As one of London’s most popular attractions, it is worth arriving at the palace early to beat the crowds.
More commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster is one of London’s most recognisable and visited attractions. Marked by Big Ben at its northern edge, and sitting across the water from the London Eye, the palace sits in the epicenter of London’s sightseeing scene, but also has a more profound importance for the nation as a whole, and is often referred to as “the heart of British politics”.
The Palace of Westminster has been the seat of English government since the middle of the 11th century. When the two-house parliament was created in 1265, it was at first only the House of Lords which sat in the palace, and it was not until 1547 that the House of Commons moved here permanently, thus cementing the palace’s importance to the national government.
Out of the Ashes
A devastating 1834 fire destroyed most of the palace, and Sir Charles Barry was commissioned to draw up its replacement. The new structure took almost thirty years to complete, but Barry’s neo-Gothic design was widely admired, with his new clock tower, now known as Big Ben, being a particular favourite. The sharply-fluted formal structure particularly impressed Claude Monet, who painted a series of canvases of the palace in different lighting conditions.
If you’re interested in the Palace’s interior, there are several intriguing areas inside which are open to the public. Besides the debating chambers of the Lords and the Commons, you can explore the wonderfully historic Westminster Hall, one of the few parts of the palace to survive the fire, which has a stunning vaulted ceiling.
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