Houses of Parliament Tour Review
Houses of Parliament Tour Review
When you think of London, its amazing and varied iconic buildings are one of the first things that spring to mind. The one building which resonates as London with me is Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. Many, many moons ago I was an A-Level student of Government and Politics so the Houses of Parliament have held a certain extra appeal to me. I was planning a trip to London with our 1V Scouts cubs and thought part of educating our children is for them to have an awareness of their citizenship with a knowledge of government, parliament and how the political system operates in practise and seeing this first hand illustrates these issues much more effectively then reading or talking about it. I believe having this insight is important for everyone to experience but for those involved in the scouting groups I think it holds even more significance. So we decided a visit to the Houses of Parliament would be an ideal addition to our trip to London.
Options to see the Houses
I looked into the possible ways of how we can explore the Houses of Parliament and found that all UK citizens are able to visit the Houses of Parliament for free with the approval of their local MP. However, these visits are only available during term time (when Parliament was in session) and on a weekday, both of which were not appropriate for our group. I then started to seek other ways to make this trip happen and discovered that Visit Parliament have special family orientated audio tours aimed at children aged 7 – 11 years old and this was ideal for our group. The tours run during the holidays and Saturdays, which makes it ideal for an activity for youth groups and families and is open to those from overseas too.
We arrived at the gates of the Houses and I was totally in awe of the buildings. The grandeur is truly breathtaking and I am huge fan of intricate, old buildings steeped in glorious history and Parliament did not disappoint. Having the opportunity to get up close to the buildings is in itself it a great experience but combined with a visit inside the workings of central government is even more insightful.
Given the importance of the buildings security is tight and it is very much like airport, with bag and coat checks so be ready. Once inside you are lead into Westminster Hall, where you will be able to collect an audio kit and you will then be left to follow the tour at your own pace. I would recommend a visit to the bathroom here as we didn’t see any toilets on the rest of the tour!
The audio tour walks and talks you through all the major rooms highlighting all the points of interest, taking in both Houses of Parliament and various rooms and details in between. Like most audio tours the tour is broken up into a various numbered sections and the tour was a great mix of facts, information and little snippets of insight and what life would have been like at the time when certain historical events took place. As this is a family tour, I think this combination was a much needed mix, to ensure that the children’s attention is retained and all of our youngsters including our teenage young leaders really enjoyed the tour and it was definitely pitched at the right level. At each point there is ample opportunity to listen and explore once the commentary has finished so you can explore or just move like our group did.
The tour starts at Westminster Hall and has a very Harry Potter Great Hall feel to it, I loved watching the children’ s reactions as they listened to the details and pointed out things to one another. Photography is only allowed in the Westminster Hall and St Stephen’s Hall which s a shame as there were so many points in the tour when we learnt something that I think would’ve been really interesting to photograph and with a building with so much history there are many points that you will wish you could have taken pictures.
The highlight for me was actually being inside the chambers of the Houses of Commons and House of Lords, the rooms are so much smaller then the appear on TV and its surreal to be stood in the place where all the bills, legislation and political decisions which impact us all are taken. I found the microphones hanging around the seating, and the practical information of how things operate in real life in the houses the most interesting. There are so many little snippets about the tour that I could share but these mean so much more once you are actually in the buildings listening, and taking in all the sights first hand.
What we loved
- An audio tour allows you to take it at your own pace and it is ideal for children. You can take as long as you like to explore any of the rooms and likewise you can move along from one stop to the next without worrying about the others.
- It was an amazing experience to be in the actual chambers of the Houses of Parliament. For me as an adult it was extremely interesting and for the children it was an insightful opportunity to experience the very heart of our political system first hand.
- I love that there are a number of facts which the children really found interesting, from standing on the floor under which Guy Fawkes planted the gun powder hundreds of years ago to learning the history of the Speakers chair in the House of Commons there is lots to keep the children entertained and ensure that they will not forget the tour any time soon. I think this variety of information was ideal and pitched right at the desired target audience.
- The tour is really good for pointing out things of interest from where the Houses of Parliament were attacked in the war to the mark on the door left from the knocks on the opening of parliament.
- our children really enjoyed the tour and listened intently to the tour. The tour involves lots of different rooms and was varied enough to hold their interest and moved along at a very good pace.
- The length of the tour is perfect for this age group. I always worry about tours as they can sometimes be to long and lose the children’s interest halfway through. Listening to everyone of the stops, the tour took us about one and half hours, and I think its an ideal length to retain the children’s attention and for it to be a meaningful experience.
- The tours are every 15-20 minutes and as a result we never felt that there were too many people in any place at one time. The actual buildings were much smaller then I had expected but at no time did we feel that there was any congestion / crammed which is really important to let you really enjoy seeing all the things mentioned.
Things to be aware of:
Use the bathroom before you set off on the tour, there are toilets opposite the desk for audio tours so ensure this is at the start.
If you are in a big group, I would split up into smaller groups, so you all try and stay together, we split into four manageable groups. I would recommend that you limit the bas your bring with you as only small bags are allowed to be taken on the tour and there is no storage available for the general public. If you do have big bags, there is storage available at Waterloo before you arrive at Westminster.
I would recommend you book the tours in advance if you want to visit on a specific day / time to ensure that you are able to visit at your chosen time.
I would recommend waiting in the grounds to be able to listen to Ben Ben chime on the hour as its the perfect way to end the tour!
Overall, I loved the tour and think it has so much to offer both children and adults alike. It is one of the experiences which should be on the bucket list for everyone as its important to showcase the history and political importance that the political system holds in our lives. Making our children well rounded means we need to provide them with as many different experiences as possible.and this is something very unique and offers adults and children an opportunity to see one of the UK’s greatest institutions first hand. Highly recommended! I think the tours are finefor children 7 and over and the length, information and detail contained within is pitched at the right level.
Further information about the tours that are available can be found here with details of times, dates and costs..