Big Ben is a landmark clock tower in the heart of Westminster, London. It’s an iconic attraction that’s difficult to tour if you’re not a native Brit. If you are planning a visit, this quick guide for how to visit Big Ben will help you know what to expect.
Pro Tip: You might want to bookmark this article in your browser so you can circle back to it when you are in Westminster, London, where Big Ben is located.
Big Ben Overview: What We’ll Cover
According to Britannica, the tower was originally known as St. Stephens Tower and renamed in 2012 to Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Queen’s 60th Jubilee. Technically, only the bell is nicknamed Big Ben, but if you say “Big Ben,” everyone will know you mean more than just the bell. It has been a pillar of timekeeping for decades.
It’s currently finishing up a massive renovation so it’s a little tricky to visit at the moment. But let’s jump into the most important things you need to know about visiting Big Ben in London.
- Hours and admissions
- How long to budget for your visit
- What to see at Big Ben
- Places to eat nearby
- Facts and history
Big Ben Hours and Admissions
Big Ben has been undergoing restoration work since 2017, the biggest conservation project in its history. The Great Bell (nicknamed Big Ben) has just been repaired. And the clock tower (Elizabeth Tower) has recently had all the scaffolding removed and is ready to show off in all your pictures.
Previously, tours of Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower ran every Saturday 9:00 am to 4:15 pm. But this may be subject to change after the restoration work is fully complete as it is still closed to the public.
Previously, only UK residents were allowed inside Big Ben and could only gain access by contacting their MPs for visitor permits. Also, these tours were usually booked up for six months. But again, these admission requirements are subject to change because of the major restoration work and summer re-opening.
Right now there is no charge for entry with a tour, but you are usually asked to book in advance. Again, this is subject to change as new information on admission and price will be made available in summer 2022.
How Long to Budget for Visiting Big Ben
If you step outside Westminster Station, you’ll be welcomed by an imposing view of Big Ben. We recommend using a pair of binoculars for an even better view of the restoration work that has been done. You could spend as little as 10 minutes or even half an hour taking in the views from this area.
Pro tip: Stand anywhere on Westminster Bridge for great views of Big Ben. Or even better, stand just in front of the statue of Queen Boadicea at the foot of Westminster Bridge, close to Westminster tube station. There you can enjoy unobstructed views because the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are just across the road.
What to See at Big Ben
- The Great Bell (Big Ben)
- Four Smaller Bells In The Clock Tower
- The Elizabeth Tower (The Clock Tower)
Places To Eat Nearby
With Big Ben closed for refurbishments, there is no on-site cafe or restaurant. However, there are many options nearby, one of which has amazing views.
Westminster Abbey Kiosk
Although it’s not indoors, nonetheless, it’s handy for a quick bite to eat. Light snacks, sandwiches, hotdogs, pastries, and cakes as well as hot and cold drinks.
Storey’s Gate Cafe
This building was once the home of King Charles II’s birdkeeper Edward Storey. It now sells healthy snacks and light lunches. Vegans and vegetarians will find it has an attractive selection.
Address: Birdcage Walk, London SW1A 2AE | €€
There’s an enjoyable walk through the scenic Victoria Tower Gardens, next to Parliament to get to this café. It has the best views of the Houses of Parliament and the River Thames. Moreover, it serves the full English breakfast as well as pizza, paninis, pasta and sandwiches. You can also buy beverages like tea, lattes, coffee, cappuccinos, mochas, as well as cold drinks.
Address: Lambeth Pier, Albert Embankment, London SE1 7SG | €€
Big Ben Facts and History
Here are some interesting facts about Big Ben from the official Parliament website to help you understand how incredible this timekeeping monument is.
- It’s commonly known as Big Ben but that’s just the nickname for the bell (which isn’t visible from the street). Also, the bell’s real name is the Great Bell and the clock tower is called the Elizabeth Tower.
- It was built in 1848 during the Victorian period.
- Big Ben (the bell) weighs 13.76 tons, and the tower is 96 metres tall.
- The clock tower has 399 steps. Visitors are warned they need to be fit enough to manage the steps.
- Pennies carefully placed on the bell’s pendulum ensure the chiming is always accurate.
- There are four other smaller bells in the clock tower.
- Not even the Second World War could stop Big Ben’s chimes. It suffered a direct hit during the war but continued its hourly bongs.
- The government planned to use fake Big Ben bongs during the Second World War to confuse Nazi planes trying to find Westminster.
- There are no credible historical references as to why it is called Big Ben. Some say it honours a 19th-century heavyweight boxing champion called Benjamin Caunt whose nickname was Big Ben.
- It’s not quite the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but Big Ben does lean very slightly by 4 degrees.
- The renovations, which will be completed in 2022, are the most extensive in its history.