Big Ben. It's one of London's most famous and well-loved landmarks, a truly British attraction right at the political centre of the capital. But the name Big Ben didn't originally belong to the whole clock, including the tower, but to the enormous bell. The tower was originally called the Great Clock Tower, now officially called the Elizabeth Tower after Queen Elizabeth. The clock itself was started for the first time on 31st May 1859 and the Great Bell tolled for the first time on 11th July. The rest, as they say, is history. London and Big Ben fast became synonymous, and they still are.
A complex programme of essential work designed to conserve the Elizabeth Tower began in early 2017, and the popular Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower tours won't be on the cards again until the work is completed, sometime in 2021. In the meantime it's just as magnificent as ever from the outside, well worth a visit. If you'd like to stay in central London, near Big Ben and the surrounding tourist attractions, why not try our cheap hotels near Big Ben? The nearest easyHotels to Big Ben are our comfy Old Street/Barbican hotel and our hotel in Victoria.
History and trivia on Big Ben
- Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower were designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin to replace the Palace of Westminster, which burned down in 1834
- Big Ben has, so far, served six kings and queens during its lifetime
- It took 16 years to build the tower alone
- The Elizabeth Tower is 315ft or 96 metres high and has 11 floors. The foundations are just 3m deep
- The first bell cast by Warners of Norton, near Stockton-on-Tees in the northeast, but it cracked while being tested. It was melted down to form part of the second Big Ben bell, made just around the corner at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. A crack developed in the second bell during 1859, solved by turning the bell a quarter clockwise and chiming it with a lighter hammer
- The Master Clock Keeper and his team check the Great Clock three times a week. If it's too fast they remove one of the pre-decimal pennies from the pendulum, if it's slow they add one. That's what we call low tech!
- A team of brave abseilers cleans the clock faces every five years
- The chimes were stopped for 7 weeks in 2007 and 9 months in 1976, both times for repairs
- The Ayrton Light shines small and bright on one of the clock faces late into the night, lit whenever Parliament is in session later than usual
- Big Ben chimes an E note
- The tower contains a prison, last used in 1880. It was designed to punish MPs, who were thrown in there to reflect on their sins
- The tower leans like Pisa – but just 0.22 metres to the north-west, hard to spot with the naked eye
- Big Ben's Twitter account, which simply relays the time, has an extraordinary number of followers, proving how popular the clock is
- Big Ben was the nation's biggest bell until the massive 17 ton Great Paul bell arrived in St Paul’s Cathedral during 1881
- The Big Ben bell itself weighs 13.7 tonnes, stands 7.2ft high (2.2m) and its diameter is 8.9ft (2.7 metres). The hammer alone weighs an impressive 200kg. No wonder the sound carries so far
- Starlings are heavier than you might think. When a flock decided to make one of the minute hands their home in 1949, the clock quickly lost four and a half minutes
Events at Big Ben
Big Ben is closed for repairs until 2021, but it's just as magnificent as ever from the outside. It's also right next to the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye and Buckingham Palace, all magical attractions in themselves.
Big Ben tickets and admission
Can you go inside Big Ben? The tower isn't open to the general public, but if you're a UK resident you can write to your MP at the House of Commons to arrange a visit. If you're from abroad you can enjoy a fascinating talk about the Elizabeth Tower or a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament instead.
Restaurants near Big Ben
How about some good places to eat near Big Ben? Roux at Parliament Square is on 11 Great George Street, a wonderful venue for luxury modern European dining. The Cellarium Cafe and Terrace at Deans Yard, Westminster Abbey, The Sanctuary, provides excellent British cuisine in quaint medieval vaults. Quirinale at North Court on Great Peter Street offers superb Italian dishes. Aster at 150 Victoria Street is your destination for unusual Nordic-French cuisine, including a cafe and delicatessen. And Gilray's Steak House and Bar at County Hall on Westminster Bridge Road cooks really good steaks!
Getting to Big Ben
How to get to Big Ben? Because it's so central, it is very accessible.
Walking: Because of its height you can see Big Ben from high points all over the city. Get yourself an A to Z guide or a London walking app and take to the streets, the best way to get a local's intimate insight into the city and see all sorts of amazing things you'd miss travelling any other way.
Underground: The closest underground station is Westminster tube station, only a couple of minutes' walk away. St James' Park and Embankment tube stations are less than ten minutes away, each a very scenic stroll.
Bus: This part of London, being so central, is on a host of different bus routes. The number 11 is particularly good because it stops at Westminster Cathedral, St Paul’s, Somerset House and The Strand. The Original London Tour bus also passes by, a popular hop on, hop off service for visitors.
Train: Charing Cross is your nearest mainline railway station, just 10 minutes' walk from Big Ben. The area's excellent transport links mean all the major London mainline railway stations are easy to get to using public transport.
Bicycle: Hire a bike for as little as two pounds from Santander Cycle Hire on William 1V Street or Allington Street.
On the river: The London River Leisure Service is ideal for tourists, linking Westminster Pier, close to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, with the London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and onwards to Greenwich. It runs all year round, with different timetables in summer and winter.