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London's Top 10 : Parliament Square

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The spiritual and political heart of the city, the Palace of Westminster was built here a thousand years ago as a royal household, seat of government and abbey. The square was planned as part of the rebuilding programme following a fire that destroyed the Palace in 1834. Usually known as the Houses of Parliament, the new Palace of Westminster stands opposite Westminster Abbey. On the north side of the square, Parliament Street leads to Whitehall and No.10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence.

  • Parliament Square SW1

  • www.parliament.uk

  • The Strangers’ Galleries at the Houses of Parliament have limited seating for visitors during debates. Times are given at St Stephen’s gate, or phone

  • 020 7219 4272

  • Tours can be arranged through MPs at www.parliament.uk

  • Tickets for summer opening of parliament are available from 0844 209 0382


Parliament

The 659 publicly elected Members of Parliament sit in the House of Commons, where the Prime Minister and his or her government sits on the right-hand side of the Speaker, who ensures the House’s rules are obeyed. The opposing “shadow” government sits on his left. The neighbouring House of Lords is for an unelected upper chamber which has around 700 members and limited powers. The Prime Minister attends a weekly audience with the Queen, who today has only a symbolic role.


Plan of the Square

The basement café in Central Hall is a good place for a snack.


To avoid long lines for the Strangers’ Galleries go after 6pm Mon–Thu.



Top 10 Sights
  1. Westminster Abbey

  2. Houses of Parliament

    A Gothic revival building from 1870 by Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, the Houses of Parliament cover 8 acres and have 1,100 rooms around 11 courtyards. The Commons Chamber is where Members of Parliament sit and debate policy.

  3. Big Ben

    The huge Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster is popularly known as Big Ben. However, the name actually refers to the clock’s 14-tonne bell, named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was Chief Commissioner of Works when it was installed in 1858.

  4. Westminster Hall

    Westminster Hall is about all of the original palace that remained after the 1834 fire. For centuries the high court sat beneath its marvellous hammerbeam roof.

  5. St Margaret’s Church

    Winston Churchill was among many eminent figures to marry in this 15th-century church. William Caxton (1422–91), who set up the first printing press in England, and Sir Walter Raleigh, who established the first British colony in America, are both buried here. Charles I is also remembered.

  6. Winston Churchill Statue

    This powerful statue of Britain’s wartime leader (1874–1965), dressed in his famous coat, is one of several statues in the square. These include prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81), American president Abraham Lincoln (1809–65), and many other statesmen and soldiers.

  7. Central Hall

    This large assembly hall, built in a Beaux Arts style, was funded by a collection among the Methodist Church who wanted to celebrate the centenary of their founder John Wesley (1703–91).

    Detail above Central Hall window

  8. Dean’s Yard

    Buildings around this secluded square were used by monks before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s which closed their school here. A new Westminster School was founded by Elizabeth I in 1560 and it remains one of Britain’s top public schools.

  9. Jewel Tower

    Built in 1365 to safeguard the treasure of Edward III, this is an isolated survivor of the 1834 fire. A small museum about the history of parliament is housed inside.

  10. Statue of Oliver Cromwell

    Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) presided over England’s only republic, which began after the Civil War. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, but when the monarchy was restored in 1660, his corpse was taken to Tyburn and hanged as though he were a criminal.

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