Visit Big Ben in London: tickets, prices, opening hours

Big Ben, Londres

Visiting London? Be sure to visit Big Ben, the city’s most famous clock!

The economic and political capital of the United Kingdom, London – with its nine million inhabitants – is one of the most visited cities in the world. Every year, some twenty million tourists flock to London to discover its culture, experience its excitement and admire its historic buildings, including Big Ben, one of London’s must-see landmarks, which stands on the banks of the Thames between the bridge and Westminster Abbey. In 2008, to mark the tower’s 150th anniversary, a poll named Big Ben as Britain’s favourite landmark.

Famous the world over and a symbol of the British capital, Big Ben is actually the name of the enormous 13.5-tonne bell at the top of the Elizabeth Tower. This Gothic clock tower, attached to the Palace of Westminster, is ninety-six meters high. A flag is regularly raised at the top of the tower, and its dials are illuminated to signal to the people of London that a session of the British Parliament is in progress.

Visiting Big Ben in London? To help you, here’s a mini-guide containing all the information you need to discover the city.

History of Big Ben

In 1834, Parliament was partly destroyed by a terrible fire, and British architect Charles Barry was appointed to draw up plans for the new building. Construction began in 1843, and was not without its difficulties. The first bell was cast in 1856. It was so heavy that sixteen horses were needed to drive it to the construction site. Unfortunately, the bell cracked a few months later. A new bell was cast in 1858 at the Whitechapel foundry. It took eighteen hours to move the new bell over a distance of just sixty-one metres! For the record, the current bell is also split. This is what gives it its distinctive sound.

Completed in 1858 next to the new Palace of Westminster, the Clock Tower was commissioned the following year, in May 1859. The origin of its name remains uncertain. For some, it’s a reference to the man who cast the bell, Benjamin Hall – a tall politician – nicknamed Ben. For others, the tower’s name refers to a famous boxing champion, Ben Cault. He won a sixty-round bare-knuckle fight against the then reigning champion, while the tower’s construction was at the center of heated debate.

On December 31, 1923, BBC radio broadcast the chimes of Big Ben for the first time to ring in the New Year. This practice became a tradition, and even today, Londoners celebrate the New Year to the sound of Big Ben. The big bell also rings out in London whenever there is a national mourning. It rang at the funerals of Edward VII in 1910, George V in 1936 and George VI in 1952. Big Ben has been silenced only on rare occasions, such as the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 2013.

Long known as the Clock Tower or St Stephen’s Tower during the Victoria era, the tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark Queen Elizabeth II‘s Diamond Jubilee. But since 2017, Big Ben has fallen silent to make way for much-needed renovations, not least due to the tower’s sinking into the ground. This silence is not without its share of controversy across the Channel.

What to see and do in Big Ben

Big Ben, Londres

Photo Credit: Flickr – Jeff Few

First of all, you should know that visiting Big Ben is a privilege. For security reasons, the Elizabeth Tower is only accessible to British residents.

who must also obtain a pass from a member of Parliament or the House of Lords.

If you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll reach the belfry (the room where the bell is housed) after bravely climbing the three hundred and thirty-four steps spread over eleven floors. From there, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking view of London, its monuments, skyscrapers and lively districts.

You’ll also learn more about the workings of the four clocks, which cover each of the tower’s four facades. Each clock measures seven metres in diameter. The numerals on each clock measure sixty centimetres, while the large and small hands measure 4.2 and 2.7 metres respectively.

Not lucky enough to visit Big Ben? There’s nothing to stop you admiring this magnificent monument from the outside, and enjoying a night-time stroll to take some magnificent photos of this symbol of the city of London. To learn more about this famous monument, don’t hesitate to take part in a guided tour of the city, where Big Ben is almost always on the program.

How do I get to Big Ben?

  • By metro

To visit Big Ben or simply admire it, the Underground is the ideal means of transport. In particular, you can avoid the huge traffic jams that invade London at rush hour.

The easiest way is to take the Jubilee, Circle or District lines and get off at Westminster station, closest to Big Ben. Alternatively, get off at Saint James Park station on the Circle and Jubilee lines, and walk along Saint James Park to the clock tower. It takes around ten minutes on foot.

  • By Bus

There are plenty of buses to take you to and around Big Ben.

Lines 211, 12 and 24 take you directly to Westminster.

Lines 11 and 53: get off at Parliament Square and walk to Big Ben in just a few minutes.

  • By cab

Any cab driver will take you to Big Ben without hesitation! Be aware, however, that fares are high, averaging ten pounds for a three-kilometer trip.

  • By boat

Why not take a boat to the Elizabeth Tower? Virtually all cruises make a stop at the nearby Westminster Millennium Pier. An original way to visit Big Ben.

Big Ben opening times and prices

Big Ben, Londres

Photo Credit: Flickr – Pikakoko

Opening hours

  • December to May

From Monday to Friday (except public holidays), three 1h15 tours are organized daily at 9:15am, 11:15am and 2:15pm.

  • May to September

An additional visit is organized on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m.

Rates

– The tour is free for all those lucky enough to visit Big Ben.

– Watching from outside is also free.

For example, if you want to see Big Ben as part of a London bus tour, you’ll need to pay an average of €33 for an adult pass and €17 for a child’s pass.

Good to know

Until 2021, Big Ben will be closed to visitors. The Elizabeth Tower is closed for renovation.

– Children under 11 are not accepted.

– The waiting list is long. If you’re a resident and would like to visit Big Ben, make arrangements at least six months in advance.

– You can hear Big Ben ringing for over six kilometers around.

– During the German bombing raids of 1941, the Clock Tower was not illuminated, so as not to attract enemy attention. Little damage was done during the war.

– If you’re not a resident, you can take comfort in Little Ben – a small clock tower of similar design – installed at the intersection of London Inner Ring Road and Victoria Street, close to the railway station of the same name. Fun fact: this clock tower permanently indicates London summer time.