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Big Ben Tickets and Tours

Updated: April 30, 2024
 By Margaret

Many people have a visit to Big Ben on their list of things to do when in London when visiting. Here I explain the ins and outs of doing so.

Included is how to take a free tour, where it is located, nearby sights and activities, and a short history.

As a local tour guide and resident of London, I love to share my knowledge of the city and this big old clock tower is one of my favorite sights!

Besides my own insights, I include tips from members of our popular London Travel Tips Facebook group.

The group has over 160k members and is made up of locals, frequent travelers to the UK, as well as first-time visitors to London.

You don't need to become a member to read the posts, comments, and recommendations.

So, check out our group once you've finished reading this post!


INTRODUCTION

Big Ben in London is quite probably the most recognizable clock in the world.

Its iconic four-faced chiming clock is the largest in the world and has been ticking since 1859.

It dominates the skyline in the City of Westminster in London and is just a few minutes walk from such major historic sights, as Westminster Abbey.

Would it surprise you to know that Big Ben is not the real name of this clock tower?

Its original name was simply 'The Clock Tower’. Not exactly memorable, is it?

The clock tower was renamed the Queen Elizabeth II Tower in honor of the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Here’s another shocker. Big Ben, the largest bell inside the Queen Elizabeth II Tower is officially named the “Great Bell”, but nobody calls it that!  

I suggest you stick with Big Ben.

You might get some strange looks if you ask someone, “How can I get to the Queen Elizabeth II Tower so I can hear the Great Bell?”

So we know where the ‘Big’ comes from just by looking at it! But who is Ben?

There are two theories as to where the moniker came from.

Some say it refers to Benjamin Hall, a Member of Parliament who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell and was a rather rotund figure!

Another theory is that it is named after Benjamin Caunt, an English heavyweight boxing champion known as Big Ben himself.

Though we will never know for sure, we do know that Big Ben is a sight to behold when in London.

Read more history and fun facts about Big Ben below.


CAN I GO INSIDE BIG BEN?

Yes! You can go inside Big Ben by taking a tour. Read just below to find out how.


TOURS OF BIG BEN

These 90-minute tours of Big Ben take you up the Elizabeth Tower, behind the clock faces, and into the belfry to see Big Ben itself.

Tickets are £25 for adults and £10 for children aged 11 - 17. Children under 11 are not permitted on a tour.

Tickets can be purchased only online via the official website

Visitors will be able to book a maximum of eight tickets per person, depending on availability.

Tickets are released in blocks and sell out quickly, so keep an eye on the Parliament website for the next ticket release date.

IMPORTANT: Before you book, read the website to see if the tour is suitable for you.

Just a few examples:

  • You must be able to climb all 334 steps unaided without assistance.
  • Visitors with heart-related illnesses or who are in the later stages of pregnancy will not be allowed.
  • You must arrive with sensible footwear, or you may be declined their position on the tour.
  • Read more considerations here.

FREE TOURS

Only UK residents can request a free tour by contacting a Member of the House of Commons or House of Lords directly.

These free tours tend to be sold out for up to 6 months in advance so be prepared to wait a while!

The same suitability requirements above are for free tour guests as well.

More information can be found on the official website.

TIP: Looking for more London attractions and activities that won't cost you a thing, see our post on free things to do in London.


HOW TO GET HERE

Big Ben is located in the City of Westminster in the heart of London.

The nearest Underground Station is Westminster (Circle, District, and Jubilee lines).  

You can also access Big Ben from Waterloo Station (Bakerloo, Northern, Waterloo, City, and Jubilee lines).

Use this Google map for directions to Big Ben from anywhere in London.

Click on the image to enlarge

If you are new to traveling on London's public transport, see our post on using the London Underground.


NEARBY ATTRACTIONS AND TOURS

Big Ben is within walking distance of several major historical sights.

Right next to Big Ben is Westminster Pier where you can catch several Thames boat rides and cruises.

You can also simply walk across Westminster Bridge and go to the London Eye and the London Dungeon.

TIP: Many of the attractions above are included with London tourist passes which can save money on tickets and tours.


TOURS THAT STOP AT BIG BEN

If you want to learn about both Big Ben and nearby sights, consider taking a tour of the area that includes a stop outside Big Ben.

Both our pay-what-you-wish Westminster Walking Tour and 6-hour pay-what-you-wish All-in-One London Tour stop outside of Big Ben.

If you can't join us for either tour, you might enjoy our GPS-led audio tour of Westminster or our self-guided Westminster Tour.

Alternatively, you may also want to consider one of the many paid London walking tours which include stops at Big Ben.


TIPS FROM LOCALS AND TRAVELERS

Here are some thoughts about touring Big Ben from members of our London Travel Tips Facebook group.

No one said the experience was not worth it, though some people said that you can get just as good views if not better elsewhere.

Even if you are concerned about being physically fit enough, it is still recommended as there are stops along the way to catch your breath.

However, there is another consideration you might not have thought of -- fear of heights. Here is what one member had to say about that.

And lastly, here's a great tip!

You can find more advice on Big Ben and all things London on our Facebook group, so be sure to take a look.

You don't need to become a member to read the posts, comments, and advice!

Why not even post a question yourself?


HISTORY OF BIG BEN AND THE ELIZABETH TOWER 

The Queen Elizabeth II Tower stands in Westminster, connected to the Palace of Westminster.

After the old Palace of Westminster was lost in a terrible fire in 1834, a new building was designed to sit in its place.

The design of the new Palace was commissioned to architect Charles Barry.

He wanted a clock tower as part of the new palace, but he did not design it himself.

Instead, he asked noted architect August Welby Northmore Pugin for his help in designing the tower and clock.

Pugin designed the tower in his signature Gothic Revival style.

Before he died, Pugin is quoted as saying that his designing and building of the tower was the "hardest [he'd] ever worked in [his] life."


Big Ben and the Other Bells

The Great Bell (Big Ben) was cast in April 1858 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (also responsible for The Liberty Bell in the United States).

It weighs 13.76 tons and was the largest bell in the British Isles until 'Great Paul' inside St. Paul's Cathedral was cast in 1881.

Big Ben is the most famous bell in the tower, but there 4 other bells.

The four smaller bells ring every 15 minutes, while Big Ben is only rung at the top of every hour.

A mechanical process triggered by the clock dials raises a hammer which is then dropped onto Ben to make the chimes.

For those wishing to set their clocks, note it is the FIRST chime of Big Ben that marks the exact time.


Times When the Bells Were Not Rung

Although Big Ben has been praised throughout its history for accurately keeping time, including during the Blitz in WWII, the chimes have been silenced on occasion.

  • During WWI the clock was silenced for two years, and the clock dials were darkened, to prevent detection by German zeppelin craft.
  • On New Year’s Eve 1962, the cold weather froze the hands of the clock, causing the pendulum mechanism to fault meaning the New Year was rung in 10 minutes late!
  • In 1967 the clock experienced its first - and so far only - breakdown when the airspeed regulator broke. Over 9 months the chimes were silenced for around 26 days for repairs. 
  • As a mark of respect, the chimes were silenced during the funeral of Winston Churchill. The same protocol was taken during the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher in 2013.

Facts and Figures

  • The entire Queen Elizabeth II Tower is 315ft (96m) tall.
  • Each clock face stands exactly 180ft (54.9m) off the ground.
  • Each dial is nearly 23ft (7m) in diameter.
  • Each dial holds over 300 individual pieces of frosted glass.
  • The minute hands are each just over 13ft (4.2m) long.
  • Despite appearing straight, the Tower is tilting 9.1in (230mm) to the north-west.
  • Out of 650 MPs, 331 voted to approve the name change of the Clock Tower to the Queen Elizabeth Tower because the tower on the other side of Parliament was renamed the Victoria Tower in the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

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About The Author

Margaret

An American simply by accident of birth, Margaret moved to London over 16 years ago and hasn’t looked back since! With a keen interest in History – and a BA degree to match – Margaret prides herself on her knowledge of the amazing city she calls home and she's been guiding here now for nearly a decade. Social history is her real expertise, with sound understanding of the day-to-day lives of Londoners over the past centuries. Read More...
Updated: April 30th, 2024
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