliament tours available, where to get tickets and what to expect when you do. 

Do I Have to Book a Tour to Visit the Houses of Parliament? 

In short, the answer to this is no. There are several ways that you can visit the Houses of Parliament without booking a tour – the main ones are: 

  1. Watch a debate or a committee
  2. Watch Prime Minister’s Questions 
  3. Watch Minister’s Question Times in the House of Commons or House of Lords 
  4. Book onto one of Parliament’s special events or talks.

You do not have to book tickets for the first three, although it is advisable to book tickets for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) as it is very popular and you are not guaranteed entry without a ticket. 

I’ve gone into more detail on each of these in the section “Visiting the Houses of Parliament Without a Tour” below if you want to know more info but I thought it was worth dealing with the tours first as this is what I’ve been asked most questions about. 

Choosing Which Houses of Parliament Tour to Book 

Inside the Grounds of the Houses of Parliament
Inside the Grounds of the Houses of Parliament

There are several different types of Houses of Parliament tour that you can go on – I’ve given you a breakdown of each of them as well as options for how to get your hands on tickets and (where relevant) lead times for each. 

How to Take a Tour of the Houses of Parliament for Free

Inside St Stephen's Hall, Houses of Parliament
Inside St Stephen’s Hall, Houses of Parliament

Did you know that UK residents can visit the Houses of Parliament for Free?

Scrap that, if you’re a UK resident, you can take a Democratic Access Tour of the Houses of Parliament for Free. 

I took one of these tours yesterday and it was riveting – 75 minutes of sights and information that had every single person fixed on every word our tour guide Sean had to say. 

The locations you cover during the tour depend on what’s happening on the day  – we were lucky enough to visit both houses (we literally squeaked into the House of Lords just in time). The tour is informative and educational, walking you through the daily business of MPs while they’re in the houses, the procedures that govern them and showcases the highlights of the Palace of Westminster along the way. 

I cannot recommend this enough – if you’re a UK resident and capable of getting to London, do it. 

The decisions that are made here influence every aspect of your life – not in an obscure and difficult to define fashion, but directly and with significant impact. Taking the time to understand how it works is never going to be a bad idea. 

Cost: Free

How to Get Tickets: You have to be a UK resident to book one of the Houses of Parliament free tours. You’ll need to book through your local MP or a Member of the House of Lords to book up to six months in advance. There are often last-minute Houses of Parliament tickets available (within the next seven days) – you can email Parliament to book a space on one of them, or pop into the Ticket Office in front of Portcullis House. 

Houses of Parliament Guided Tour

Exterior of Westminster Hall
Exterior of Westminster Hall

Parliament also runs 90-minute guided tours of the Houses of Parliament for which you do have to pay. On the face of it, the tours are relatively similar to the free tours, just slightly longer and at a slower pace. They’re also held in French, Spanish, German and Italian on selected dates.

The tours are held on weekdays when Parliament is not in session and most Saturdays throughout the year.

Cost: £26.50 Adults, £22 Young Adults 16-18, £11.50 Children 5 to 15 and under 5 free. £22 Concessions (over 60s, students and UK Armed Forces). Disabled visitors are charged as per the above but an essential companion is free. 

How to Get Tickets: Book online on the Parliament website or by calling +44 (0)20 7219 4114 or at the Ticket Office in front of Portcullis House.

Behind the Scenes Houses of Parliament Guided Tour 

The Medieval Ceiling in Westminster Hall
The Medieval Ceiling in Westminster Hall

This tour isn’t run by Parliament itself and is significantly more expensive than the standard guided tours I included above. 

So why am I listing it? Because it’s a much more in-depth and intimate tour that allows you to really immerse yourself in the world of Parliament past and present. 

In the course of two hours, you explore sections of the Palace of Westminster – including several places that aren’t covered by the other tours. 

This is really a tour for those who want to get down to the nitty gritty of the history and architecture of the Houses of Parliament and want to do it as part of a smaller group. 

Cost: £65 Adults, £59 Children( 4-12), Infants three and under are free. 

How to get Tickets: Book online on Get Your Guide

Family Guided Tour 

Visiting the Houses of Parliament with children aged 7 to 12? The Family Guided Tour is for you. 

The tours are aimed at providing an insightful yet entertaining experience, educating children (and adults) about how UK Parliament functions, through stories, examples, activities  and interesting tidbits told along the way. 

Cost: £19.50 Adults, Free for Children (up to 15)

How to Get Tickets: Family tours are held most Saturdays – book ahead (they’re very popular). Book online on the Parliament website, call +44 (0)20 7219 4114 or buy from the Ticket Office in front of Portcullis House. 

Self-Guided Audio Guide Tour of Parliament 

The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster

Rather take things at your own pace instead of going on a group tour but still want to explore the Palace of Westminster? You should consider an audio tour. 

The 90-minute audio tour provides a wealth of information about the buildings and the politics that happen within Parliament’s walls – in audio and video formats. It’s also available in a much wider range of languages than the guided tours and there are different versions for children and adults. 

Audio tours are available most Saturdays and weekdays when Parliament is not in session. 

Cost: £19.50 Adults, £17 Young Adults 16-18, £11.50, each child 5 to 15 with a paying adult is free, additional children £8, children under 5 free. £17 Concessions (over 60s, students and UK Armed Forces). Disabled visitors are charged as per the above but an essential companion is free. 

How to Get Tickets: Book online on the Parliament website or by calling +44 (0)20 7219 4114 or at the Ticket Office in front of Portcullis House.

Private Guided Tours 

None of the Houses of Parliament tours above look quite right or want to explore in a private group? Book a private guided tour. On the face of it, the £500 fee looks pretty steep but when you consider that it covers up to 10 people for a completely tailored tour, it doesn’t actually look so bad after all. 

The tours generally begin first thing in the morning (Monday to Wednesday) and last around 75 minutes. 

Cost: Starts from £500 per group of up to 10 people 

How to Book: Contact the booking office by email or call +44 (0)20 7219 4114. 

It’s probably worth mentioning that there are some other, more focused, group tours available on Parliament’s website. Check the site for the full line-up, which currently includes House of Commons Library Tours, LGBTQ tours, contemporary portraiture tours and tours celebrating the decorative arts of the Victorian period found within the Palace of Westminster. 

Visiting the Houses of Parliament Without a Tour

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben / Shutterstock

Now you’ve got a good grasp of the kinds of tours that you can take of the Houses of Parliament, I’m going to walk you through the ways that you can visit Parliament without a tour. 

It’s probably worth noting that you’re not allowed to just walk around the Palace of Westminster unguided (unless you’re doing an audio tour), so if you want to look around the buildings and learn about their history, a guided or audio tour are the only ways to do it. 

Watch a Debate or Committee 

MPs in the House of Commons and Peers in the House of Lords debate issues and proposed legislation on a daily basis – all of which anyone is able to view from the public galleries of the respective houses. 

In addition to this, both houses also hold committee meetings examine issues in detail on subjects large and small – all of which are open to the public. 

Though the waiting times vary dependent on the popularity / contentiousness of the subject, you are normally able to just turn up and hop into the queue for both debates and committee meetings. The visitor attendants can give you a good idea of how long you can expect to wait when you arrive. 

Cost: Free

How to Get Tickets: Not ticketed, just turn up and queue

Watch Prime Minister’s Questions 

Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) happens every Wednesday at 12pm when Parliament is in session. Even before the explosive events of the past few years, PMQs have always been the most popular event at Parliament, which is why it’s a ticketed event. 

Cost: Free

How to Get Tickets: Contact your local MP to request a ticket. If you’re not a UK resident or you haven’t booked a ticket in advance you can turn up on the day and try your luck but the pool of seats available is small. 

Watch Minister’s Question Time

This happens in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – generally at the beginning of the day Monday to Thursday and you can go and watch it from the public galleries of the respective houses. 

Cost: Free 

How to Get Tickets: You can contact your local MP to request a ticket or turn up on the day. Minister’s Question Time can be popular, but it’s generally OK to turn up on the day. 

Book a Special Event or Talk

There’s so much going on at Parliament – they really take their role of educating the public about aspects of life in Parliament, the history of the buildings and issues we face as a country. The only problem is… only a select number of people know about them, buried as they are in an obscure section of Parliament’s website. 

Now I know that I’m full-on geeky (I’ve learnt to embrace it), but the subject range is fascinating. These are the kind of talks that if you put them on TED Talks millions of people would be watching them, but when it’s Parliament… they’re hardly the talk of the town (don’t get me wrong – they still sell out but when’s the last time you saw them on a list of interesting things to do in London this week). It’s a shame – I want to thoroughly encourage you to go and check out the calendar and book onto any that interest you. 

Current ones on the calendar include Parliaments and Populism (timely much?), Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Big Ben and Intersectionality in the Workplace. 

Cost: Varies – many are free

How to Get Tickets: Check the Calendar of Upcoming Events and book tickets (mostly free) online.

Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster: Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between the Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster?

They actually refer to the same place. The Palace of Westminster, where the Houses of Parliament are based today, actually used to be a royal palace: Henry VIII was the last monarch to use it as such. 

These days, it’s no longer a royal palace and serves as a meeting place for the House of Commons and House of Lords, together the Houses of Parliament.

Can you go into the Houses of Parliament?

Yes, you can go into the Houses of Parliament – either on a tour, to go and see a debate or committee, to watch Prime Minister’s Questions or Minister’s Questions, to attend a talk or event or to go and petition your MP. 

You can’t, however, just walk around and see the inside of the Palace of Westminster unguided. 

Can You Visit the Houses of Parliament for Free? 

Yes, you can visit the Houses of Parliament for free by going to watch a debate, Prime Minister’s Questions or Ministers Questions in the appropriate house. You can also book a spot on one of the free Democratic Access Tours run by Parliament on a frequent basis. 

How Long is a Tour of the Houses of Parliament? 

It depends on which tour you book. The free tours of the Houses of Parliament are around 75 minutes while the paid guided tours last for 90 minutes. They also recommend allowing at least 90 minutes for the self guided audio tour. 

Is there a Dress Code for Visiting Parliament? 

No, there is no formal dress code for visiting Parliament… but it is illegal to enter Parliament wearing a suit of armour, just in case you were thinking of doing that. 

Can You Take Photos in the Houses of Parliament? 

You can take photos in Westminster Hall and St Stephen’s Hall in the Houses of Parliament if you’re visiting but no, you can’t take photos in the rest of the Palace of Westminster.

Map of the Houses of Parliament, London 

Click here for a Google map of the location of the Houses of Parliament. 

Visit Westminster + Central London Guides: Read Next 

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