Houses of Parliament -- Audio tour review
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This is the only event that I haven't yet done at the Houses of Parliament — a Saturday audio tour. I've done everything else that a tourist can do — I've climbed up Big Ben, been to see the PM at PMQs, fell asleep in the House of Lords, seen the protesters banging pots outside, seen the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament — this is the last one. So after this they should give me a badge or a balloon to mark my achievement... maybe put a statue of me up in Parliament Square. Yeah, that's a good idea. Knock down Abraham Lincoln and put me up there instead. What did he ever do for London? I bet he never went on a Saturday tour of Parliament — twice. I bet he never had to sit listening to Neil Kinnock droning on in the House of Lords for two hours. If anyone deserves a statue it's me.
I've already written about the Saturday tour once already so I don't want to bore you with the same stuff twice (I'd rather bore you with some new stuff), so have a quick read of my review before you start on this one, because the rooms you see inside are identical. The Saturday guided tour and the Saturday audio tour are exactly the same — the only difference is that you get a live guide on the first one, whilst the audio tour makes you stroll around on your own with some headphones.
I should add a little caveat to that... because sometimes the tour route is shortened when they are using the rooms. If you visit the week before the State Opening of Parliament, for example (like I did), then you'll miss out all of the Royal stuff from the Norman Porch through to the Royal Gallery. Unfortunately that includes some of the best-looking rooms in the building, so you might want to give them a ring before you book. (I still think it's worth attending even without these rooms, but you'll definitely be missing out a fair-sized chunk.)
I quite enjoyed the audio tour because you get to walk around Parliament unaccompanied. Obviously you can only stick to an allowed route though -- it's not a complete free-for-all (if you jump over the ropes then the police will probably pump about a hundred bullets in you). But it does make you feel quite important having a wander around the corridors whilst everyone else is being shepherded around by the tour guide. You can pretty much avoid the big tour groups if you don't mind varying your walking pace a bit. The politicians desert the House at the weekend you see, so there's nobody there apart from the guards and the guides and the groups and the cleaners, plus a few suited staff pottering around to check you're not misbehaving.
I ended up listening to every single word of the audio guide and you get lots of extra detail that is not included on the guided tour. There are some sections on the State trials in Westminster Hall, for example (about William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and Charles I), and some interesting info about the 1834 fire. I also learnt a lot about St. Stephen's Hall that I never knew before. But whether you actually find any of this stuff interesting is another matter entirely, of course — not everybody is going to enjoy a ten minute monologue about the workings of the Commons and the Lords. But at least it gives you a reason to sit down and look around the rooms for a while — something that you don't have time to do on a guided tour.
So that's about it... I apologise for this short review but you really need to read the other one first, because that's where I describe the route and all of the rooms. The two routes are identical -- literally!
But before I go, let me just give you the answer to the most important question: which one is better, the guided tour or the audio tour?
Well... I think I'd definitely recommend the guided tour to a tourist — simply because it's a lot easier being led around by someone and listening to what they have to say. But on a personal level I think I prefer the audio tour. I've already done the guided tour about ten million times so it makes a nice change being able to walk around the place on my own. You also get a bit more time to stop and look at the walls and windows. But on the other hand... if you don't speak decent English then you can get another language on the headphones, which might be quite handy.
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