If you’ve travelled to a major tourist destination before, you already know to expect huge crowds, long lines, and sometimes, a lot of general confusion.
The Palace of Westminster is definitely one of the most visited locations in London, especially when considered along with the numerous tourist attractions located nearby. It’s absolutely essential to learn as much as possible about this living monument and to research the best hotels in London before you arrive. That way, you can eliminate any logistical challenges and focus on seeing as much as possible during your stay in this magical city.
Planning ahead is best, trust us!
You mustn’t forget that in addition to being a cultural treasure, this building is in active use by the British government, so there are quite a lot of strict rules governing what you can and can’t do. In this guide, we will provide you with the basic facts about the Palace of Westminster and advise you how to approach some practical issues that are especially unique to this venue.
Key facts about the Palace of Westminster
This historical building is located on the north bank of the Thames in central London. The current palace was built in 1834 on the place of a previous structure that was destroyed by a devastating fire. Several earlier palaces were located at the same site, with the oldest dating back to the 11th century, and some of the traces of earlier designs are still visible.
The Palace of Westminster served as the seat of royal power and private residence of the monarch for much of its existence, and it officially retains this function today even if the royal family doesn’t regularly reside therein.
In the current era, its primary function is to be the permanent home to both Houses of the Parliament, so it has an important role in the democratic traditions of Great Britain as well. It was hit by numerous bombs during World War II, but its foundation survived and was later repaired to its original state.
Its architecture is typically described as Perpendicular Gothic style, although some earlier elements such as Westminster Hall belong to different building traditions. Today, this palace is one of the best-known symbols of London and the United Kingdom as a country and is regularly toured by sightseers as well as foreign dignitaries paying a visit to the British capital.
Best accommodation in the nearby area
For domestic and foreign visitors who want to explore the Palace of Westminster and the nearby areas of London, finding a good hotel is the first serious task.
With most quality hotel’s book now pay later policy as the standard, you should be able to sort your stay from another UK city or abroad without any issue.
Better still, there is certainly no shortage of options in the 3-4-mile radius from the Palace – The Park Grand chain has several venues in this sector including Park Grand London Paddington, Park Grand London Kensington, Park Grand London Hyde Park hotel, Park Grand London Lancaster Gate, The Devonshire, and more.
This serves as an illustration of how easy it is to find great accommodation in central London. To find the best place for you to put your head down, we recommend doing just a little bit of research as each hotel has its own perks, from room service to spas.
If you are not familiar with downtown London, it may be best to look at a map (either physically or on your smart phone) and try to get a sense of distance. You should also take public transportation into account – it’s best to book a hotel near a London Underground station that can take you directly to Westminster, such as those along the Jubilee, District and Circle lines.
Major attractions you shouldn’t miss
The list of famous sights located inside or near the Palace of Westminster is very long and includes numerous iconic buildings deeply etched into British tradition.
Big Ben, a clock hosted in the Elizabeth Tower at the northern end of the palace complex, is universally known as part of London’s unique identity. The Jewel Tower (surviving part of the palace from the 14th century) and nearby Victoria Tower Gardens are also among the most commonly visited areas, while those with an interest in the more sinister part of English history can indulge their curiosity by visiting the London Dungeon, which is not too far from the palace.
The Banqueting House in Whitehall, as well as the neighbouring Westminster Abbey, also have medieval origins and deservedly attract many tourists. Visitors with a passion for more recent history can inspect the Churchill War Rooms located under the Treasury building in Westminster and can gain insight into authentic World War II era artifacts.
It’s even possible to watch the session of the Parliament from a spectator gallery of the Palace of Westminster if you happen to be in town at the right time, while you could also book a tour that includes other parts of the palace, such as Westminster Hall.
If you are a fan of Indian afternoon tea, London’s greatest palace also offers guided tours with a break for tea.
What you need to know before you visit the Palace of Westminster
First of all, you can’t enter the Palace of Westminster whenever you like – visits to interior parts are only possible on Saturdays between July and September.
In addition to this limitation, security and formal protocol are taken very seriously at the Palace of Westminster. There is a strict dress code applying to anyone entering the palace that proscribes suits and ties for men and business style clothing for women, while T-shirts with political messages are explicitly forbidden.
Anyone can schedule a tour of the Parliament Houses, and UK citizens can gain access free of charge by contacting their MP. It won’t be possible to create electronic records of the Parliament in session since recording devices such as smartphones and cameras are temporarily confiscated when entering the public gallery. Please also be aware that children under five years old are barred from this part of the palace in order to ensure the necessary peace.