Big Ben is one of London’s most well-known icons, and is visited by millions of travelers each year. While you enjoy Britain’s famous clock tower from afar, there are still a variety of things to do inside the tower and around the Houses of Parliament. Here are just eight highlights and activities as you explore this historical landmark on your next trip to London:
1. Watch a live debate. When each House of parliament is in session, the galleries are open for live viewing. You’ll need to be a UK resident to get a ticket, but the space is open to non-ticket holders if space is available. There are a few non-ticket debates available, but expect to wait at least 1-2 hours to get into these.
2. Take a House of Parliament tour. These are easily available to international visitors during the Summer Opening season, and you can walk through almost all the areas of Parliament in one trip.
3. Browse the Parliamentary Archives. This is a giant collection of records and historical material from the House of Parliament, and you can request access to the Search Room any weekday. The Portcullis online catalog is a great way to help with finding particular records, and staff members can also aid with any specific research you might need.
4. Take a trip to Portcullis House. This is a new building near the Houses of Parliament, and it’s where all the members of Parliament set up their independent offices. It’s an example of some of London’s most beautiful architectural projects, and even won the RIBA architecture award for its design. With six storeys, a central courtyard, gourmet restaurants, and a gallery on the first floor, it’s a great venue to take in during your visit.
5. Watch a public committee. This is different from the live debates, as these discuss government policies, legislation, and other public policy topics. You’ll get to watch the discussion and policymaking firsthand between the MPs and members from the House of Lords.
6. Take a cruise on the Thames. Take a break between tours and walking with a quick trip out on the Thames. You’ll find a range of cruises, boats, and miniature excursions that take off right near the Houses of Parliament, and it’s a great way to take in the fresh London air.
7. Enjoy lunch at The Cinnamon Club. This is one of London’s finest Indian restaurants–the head chef used to work in Jaipur, India to create meals that were often deemed ‘fit for a king.’ Enjoy regional specials with a touch of international flair; it’s a stylish spot to take in high quality food and is just over five minutes from the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
8. Book a trip to the top of Big Ben. This is only available to UK residents who are allowed to climb to the top with a guided tour, and you’ll need to contact the local Member of Parliament (MP) to arrange for your visit. The Clock Tower guide will give you a summary of tower history and a lesson in how the giant clock actually works. The tour begins at Portcullis House, and it’s best to get there at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time.
The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are not to be missed on your trip to London. Enjoy any or all of these activities on your next visit!