Like Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace (or the Palace of Westminster) dates to the Anglo-Saxon period and the reign of Edward the Confessor. Around 1050, he built the original palace. In the century following the subsequent Norman Conquest, English governmental institutions began to move from the old Anglo-Saxon capital of Winchester to Westminster. In 1310, under Henry III, the administrative wing of the crown, the Chancery, moved to Westminster, cementing London’s status as capital of England. Over the centuries, the palace continued to be expanded and renovated.
The oldest building at Westminster is Westminster Hall, built by William II between 1097 and 1099 for feasts and banquets. Nearly everything else was destroyed in a massive fire in October 1834. The Westminster Palace we see today was rebuilt in the Gothic style and designed by architect Charles Barry. Construction began in 1840 and took more than thirty years to complete, at a cost of over £2 million. The palace is quite large, to say the least, with 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases, and 4.8km of corridors.
Westminster Palace has been home to Parliament since its first session in 1295. Prior to the nineteenth century reconstruction, it had been difficult to find places to meet in the building, since there was no purpose built space for the two houses of Parliament. The clock tower, better known as Big Ben, is the symbol of London. At the other end, the palace’s highest point is Victoria Tower, standing at 98.5m. At its base, the Sovereign’s Entrance is where the monarch enters to open sessions of parliament.
The palace opens to tourists in the summer when Parliament is in recess. Extensive 75 minute guided tours are offered to visitors. Booking needs to be done in advance. If you want to see Parliament in session, you can do so from the Strangers Gallery. Westminster Palace is truly spectacular, and no visit to London is complete without a trip here, even just to take pictures outside.
Address: Parliament Square, SW1
Telephone: 0870 906 3773
Metro: Westminster (Jubilee, District, Circle)
Hours and admission vary. Check website.