PALACE OF WESTMINSTER

“Why haven’t we been to the Houses of Parliament?” enquired the Junior CW’s.  Fair enough question and one to which I didn’t have a good answer.  A few clicks later we had tickets for the whole family on the first Friday of the Easter holidays.  Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Parliament; the seat of British government goes by many different names, we were lucky enough to have a perfectly sunny day for our visit.

Palace of Westminster

Security checks are thorough, as you would expect, and once past them cameras are strictly forbidden but you do get an excellent audio guide.   The first space that you enter is vast, Westminster Hall is a jaw droppingly large place now, goodness only knows how awe-inspiring it must have been seen through medieval eyes.  The wood timber roof is the largest hammer-beam roof in the world.  In this room Charles I was tried, Nelson Mandela addressed both Houses of Parliament and monarchs have laid in state here.  Brass plaques dot the floor indicating where momentous events took place.

Palace of Westminster
Westminster Hall © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Westminster Hall was the only part of the medieval palace of Westminster to survive a fire in 1834.  The rest of the  familiar building is a Victorian creation.  What you don’t see on television is just how much gold there is everywhere.  No surface seems to go undecorated with at least some glitter.  The windows are filled with stained glass, colour is everywhere.  The tour takes you into the House of Lords, it is so much smaller that you would expect and Queen’s throne so much more golden.  You get a sense that it is a chamber in which discussion is possible rather than the exchange of ranting speeches.

Palace of Westminster
House of Lords © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

After the Lords you follow the route that Black Rod takes when he goes to summon the Commons to hear the Queen’s speech.  Nobody slams the doors of the House of Commons in your face, you get walk straight in.  Once again it is so much smaller than it appears to be on television, you can see that heated debate is likely as opponents on the front benches are so close that they could almost touch.

Palace of Westminster
House of Commons © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

We all  enjoyed our visit, the building is beautiful and being where big decisions are made is spine tingling.   “We’ve been there!” is now a constant refrain when the news is on.  Next the Junior CW’s want to see a debate, for that we must wait for an inset day that coincides with a day when the Houses of Parliament are sitting.

PALACE OF WESTMINSTER
Westminster, London SW1A 0AA
Tours are available on Saturdays and weekdays during parliamentary recesses.
Booking in advance is recommended, that way you won’t turn up on a day when you can’t do a tour or it is fully booked, click here for details.  It is also possible to book a tour with afternoon tea that is taken in a Thameside room and sounds amazing but we didn’t have time for tea.
Admission: Adults £8.50, concessions £16, Children (5-15) one free per adult or £7.50

BUCKINGHAM PALACE: THE STATE ROOMS

Buckingham Palace is not your normal run-of-the-mill tourist attraction.  For a start, it is only open to the paying public for a short time every summer and then you are politely but firmly informed that mobile phones should not be used and nor should cameras.  Nothing as impolite as making you give up your electronics, just the information that they are not welcome.  It works.  I didn’t see a single person being so rude as to even think about it.  To feed the need to click and swipe you are handed an interactive audio guide.  Your tour starts with the Prince of Wales thanking you for coming.

The Ballroom at Buckingham Palace prepared for a State Banquet Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2015
The Ballroom at Buckingham Palace prepared for a State Banquet
Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2015

State Rooms are intended to dazzle and dazzle the ones at Buckingham Palace certainly do.  It all begins with plush red and low level gilding and then you find yourself at the base of a white and gold staircase that seems to head upwards into infinity whilst branching off into ever more extravagant interiors.

The Royal Collection © 2002, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Photo: Derry Moore
The Royal Collection © 2002, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Photo: Derry Moore

Stately homes are often in a state of semi-shaded gloom, as blinds are kept lowered and windows shut to control climate and help preserve the fixtures and fittings.  Buckingham Palace is a busy workplace and here the windows are not only not shaded but, on the day of our visit, wide open to let a welcome breeze in.  The junior CW’s were especially taken with a secret door in the White Drawing Room, it leads to the private apartments.  It is concealed behind the mirror on the left hand side of picture, we liked to think of the Queen lurking there and pouncing out to surprise her visitors.

Buckingham Palace

You finish your tour on the garden terrace of the Palace.  A rather fine tented tea room has been set up to enable you to eat superior cakes whilst overlooking the gardens, we observed that the Queen has quite a problem with Canada geese on her lawns.

BUCKINGHAM PALACE: STATE ROOMS
Saturday 22 July – Sunday 1 October 2017
Open daily 9.30am – 6.30pm (last admission 4.15pm)
Admission: Adult £23, Over 60/Student £21, Under 17 £13, Family ticket £59
Have your ticket stamped on the way out and you visit again as many times as you want for a year.

There are many combinations of tickets that can be bought full details can be found here