building housing the legislative body of a government
Travel topics > Cultural attractions > Legislative buildings

The tradition, history and heritage associated with machinery and operation of governments worldwide are of interest to many travelers. The importance to a country of its governing bodies is often reflected in the grand buildings used to house them and the administrative counterparts. The pride is also reflected in the opening of the legislature buildings to the public. Whilst buildings are often opened to a country's own citizens to encourage the electorate to participate in politics, some are also open to foreign visitors.

This topic introduces some of the significant legislative buildings and related sites which you can explore on your travels.

Understand

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  Nations with bicameral legislatures.
  Nations with unicameral legislatures.
  Nations with a unicameral legislature and an advisory body.
  No legislature.

Legislatures are in most countries the law-making bodies of nations. Law-making assemblies may have included councils of elders from pre-literate times who left no records for posterity, we do know a good deal about some such bodies from antiquity, such as the Roman Senate. Tynwald, the parliament of the Isle of Man that was founded in 979, claims to be the longest continuously operating parliament, although there is little evidence of the date of the first sitting. Another claimant to the title of the world's oldest operating legislature is the Alþingi of Iceland, which was first convened in 930 as a legislative and judicial assembly. Its legislative role was stripped, however, in the late 14th century, and it was not convened at all from 1800 to 1845.

Most legislatures are given separate powers and responsibilities from other branches of government, according to a principle called separation of powers, under which legislatures make laws, the executive branch executes them, and the courts (judiciary) rule on legal disputes. However, the degree of power legislatures have varies under different systems of government and political cultures. The degree of separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches also differs greatly between systems. For instance, in the United States, members of the President's Cabinet are forbidden from simultaneously serving as members of Congress, the sole exception being the Vice President, who is also President of the Senate (though (s)he is limited to casting only tie-breaking votes). On the other hand, Cabinet members in the United Kingdom and other British-influenced systems are customarily members of either house of Parliament.

The United Kingdom's parliamentary system has had great influence around the world, due in part to the reach of its empire. It has a bicameral legislature, meaning that there are two lawmaking bodies. The House of Commons over time became one that represents all British citizens, whereas the House of Lords represents the nobility and clergy, but no longer has much power today. Many other countries have bicameral legislatures, including republics such as the United States, which has a Senate in which each U.S. state has equal representation, regardless of population, while the House of Representatives more closely represents the people.

The concept of a loyal opposition, the possibility to publicly and openly oppose government policy without being seen as an enemy of the state, is not respected everywhere. Where it does exist, you can hear sometimes vociferous legislative debates, depending on the political culture of the nation in question. The UK (and some other Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand) often has very entertaining Question Time, during which the Prime Minister or other members of the Cabinet (who run ministries in the executive branch but are also themselves Members of Parliament) must take quite a few pointed questions from opposition MPs. In communist/socialist countries, the ruling communist party could respect block or satellite parties where these other political parties are represented in the legislature. These much smaller parties retain nominal independence but rarely, if not never, oppose the communist party's policies and decision.

Customs and courtesy

In the United States, legislators are forbidden from attacking colleagues by name on the floor of the House or Senate, and therefore make statements like "the gentleman/gentlewoman from Virginia is wrong". Similarly, British legislators from the House of Commons are forbidden from referring to each other by name, so they are instead referred to by their titles for office holders, or as "the honourable member from (constituency)" / "my honourable friend from (constituency)" for backbenchers. The only exception is during the ejection of disorderly legislators by the speaker.

In the UK, it is forbidden for legislators to address each other directly, so speeches in the House of Commons are always addressed to the Speaker (as Mr./Mdm. Speaker), and other legislators are only mentioned in third person, while in the House of Lords, speeches are addressed to the house as a whole ("My Lords"). There are also rules that forbid openly calling MPs "liar" leading to sometimes amusing circumlocutions like "It would appear there is a disagreement between the statement of the right honourable lady/gentleman and the facts".

In the Israeli Knesset, it is quite common for MKs to impugn one another's personal character and loyalty to the country and use personal insults.

In Taiwan and South Korea, fistfights have broken out several times between legislators on the floor of the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly respectively.

Legislative debates are often facilitated by respect for the concept of parliamentary privilege, which prevents legislators from being sued or prosecuted for anything said on the floor of the legislature, but in undemocratic governments, the executive branch makes many decisions by itself, treating an "opposition", if any, or even a nominal "legislature" as merely an advisory body at best.

In a few remaining absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, there are no such thing called parliament, as the monarch has absolute unchecked political power — using Louis XIV's famous quote — "I am the State". However, Saudi Arabia has a political advisory body called the Consultative Assembly that functions like a legislature in some respects.

As all democratically-elected parliaments have at the very least the "power of the purse", and the budget is seen as the most important piece of legislation in any given year, the "budget debates" are usually among the best attended and include speeches from all major parliamentary players often taking the opportunity for a "general debate". Speeches in the budget debate are certain to provide snippets for the main evening news and if the government fails to get its desired budget passed that is usually seen as proof positive that it lacks the support of parliament which can lead to anything from a government crisis, shutdowns reshuffle, replacement of the government with a new one or snap elections in parliamentary systems. In bicameral legislatures based on the British or American systems, financial bills may only be proposed by the lower house.

Ceremonial functions

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In addition to writing laws, legislative bodies are also often involved in several ceremonial functions, which are in many cases the only times when all branches of government are gathered in a single place. The Parliament of the United Kingdom holds a State Opening of Parliament in most years, and after a general election, in which the monarch opens the parliamentary session by delivering a speech from the throne on behalf of the government. This event is steeped in tradition and a visual spectacle, where the Lords, Speaker of the House of Commons and numerous other office holders will be decked in their ceremonial robes. While attendance at the Parliament itself is highly restricted, the proceedings are broadcast on television by the local news channels, and spectators may view the monarch's procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster. Other Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have similar ceremonies, though unlike in the UK, they are not held every year, but only after a general election. In the Commonwealth realms, the Speech from the Throne is usually given by the Governor-General on behalf of the monarch, but on rare occasions the monarch may deliver the speech himself. In Australia and New Zealand, the State Opening of Parliament incorporates Aboriginal and Maori cultural performances respectively as homage to their indigenous heritage.

In the United States, the President gives an annual speech to both houses of Congress known as the State of the Union Address. Unlike the State Opening of Parliament, this does not open the legislative session, does not feature ceremonial robes, and serves as a platform for the President to deliver a speech outlining his own policy agenda. Nevertheless, the event is also steeped in tradition, and broadcast on all the major American news channels. Some other presidential republics also have a similar event; in the case of the Philippines, a former American colony, it is known as the State of the Nation Address. The European Union also has a similar event called the State of the European Union Address, in which the President of the European Commission gives a speech to the European Parliament.

Legislative buildings are also often involved in state funerals, which are usually accorded to deceased former heads of state, and sometimes to other distinguished individuals who have been bestowed that honour by their respective governments. In many cases, the body of the deceased is allowed to lie in the legislative building for the public to pay their respects, which is known as lying in state (though funerals with a lying in state are not necessarily state funerals). In the case of the United Kingdom, the lying in state takes place at Westminster Hall within the Palace of Westminster, while in the case of the United States, it takes place in the rotunda of the Capitol.

Visit

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See also: United Nations
 
Map of Legislative buildings

The national capital is most often where the national government is based. Many countries also have sub-national divisions with their own capital cities, where the local government is based. In federal countries, these sub-national entities usually have a legislature separate from the national legislature. Whether a long-established historic city or a purpose-built district, such capitals contain many associated government buildings and sites of interest to travellers, which may offer tours.

Current legislative buildings

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Africa

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  • Cape Town, South Africa — Unlike other countries, South Africa has three capital cities, each housing a separate branch of government; Pretoria is the executive capital, Cape Town the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein the judicial capital. The Parliament of South Africa is bicameral, consisting of the upper National Council of Provinces, and the lower National Assembly. The 1 Houses of Parliament   were built in a unique architectural style, incorporating neoclassical and Cape Dutch architectural features.

Asia

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  • Beijing, China — China's legislature is known as the National People's Congress (NPC) (全国人民代表大会 Quánguó Rénmín Dàibiǎo Dàhuì), and meets annually in the 2 Great Hall of the People   (人民大会堂 Rénmín Dàhuìtáng). Most laws and judicial interpretations are deliberated and passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) (全国人民代表大会常务委员会, Quánguó Rénmín Dàibiǎo Dàhuì Chángwù Wěiyuánhuì) consisting of 175 delegates. In addition, China has a political advisory body known as the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) (中国人民政治协商会议 Zhōngguó Rénmín Zhèngzhì Xiéshāng Huìyì) of similar size to the full NPC that meets in the same building, though it has no legislative power.
    • With 2,980 delegates, the full NPC is the largest legislative body in the world. It is customary for ethnic minority delegates of the NPC to attend meetings in their traditional dresses, which can make for quite a colourful visual spectacle. While by law NPC and NPCSC proceedings are open to public, in practice they are generally only opened to the press and those who are specifically invited, though televised and streamed NPC proceedings are ubiquitous within China. You should also expect tightened security measures across Beijing during full NPC and key NPCSC meetings.
    • Each province, autonomous region and municipality also has its own legislature known as a People's Congress (人民代表大会 Rénmín Dàibiǎo Dàhuì), that meets in the respective provincial capitals. In some provinces, the general public may observe People's Congresses meetings after registering themselves to the General offices of the respective People's Congresses.
  • Hong Kong — As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong has its own separate legislature known as the Legislative Council (立法會) that is housed a modern 21st-century building known as the 3 Legislative Council Complex   (立法會綜合大樓). Hong Kong's legislature has 20 of the seats popularly elected by the people, and the other 70 of them directly and indirectly elected by business interest groups that are largely pro-China, making them de facto appointed by the Chinese government. Free tours of the building are available in Cantonese, English and Mandarin, but must be booked in advance, and most proceedings are open to public.
  • New Delhi, India — Similar to the British Westminster system, India's parliament is bicameral, consisting of the upper Rajya Sabha (राज्य सभा Rājya Sabhā) and the lower Lok Sabha (लोक सभा Lok Sabhā). Till 2023, the Parliament of India used to meet in the 4 Old Parliament House   (पुरानी सांसद भवन Puranī Sansad Bhavan), a circular building designed to resemble the Dharma Chakra, an important symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Due to lack of available seats in the old building, the central government built a new parliament building next to the old one in 2023. There is a Parliament Museum [dead link] in the Parliament of India Library Building.
    • As India is a federal country, each state of India also has its own legislative assembly known as a Vidhan Sabha or Saasana Sabha. Some of them are based in beautiful and grand colonial buildings.
  • Tokyo, Japan — Japan's National Diet (国会 Kokkai) is a bicameral legislature, consisting of an upper house known as the House of Councillors (参議院 Sangi-in), and a lower house known as the House of Representatives (衆議院 Shūgi-in). It meets in the 5 National Diet Building   (国会議事堂 Kokkai-gijidō), that was completed in 1936 in a hybrid style that combined European and traditional Japanese architectural elements.
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Similar to the British Westminster system, the Malaysian Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the Dewan Negara (Senate) that is elected from state Legislative Assemblies and chosen by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister, and the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) that is popularly elected. Both houses meet at the 6 Malaysian Houses of Parliament  , a utilitarian modernist building that was built before Malaysia (then named Malaya) gained independence, in contrast with heavily Arabic-influenced government buildings that were recently built. Particularly for the Dewan Rakyat, some Malaysian MPs are known for unparliamentary languages, leaving numerous jokes and memes on the Internet.
    • As a federalist country, each Malaysian state also has its own legislative assembly that legislates on their own affairs, particularly the implementation of Islamic law. The federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya are legislated by the Malaysian Parliament directly.
    • The Penang State Assembly meets at the 7 Penang State Assembly Building   in George Town, a colonial building originally used as a police station then courthouse which dated back to the 1820s.
  • Macau — Similar to Hong Kong, the Legislative Assembly (立法會) is a separate legislature from the Chinese one. It is housed in the 8 Legislative Assembly Building   (澳門立法會大樓), a modernist building built in 1999 for the handover. The composition of the Legislative Assembly is similar to the Hong Kong Legislative Council, but is much smaller and includes 7 members appointed by the Chief Executive. The Legislative Assembly holds infrequent public open days, and plenary meetings are open to public, though committee meetings (that scrutinizes bills) are closed.
  • Pyongyang, North Korea — As one may imagine, the Supreme People's Assembly (최고인민회의 Ch’oego Inmin Hoeŭi), is largely a rubber stamp in the country's politics. The Assembly meets at the 9 Mansudae Assembly Hall   (만수대의사당 Mansudae ŭisadang), which its neighbouring areas also hold other landmark destinations that tourists will visit.
  • Singapore — The Parliament of Singapore is based largely on the British Westminster model, but is unicameral with only one popularly elected house. It meets in the 10 Parliament House  , a stately, modern building completed in 1999 that harks back to the architectural styles of the nearby British colonial buildings. While tours are only available for large groups affiliated with schools or other organisations, the general public may watch debates from the public gallery on sitting days.
  • Seoul, South Korea — South Korea's legislature is the unicameral National Assembly (국회 Gukhoe). It meets in the 11 National Assembly Proceeding Hall   (국회의사당 Gukhoe-uisadang) on Yeouido, a modernist building completed in 1975, with the main debating chamber resembling the chamber of the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Taipei, Taiwan — Taiwan's legislature is known as the Legislative Yuan (立法院 Lìfǎyuàn). It is a unicameral body that is housed in the art deco 12 Legislative Yuan Building (立法院議場 Lìfǎyuàn Yìchǎng). Members of the public may tour the building when it hosts open houses on special occasions. Taiwan's legislature is well-known for its particularly high frequency of legislative violence and earned themselves an Ig Nobel Prize Peace Award in 1995.

Europe

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See also: European Union#Visit
  • Prague, Czech Republic — The Parliament of the Czech Republic (Parlament České republiky) comprises the upper Senate (Senát), which is housed in the 13 Wallenstein Palace   (Valdštejnský palác), and the lower Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecká sněmovna), which is housed in the 14 Thun Palace   (Thunovský palác). Both are located in Malá Strana, one of the most historic regions of Prague known for its baroque buildings.
  • Copenhagen, Denmark — Denmark's legislature is the unicameral Folketinget, which is housed in the 15 Christiansborg Palace   (Christiansborg Slot). In addition to the legislative body, the palace also houses the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister's Office, as well as several areas used by the monarch such as the Royal Reception Rooms, Royal Stables and the Palace Chapel.
  • West Helsinki, Finland — The legislature of Finland is the unicameral Parliament of Finland (Eduskunta in Finnish, Riksdag in Swedish). It meets in the 16 Parliament House of Finland   (Eduskuntatalo in Finnish, Riksdagshuset in Swedish), a stripped classical architectural style combining Neoclassicism with early twentieth century modernism.
  • Paris, France — The French Parliament (Parlement français) is a bicameral legislature, with a lower house known as the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale) that meets in the 17 Palais Bourbon  , and an upper house known as the Senate (Sénat) that is based in the 18 Palais du Luxembourg  .
  • Strasbourg, France — The current seat of the European Parliament. Much of the European Union's executive is based in Brussels, or Luxembourg.
  • Berlin, Germany — Rather than having a bicameral legislature, Germany has two separate legislatures, though they work in a way that resembles bicameral legislatures in other countries. The Bundestag, which serves as Germany's parliament and is directly elected by the people to represent them, meets in the 19 Reichstag building   (Reichstagsgebäude). The Bundesrat is appointed by the respective state governments to represent the states, and meets in the 20 Prussian House of Lords   (Preußisches Herrenhaus).
  • Budapest, Hungary — Hungary's legislature is the unicameral National Assembly (Országgyűlés). The 21 Hungarian Parliament Building   (Országház) is regarded by many to be the most beautiful legislative building in the world.
  • Reykjavík, Iceland — The Alþingi is Iceland's unicameral legislature, and was first convened in an open field in Þingvellir National Park in AD 930. In modern times, it meets in the 22 Alþingishúsið  , a 19th-century neoclassical building next to 23 Austurvöllur  , a public square in central Reykjavík.
  • Rome, Italy — The Italian Parliament (Parlamento italiano) is bicameral, with an upper house known as the Senate (Senato) that meets in the 24 Palazzo Madama  , and a lower house known as the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei deputati) that meets in the 25 Palazzo Montecitorio  .
  • The Hague, Netherlands — Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, The Hague is the de facto seat of the Dutch government. The Dutch legislature is known as the States General (Staten-Generaal), and consists of an upper Senate (Eerste Kamer) and a lower House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer). The States General has been housed in a complex of buildings known as the 26 Binnenhof   since the 15th century, making them among the oldest legislative buildings still in use today.
  • Oslo, Norway — Norway's legislature is the unicameral Storting (Stortinget). It meets in the 27 Storting Building   (Stortingsbygningen), which was built in an eclectic architectural style, with the plenary chamber being located in a semi-circular section in the front of the building.
  • Lisbon, Portugal — Portugal's legislature is the unicameral Assembly of the Republic (Assembleia da República). It is housed in the Neoclassical 28 São Bento Palace   (Palácio de São Bento).
  • Bucharest, Romania — The Parliament of Romania (Parlamentul României) is bicameral, consisting of the upper Senate (Senat) and the lower Chamber of Deputies (Camera Deputaților). It is housed in the 29 Palace of the Parliament   (Palatul Parlamentului), an imposing and ornate structure that is the largest legislative building in the world. Its construction was ordered by communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1978, and commenced in 1984, with four entire neighbourhoods demolished to make way for it. Though construction was intended to be completed in two years, the structure was only finished in 1997, after the fall of communism. The basement was designed as a bomb shelter than can withstand a nuclear attack.
  • Moscow, Russia — The Federal Assembly (Федера́льное Собра́ние, Federalnoye Sobraniye) of Russia is bicameral, consisting of the Federal Assembly (Сове́т Федера́ции, Soviet Federatsii) that acts as an upper house and the State Duma (Госуда́рственная ду́ма, Gosudárstvennaya dúma) that acts as the lower house. The Federal Assembly meets at 26 Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Moscow, while the State Duma meets at the 30 Building of Council of Labor and Defense  , a Socialist Realist building built in 1932 that still maintains an engraving of the hammer and sickle on top of it. The State Duma in its entirety was sanctioned by the United States due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
    • As a federal country, each federal subject also has its own regional legislature with various names. In particular, the legislatures of Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia was styled as the "People's Khural" or the "Great Khural", indicating the republics' Mongolian cultural influences.
  • Madrid, Spain — The Cortes Generales is the bicameral legislature of Spain. The upper house, the Senate (Senado) meets in the 31 Palace of the Senate   (Palacio del Senado), while the lower house, the Congress of Deputies, meets in the 32 Palacio de las Cortes  . If you are lucky enough to get a tour of the plenary (which is smaller than it looks on T.V.) you'll have some of the bullet holes pointed out to you caused by the failed coup attempt of February 23 1982.
  • Stockholm, Sweden — The legislature of Sweden is the unicameral Riksdag (riksdagen). It meets in the 33 Parliament House   (Riksdagshuset), a neoclassical structure that incorporates some baroque revival elements. See Stockholm history tour for exploring Sweden's road to democracy.
  • Bern, Switzerland — The Federal Assembly of Switzerland meets in the 34 Federal Palace  . It is bicameral, with the lower National Council popularly elected to represent the people, and seats allocated to the cantons based on their respective populations. The upper house, known as the Council of States, represents the cantons, with most cantons being assigned two seats regardless of their population. As members of the legislature are permitted to speak in either German, French or Italian, you will hear all three languages being spoken while it is in session, and all federal politicians are expected to be reasonably competent in all three languages. Switzerland is also a direct democracy, meaning that the people are given the power to call for referendums to pass or overturn laws, or even make constitutional amendments against the wishes of the legislature.
  • Westminster, London, United Kingdom — The "Mother of all Parliaments" meets in the 35 Palace of Westminster  . The lower house is known as the House of Commons, and is popularly elected to represent the common people. The upper house is known as the House of Lords, and is appointed by the monarch and the Church of England to represent the clergy and nobility. Parliamentary sessions may be watched by members of the public from the Strangers' Gallery in both houses. Members of the public may tour the Houses of Parliament on Saturdays, and on weekdays when they are not in session.
    • Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved legislatures, namely the Scottish Parliament (Scots: Scots Pairlament, Gaelic: Pàrlamaid na h-Alba), Welsh Parliament (Senedd Cymru) and Northern Ireland Assembly (Irish: Tionól Thuaisceart Éireann, Ulster Scots: Norlin Airlan Assemblie). All of them are unicameral and have the authority to legislate their own internal affairs, and may amend or repeal UK Parliament Acts that extend to their jurisdictions.
      • As recent creations, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament meet at 36 Scottish Parliament Building   in Edinburgh and 37 Senedd Building   in Cardiff respectively; both are modernist buildings that were built and inaugurated in the early 2000s.
      • The Northern Ireland Assembly meets at the Greek-classical 38 Parliament Buildings   in Belfast that was built in 1933. The name of "Parliament" refers to the former Parliament of Northern Ireland that was dissolved in 1972 for its failure to suppress the Troubles.
    • England does not have a similar body of its own, with the British Parliament serving as the legislature for both England and the wider United Kingdom.
    • The General Synod of the Church of England is entrusted the power to legislate its own affairs (eg. church estate administration and clergy discipline) through church measures, which have the effect of law after proper procedures. It meets at the 39 Church House  . In additional to its usual religious administrative functions, it was also the meeting place of the UK Parliament during World War II and the first United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
    • Some local government (city and county councils) headquarters are in impressive buildings and have regular or occasional tours.

North America

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Canada's Parliament in Ottawa
 
Inside the Mexican Senate Chamber
 
U.S. Capitol Building
  • Ottawa, Canada — The parliament is a beautiful Gothic revival set of buildings on 40 Parliament Hill whose construction was begun in 1859. Canada's parliament is based on the British Westminster model, with a lower House of Commons that is popularly elected to represent the people, and an upper Senate that is appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister to represent the provinces. As an officially bilingual country, MPs and Senators may address the house in either French or English, and candidates for Prime Minister are expected to debate on television in both languages during election season. Free tours are available, and members of the public may observe parliamentary sessions from the public gallery.
    • Each province and territory also has its respective capital city, with a parliament building to house the provincial legislature. Canada is highly decentralized and often the most important decisions, for example about healthcare and education, are made in these buildings and not on Parliament Hill.
  • Mexico City/Centro, Mexico — Mexico's legislative branch consists of two houses, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Each house meets in its own building and joint sessions are held in the larger 41 Chamber of Deputies   (Camara de Diputados). Legislators are term-limited to serving no more than 12 years total (2 terms for a senator, 4 terms for a deputy). The public can visit the Museo Legislativo in the Chamber of Deputies Building in the historic Centro (downtown). The museum explains Mexico's legislative process, it's history, and a visit can include a free tour of the Congressional building (including the Chamber of Deputies). Exhibits and tours are available in Spanish, Mayan, Nahuatl, and English.
    • Each state has a capital city with a Palacio de Gobierno (State House) housing state functions, often including both the state legislature and the governor's office.
  • Capitol Hill, Washington D.C., United States — The United States Congress meets in the 42 U.S. Capitol Building  , for which there are free tours that must be booked in advance. The lower house is known as the House of Representatives, and officially represents the people. It is popularly elected with the number of seats allocated to each state based on its population above a guaranteed minimum of one seat per state. The upper house is known as the Senate, and officially represents the states. It is also popularly elected, but with each state being assigned two senators regardless of its population. Members of the public may watch both houses while they are in session from the visitors' gallery, though this must be arranged in advance through your representative or senator.
    • Each state also has its own capital city, with a corresponding state capitol to house the state legislature, while the District of Columbia also has its own legislative body known as the Council of the District of Columbia that is housed in the 43 John A. Wilson Building   on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Oceania

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  • South Canberra, Canberra, Australia — The parliament in 44 Capital Hill   is an impressive 4,700-room building opened in 1988. Australia's parliament follows a hybrid model mainly based on the British Westminster system, but with some influences drawn from the U.S. Congress. The lower house is the House of Representatives, and is popularly elected to represent the people, with seats allocated to each state based on its population. The upper house is the Senate, and is popularly elected to represent the states, with each state being allocated an 12 seats regardless of its population, while the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory are each allocated 2 seats. Parliament is open daily, and visitors can wander around a large part of the building. Members of the public may also watch the proceedings of both houses from the strangers' gallery when they are in session.
    • Each state and territory also has its own capital city, with a parliament building to house the state parliament.
  • Wellington, New Zealand — The parliament is housed in different buildings. Parliamentary proceedings are conducted in the 45 Parliament House   built in 1922, while the cabinet (a constituent part of the legislature under the Westminister system) works in the 46 Executive Wing   built in 1977, an iconic modernist building known as the "beehive". The parliament also operates the 47 Parliamentary Library   that was built in 1899. It is based on the British Westminster system, but has only one house: the House of Representatives. The upper house, known as the Legislative Council, was abolished in 1951, though its chamber is still used for the King's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament, in line the Westminster tradition where the sovereign is banned from entering the lower house chamber. Parliamentary buildings may be visited on free guided tours, and proceedings may be watched from the public gallery. Afterwards eat in the Backbencher Pub, with political-themed dishes and regular visits from politicians.

South America

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  • Buenos Aires, Argentina — Argentina's legislature is the Congress of the Argentine Nation (Congreso de la Nación Argentina). It consists of an upper Senate (Senado) and a lower Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados). It meets in the 48 Palacio del Congreso  , a beautiful and ornate neoclassical building that took about 50 years to complete.
  • Brasilia, Brazil — The National Congress of Brazil (Congresso Nacional do Brasil) is bicameral, with an upper house known as the Federal Senate (Senado Federal) and a lower house known as the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados). Both houses meet in the 49 Palácio Nereu Ramos  , which was built in 1960 in the Brazilian modernist architectural style.
  • Bogota, Colombia — The Congress of Colombia is bicameral with a 108-seat Senate and a 188-seat Chamber of Representatives. Both houses meet in the 50 Capitolio Nacional  , built between 1848 and 1926.
  • Montevideo, Uruguay — Uruguay's legislature is the bicameral General Assembly (Asamblea General), comprising the upper Senate (Cámara de Senadores) and the lower Chamber of Representatives (Cámara de Representantes). It is housed in the neoclassical 51 Legislative Palace   (Palacio Legislativo).

Historical sites

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  • 52 Þingvellir National Park, Iceland — Original site of Iceland's legislature, the Alþingi, one of the claimants to being the oldest legislative body in the world, which in its original incarnation also served as a judicial body. There is no building on the site as meetings took place on an open field. The current version of the Alþingi meets at Parliament House, built 1880-81, in Reykjavik.
  • Forum Romanum, Rome (or what's left of it)
  • Athens Agora (or what's left of it)
  • Paulskirche Frankfurt am Main (site of the 1848 revolutionary parliament)
  • West Germany was governed from Bonn during partition (1949-1990) and the government only officially moved in 1998, with some institutions still having second (or officially "first") seats in Bonn. It is perhaps unique in having well preserved government buildings in a wealthy and powerful nation that are not in use any more.
  • The Perpetual Imperial Diet at Regensburg was in session almost continuously from 1663 to 1803 and while in no way representative or democratic was one of the longest-lived pre-parliamentary bodies in Continental Europe. The old city hall in Regensburg still contains the room where most sessions were held
  • Nanjing was the capital of the Republic of China before their defeat in the Chinese Civil War, and the Legislative Yuan building that was in use during the Republican era still survives, and can be viewed from the outside. The wartime capital of Chongqing was home to the Legislative Yuan while Nanjing was occupied by the Japanese, and its former site has been marked with a plaque.
  • While it is inactive, the National Assembly (國民大會 Guómín Dàhuì) is a de jure part of Taiwan's tricameral legislature along with the Legislative Yuan and Control Yuan (監察院 Jiānchá Yuàn). It was responsible for amending the constitution and electing/impeaching the president and vice-president before its inactivation in 2005. During Chiang Kai-shek's administration, the Assembly was criticized as the "Ten-thousand-year Parliament", as regular elections were frozen until the hypothetical reconquest of Mainland China. Before its dissolution, the Assembly met at 53 Zhongshan Hall   and 54 Chung-Shan Building  . While the former one is a colonial-era utilitarian building used as a municipal hall, the latter one is an active government facility that is only available to guided tours.
    • In addition, before the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan, the National Assembly managed to meet at the National Hall of Assembly in Nanjing in 1948. The hall is now known as 55 Nanjing Great Hall of the People   (南京人民大会堂 Nánjīng Rénmín Dàhuìtáng), and is used as the meeting place of Nanjing Municipal People's Congress.
  • From 1985 to 2011, the current 56 Court of Final Appeal Building   was the office for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, and is much more historic than the current building (built in 1912 and listed as a monument in 1984).
  • Before 1999, the Legislative Assembly of Macau met at the 57 Leal Senado building  , which serves as the very core of Macau's city centre (and should be much visible to tourists). The building now both serves as a major tourist attraction and active government office.
  • Before moving to its current location, the parliament of Singapore used to meet in a colonial building that was built in 1827, making it the oldest surviving government building in Singapore. This building has been converted to an art exhibition and concert venue known as 58 The Arts House  , and may be visited by the general public. The old debating chamber has been preserved, and is today used as a performance and conference venue.
  • Shortly after the Korean War ended, the South Korean National Assembly met at 59 Bumingwan  , a colonial-era theatre built in 1935. It was the place where the chaos and revolts of the First to Third Republics of Korea were experienced, and since the Assembly moved to Yeouido, it has been used by the Seoul Municipal Government.
  • Sometimes, visitors can watch a debate in progress from a public gallery (called the Strangers' Gallery is many Commonwealth countries). This may be restricted to those in the local electorate or may require advance booking.
  • If you are visiting your own capital, you may get better access to facilities if you contact the office of your elected representative in advance.
  • Some legislatures operate a parliamentary library that collects its meeting records and other legal documents, which could be otherwise inaccessible in normal public libraries or on the Internet (if without digitization). They represent the jurisdiction's legal history and are useful academic and research sources. Some of these may need advance booking to visitors, so you may want to reserve a few days (perhaps weeks) to gain permission.

Stay safe

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  • There are often airport-style security checks at the entrance to major government buildings. Random bag and other security checks once inside are also common.
  • Government buildings may attract protesters. Usually these protests are peaceful, despite the passionate viewpoint on the many issues being protested, and have little impact on those visiting the buildings. However this is not always the case and foreigners should also be cautious of any interactions with protesters in countries where this may make them a subject of interest to the local police or other authorities.

Respect

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  • As a visitor, remember you are a guest, and respect for the opportunity offered is encouraged. Inappropriate behaviour is likely to reflect badly not just on you, but affect what access is granted to subsequent visitors. In some places, even a wrong word about certain political factions or issues might land you in trouble.
  • When watching a legislative debate from the public gallery, you are expected to remain silent at all times.
  • Spend a little time studying the history and politics of the country you are visiting before going on a tour of government buildings. This will increase your understanding of the tour. Some of this information can be determined from the relevant country articles.
  • Government buildings are places of serious work, so whilst you don't need to dress for a business meeting, you may want to wear something smarter than you would on the beach.
  • Whether or not you agree with the security theater often present at such places, they are high-value targets of terrorism and political violence. Tours may also be changed or cancelled on short notice or no notice at all.
  • For related security reasons, tours of some locations or facilities may also be of limited availability, such as only to residents or citizens of a relevant country.

Cope

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Go next

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This travel topic about Legislative buildings is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.