• Political Powerhouses of Europe

    by  • May 8, 2015 • Architecture, Belfast, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, City Breaks

    Be it Brussels, Budapest, Belfast or Berlin, the political institutions of Europe offer a different dimension to your usual touristic checklist.

    With all this talk of politics and election landslides this morning, I thought I’d take a look at a few politically-themed sightseeing options whilst on a European city break.

    Where better to start than the seat of the European Parliament, Brussels? Newly opened in the city is the Parlamentarium, the European Parliament’s Visitor Centre and indeed the largest of its kind in Europe. In their own words “dynamic, interactive multimedia displays guide our visitors through the journey of European integration and the impact this has on our everyday lives.” There’s a video wall offering messages from the Members of the European Parliament and a 360° surround-screen digital projection of the parliamentary chamber known as the hemicycle. And with all 24 languages of the European Union catered for in addition to free entrance, the Parlamentarium provides a fantastic insight for all ages into the machinations of the European Parliament. The Parlamentarium is open daily as follows: Monday 1pm – 6pm, Tue – Fri 10am – 6pm, Sat & Sun 10am – 6pm.

    Considered by many the icon of a modern, unified Germany and one of the German capital’s top attractions, Berlin’s Reichstag Building plays host to the German Bundestag, the national Parliament of Germany, and once housed the assemblies of the German Empire, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Partially burnt down in 1933 and subsequently abandoned for decades, the building was extensively refurbished in 1990 after the German reunification by the world-famous British architect, Sir Norman Foster, whose addition of a striking glass dome is said to symbolise open democracy. Today, the dome offers visitors 360-degree views over Berlin’s ever-growing skyline from its walk-around platforms, in addition to a viewing passage that funnels directly down into the parliamentary chambers. Entrance to the Reichstag Building’s cupola is free but must be booked in advance. Open from 8am until midnight daily, admission takes place in 15-minute intervals.

    Stretching 268 metres along the banks of the Danube in Pest, Budapest’s Parliament House symbolises Hungary’s independence from Austria and is the world’s third largest parliament building with over 12½ miles of corridors, 691 rooms, 10 central courtyards, 27 neo-gothic spires and a 96-metre-high central dome, making it the tallest building in Budapest. Constructed between 1885 and 1902 and reputedly inspired by London’s Palace of Westminster, Budapest’s Parliament House plays host to a wealth of architectural styles and stands out as the city’s most striking landmark on the Pest horizon. It’s also the setting for the prestigious Hungarian Crown Jewels. When parliament is not in session, guided tours are available at half-hourly intervals in a number of languages from 8am until 4pm (2pm on Sundays and until 6pm Mon – Fri from May to Sep). Tours cost 2520 HUF.

    Last but not least to Belfast and situated some 8km east of the city centre, the Northern Ireland Assembly occupies one of Belfast’s most iconic architectural gems, Stormont. A resplendent white neoclassical building, Stormont was designed by Sir Arnold Thornely who was knighted by King George V in recognition of his architectural achievements and its facets include a grand façade measuring 365 feet wide (one foot for every day of the year), six floors and six pillars by the entrance, representing each county of Northern Ireland. Completed in 1932, it served for 40 years as the seat of parliament for Northern Ireland before the introduction of direct rule in 1972. Free public tours of the building are available at 11am and 2pm outside of session, where a visit to the Great Hall is a must.

    About

    With a French grandmother, childhood holidays on the continent and a degree in French and Spanish, a love of languages and travel has always been in my blood. Fresh from university with an unfettered enthusiasm to show off my linguistic ability and first-hand knowledge of the world beyond the UK, I entered the travel industry and, 16 years on, I’m still there! With several years spent in the luxury sector planning escorted holidays across Europe for the American market, followed by an even longer tenure designing short breaks with a difference in the must-see cities of Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid, Prague, Florence, Brussels, Venice, Salzburg, Milan, Krakow and Berlin (to name but a few), it’s fair to say that Europe is my passion! Today my travels have taken me far beyond the boundaries of Europe with so many destinations still to discover, yet the continent abounds in such a wealth of treasures – historical and architectural, cultural and musical, gastronomic, artistic and linguistic – that its appeal, for me, will be eternal.