Westminster Palace – A must see for tourists

London is famous for its landmarks and one of the most striking is that of Big Ben, which forms part of the Houses of Parliament – also called the Palace of Westminster. It serves as home to two parliamentary houses of Great Britain which are the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

If you are a first time visitors to the city it must figure prominently on your tour itinerary for the city. In fact is it extremely popular as a tourist site with overseas travellers to the city. It is great place to visit and learn more about the fascinating history and politics that shaped this beautiful country, over the centuries.

You will need to make you hotel reservations in advance especially, if you are travelling during the tourist peak season when hotel occupancy rates are at their highest.  If you are looking for the best hotel nearby the Houses of Parliament- Park Grand London Paddington, there are numerous hotels where you could book your room online. It will save you a lot of last minute hassles of having to search for accommodation upon arrival. Another benefit of staying at park grand london paddington is that it offers easy access to all the major attractions in the city. Once you arrive and are ready to begin your tour the best place to begin from is a short distance away.

The Seat of Government

It was Kind Edward the Confessor who decided in the mid eleventh century to shift his court to the Palace of Westminster, as it was a more central location and situated on the banks of the Thames. A parliament came into existence in 1265 and two houses were named. i.e. The Commons and Lords. At the beginning, the House of Lords had the prerogative to meet at the Palace with the House of Commons not having a fixed location. Later when King Henry VIII decided to shift his court in 1530 to Whitehall Palace in 1530 Westminster continued to remain as the meeting of the House of Lords. It was only later in 1547 that the House of Commons shifted here permanently which made Westminster the centre of government till date.

A new Palace of Westminster

In the year 1834 a horrific fire broke out at Westminster Palace which left the place totally in ruins, with the exception of a few areas such as the cloister of St. Stephens, the crypt, the Jewel Tower and central hall at Westminster relatively unscathed.

After the destructive conflagration it became essential to create a new and grand palace for parliament to function. At that time it was decided to hold a competition to find the right architect, to design a new building that would house both of the houses of parliament. Of the ninety-seven entries that came in, it was a design created by Sir Charles Barry and an assistant Augustus Pugin that was considered to be suitable and was declared the winner. There was a passionate debate about the style of building to be chosen and eventually it was decided to opt for a large but well balanced neo-Gothic style that would incorporate the structures that managed to survive the blaze. It was finally completed in 1870, and took more than three decades to complete from the date it was started. Within it there was included Victoria Tower, the Clock Tower, House of Lords, House of Commons, the lobbies and Westminster Hall.

Big Ben

One of the most famous facets of the Houses of Parliament is undoubtedly its elegant and famous clock tower commonly referred to as as Big Ben.

In fact one of the most prominent portions of the palace is the striking clock tower which reflects Charles Barry’s genius as an architect. The tower was initially known as St. Stephen’s Tower, but later its present names Big Ben was adopted which actually is the name of the largest bell in the tower. When Parliament sessions are on in the night a light is lit atop the tower which illuminates the area.

The two chambers Commons & Lords

During the Second World War the Commons Chamber, where the members of the House of Commons gather, was destroyed. It was rebuilt by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1950 and he remained true in his design to its original neo-Gothic style. If you compare the two chambers you will find the Commons Chamber’s interior is rather sober with its green benches, in comparison to the rather plush and lavish Lords Chamber which has red benches. The balance of power shifted over the centuries from the House of Lords to the House of Commons, where you will find the governing party and the opposition seated across each other at the exact distance of two sword lengths and a foot between them.

Central Lobby

There are several lobbies in the Houses of Parliament and paramount among them is the Central Lobby where the public can meet their local MPs for official or personal matters. An interesting bit of trivia is the very ‘to lobby’ seems to have originated from here.

Victoria Tower

Victoria Tower that lies opposite of Big Ben was constructed in 1860 and is the repository for the official  records of both the House of Lords and Commons way back from 1497.

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall It is the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament and dates back to 1097. Its massive beam roof was constructed in the fourteenth century as a replacement for the original that was supported by rows of pillars. It is out of the largest unsupported halls of the medieval period in Europe.

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