Visiting the UK Parliament

According to the “Inside UK Parliament free guided tours” page,

UK residents can book a free guided tour up to six months in advance by contacting your local MP or a Member of the House of Lords. Early booking is recommended.

You do not have to know your MP personally or support them politically to book this tour.

That’s why when my wife asked me to arrange something to do this summer, I contacted my local MP and arranged a free guided tours.

Unlike the paid Multimedia Tour which is conducted by listening to some pre-recorded messages, the free guided tour was led by one of the researchers serving my local MP (I heard that some MPs might not be able to arrange someone for the job, and might counter-offer some regular tour tickets on behalf of the applicants), and the tour started in Portcullis House, where many of the MPs’ offices are located, through a tunnel under Great George Street, before reaching the Westminster Hall.

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall - ceiling
Westminster Hall – ceiling released by UK Parliament in Flickr (

The walls of the Westminster Hall were erected in 1097 and is the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate. The roof was originally supported by two rows of pillars, but Richard II changed it to an unsupported roof to make it more impressive. It is said that the hammer beam roof was built with no nails. Many important events happened under this roof, for example, the trial of Charles I and Guy Fawkes, coronation banquet of Henry VIII, Lying-in-State of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, but the most interesting events were probably some Tudor Tennis matches which we learned following the discovery of two leather tennis balls two leather tennis balls dating from Henry VIII were found in the hall’s rafters in 1920.

The Speaker’s State Coach

During the recess dates of the House of Commons in 2023, the Speaker’s State Coach is displayed in Westminster Hall. It was probably made for William and Mary of Orange, Britain’s only pair of co-monarchs, and subsequently gifted to the Speaker of the House of Commons by Queen Anne. The coach was used to transport the Speaker of the House of Commons in formal state occasions, such as Coronations and Jubilees, but the last use of the coach was in 1981 at the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana. Spencer. The coat of arms of the Speakers were put on the coach once they had used it.

The House of Lords

No photos can be taken once we have left Westminster Hall. Following some stairs, through the Central Lobby, we went to the House of Lords.

Royal Gallery in the Parliament
Royal Gallery (Image released by UK Parliament in Flickr

The Royal Gallery was our first stop in the House of Lords and it is very elaborate and shiny, from the ceiling to the floor. The two enormous paintings depicting the death of Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo make this room the perfect place to host the French. Apart from the paintings are the portraits of the Monarchs and their consorts from the Georgian era to the present (except the infamous Edward VIII).

On the day we visited, piles and piles of Green Papers and White Papers were lying on the tables. We were lucky to be able to flip through one of the documents (wordy, very wordy). Judging from the lack of electrical outlets in the room, it seems that these documents were still circulated in print. Can we start talking about the Carbon Neutral Policy or Net Zero Strategy here?

Robing Room chair
Robing Room chair (UK Parliament Flickr:

We were then led to the Robing Room, where the King or Queen prepares for the State Opening of Parliament. They put on ceremonial robes and the Imperial State Crown in this room, before entering the Lords chamber. The chair is not tall as it was built for Queen Victoria.

Chivalry is the theme of the Robing Room, embodied by the paintings and decorations from stories of Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur and his court. The room was intended to depict the 7 virtues of chivalry, hospitality, generosity, mercy, religion, courtesy, fidelity and courage in 7 frescoes, however, those for fidelity and courage could not be carried out following the death of William Dyce, the painter. The placeholders are covered by the portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

State Opening December 2019, Copyright House of Lords 2019 / Photography by Roger Harris

From the Robing Room, we entered the Lords chamber, where the State Opening takes place. We might not notice from the photos, but the chamber is actually full of microphones, speakers and cameras.

State Opening December 2019. Copyright House of Lords 2019 / Photography by Roger Harris

Before heading to the House of Commons, we stopped in Prince’s Chamber, in which we looked at the portraits of the Tudor Monarchs and their Consorts (yes, portraits of all 6 queens of Henry VIII are here). This Chamber also leads to the cellar, which is the first ceremony of the State Opening. The ceremony commemorates the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.

House of Commons

First virtual PMQs and Ministerial statement on Coronavirus 22/04/2020 ©UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

Compared with the shiny room and golden chamber of the House of Lords, the House of Commons is really subtle, but the room has many hidden features. Tiny microphones are hung down from the ceiling, cameras are fixed in the hall capturing the moments in the hall, digital timers can be found wrapped in wooden boxes on the table of the Speaker’s Secretary, and though not really visible from the photo above, there is a thick glass partition separting the Public Galleries from the MPs.

The green benches in the House of Commons  ©UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

When watching the PMQs on TV, I always find it noisy and hard to listen to what they are saying. What amazed me is that there are hidden speakers installed in the green benches.

The Aye or No Lobby in the House of Commons Image: UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor (

Another interesting feature of the House of Commons is how the MPs cast their vote. In the old days in the Aye or No Lobby, MPs needed to pass through a small gate so the teller could count the votes one by one, but it seems they can now tap their pass to vote according to the MPs’ Guide to Procedure.


View from the Parliament

The 90-minute tour ended quickly after we were shown one of the cafeterias of the staff. It was the only place where we could take a photo after entering the Westminster Hall (but taking a picture of the parliament building is forbidden, so I could only take the photo of the Westminster Bridge and the London Eye).

A ticket to request a personal interview with a MP.

Frankly, 90 minutes was not really enough to admire the beauty of the architecture, art and heritage in the Parliament, not to mention understanding the stories and symbols hidden behind them. The researcher introduced the highlights of each room, and they were some good starting points to do some further reading when I had time. I also learned that a personal interview with an MP can be requested if they are in the building by filling in the green slip above.

When preparing for my posts on X (formerly Twitter) and this blog post, I was amazed to find that the UK Parliament had released many photos on their Flickr account. It is a good channel to revisit the Parliament and look into the things there in closer detail.


2 responses to “Visiting the UK Parliament”

  1. Selina Fung avatar
    Selina Fung

    The narration is rich and orderly. The writing is so nature, fluent and detail, which makes readers feel like experiencing the tour. Speechless admiration to this remarkable piece of work.

  2. Lawrence Wong avatar
    Lawrence Wong

    This is an excellent and outstanding article on touring the UK Parliament. Despite the duration of the tour was just 90 minutes, the article covers many interesting and important historical stories about the Parliament. On the other hand, it also depicts the author’s keen and meticulous observations on some of the special and amazing features found in the House of Lords and House of Commons. I enjoyed very much in reading this remarkable article and look forward to visiting the Parliament.

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