Visiting Parliament Buildings and Taking a Tour
Did you know that Parliament Buildings is a public building, with visitors welcome Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm? Everyone is welcome to explore the Great Hall or grab a coffee in the Speaker’s Corner Gift Shop. The Members’ Dining Room is also open to the public for lunch and afternoon tea. When the Assembly is in session, members of the public are also welcome to take a seat in the public gallery of the Assembly Chamber to watch Plenary proceedings unfold or to sit in during open sessions of Committee meetings. To make the most of your visit you can also join one of our public tours which take place Monday to Friday at 11am and 2pm. During Summer recess tours are available on the hour from 11am to 3pm.
What can you expect to see on a tour?
All tours begin in the Great Hall before moving on to the Senate Chamber and concluding in the Assembly Chamber. Certain sections of the tour are subject to Assembly business. When the Assembly is in session the Assembly Chamber will be unavailable on Mondays and Tuesdays due to Plenary sittings and on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the Senate Chamber may be unavailable due to Committee meetings.
The Great Hall
The setting of many historic moments in Northern Irish history, the Great Hall is one of the most iconic and identifiable settings in Northern Ireland. Your tour will begin here and you will find out about the history of the building, take in the magnificent sights of the great chandeliers, ornate ceiling and Lord Craigavon’s statue and view some of the artwork on display in the building. If you’re lucky, your tour guide may also let you in on some of the secrets and lesser known facts about the symbolism and architecture of the building and the Great Hall. You can also find out about some of the historic events that have taken place in the hall, cementing its place in the heart of Northern Irish politics.
The Senate Chamber
On your way to the Senate Chamber you will take in the magnificent Senate rotunda before moving in to the Chamber itself. The Senate Chamber served as the Upper House of Parliament, modelling itself on Westminster, until Parliament was dissolved in 1972. The Chamber is now used to host Committee meetings and other events. The Chamber was also used as an RAF tactical base during the Second World War. You will see the Speaker’s chair (which only the Queen is allowed to sit in!), the Clerk’s table, Australian walnut woodwork and Italian Botticino marblework. The Senate Chamber also houses £500,000 worth of artwork – William Conor’s painting commemorating the State opening of the new Parliament in 1921 and ‘The House Will Divide’ – local artist Noel Murphy’s painting to mark the new Assembly in 1998. The wall panelling is made of Irish damask linen, some of which has been worn away thanks to an old superstition of rubbing it for luck practiced by Senators.
The Assembly Chamber
Concluding in the Assembly Chamber, this part of the tour allows you to take a seat where MLAs discuss the important issues and pass legislation that governs our everyday lives. This was the original House of Commons or Lower House of Parliament which was completely renovated after an electrical fire gutted the Chamber in 1995. Only the Italian marble surroundings stopped the fire from spreading further. Here you will take in the horse-shoe patterned seating layout, English walnut wall panels and marble galleries. The ceiling is decorated with gold and silver leaf, painstakingly completed by master craftsmen Hyndman Milliken. See if you can spot the Greek key pattern prevalent throughout the Chamber and ask your tour guide as to its significance.
On completion of the tour you are welcome to ask any further questions, take pictures, explore the Great Hall or grab a memento from the Speaker’s Corner gift shop. For any further information about our tours or Parliament Buildings, get in touch with our Events Office on 028 905 21802.