Could this be the world’s most famous clock? Big Ben is a global icon and one of the most visited landmarks in London. The tower makes up an essential part of the city skyline. No surprise! The golden clock is hard to miss, reaching almost 100 metres above street level.

Big Ben is a nickname for the Great Bell in the Elizabeth Tower, part of the Palace of Westminster in London. The palace is commonly known as the Houses of Parliament because it serves as the meeting place for the two UK houses of the Parliament: the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

What’s in this guide?

How to get to Big Ben

If you want to visit Big Ben when you’re in London, good news! It couldn’t be easier to get there. The Houses of Parliament are in Westminster, next to Westminster Abbey and close to other landmarks like the London Eye, 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

You can get the train to Big Ben, boarding service to London Waterloo (17 minutes walk away) or London Victoria (20 minutes walk).

If you’re taking the underground (tube) from another part of London, you have a few stations to choose from. The closest to Big Ben is Westminster station, right on its doorstep. Westminster tube station is on the Circle (yellow), District (green) and Jubilee (grey) lines.

St James’s Park is also close, on the Circle (yellow) and District (green) lines. Waterloo is about a 16-minute walk away, on the Bakerloo (brown), Jubilee (grey), Northern (black) and Waterloo & City (turquoise) lines.

big ben and houses of parliament

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster highlights

The clock tower, of course! But there are many more things to see when you visit Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, open for tours throughout the year.

Big Ben tours

The Elizabeth Tower was covered in scaffolding between 2017 and 2022, undergoing much-needed renovations. Upon its reopening, visitors will be able to revisit Big Ben and climb the 334 steps to the top!

Big Ben tours are only available to UK residents; overseas visitors aren’t allowed. Inside, you’ll get to see the Great Bell and enjoy some spectacular views across London.

The Elizabeth Tower

The tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower; it’s the height of 21 London buses stacked on top of each other – that’s 96 metres! From the Great Bell, there are another 55 steps up to the Ayrton Light. This lantern shines when the Houses of Parliament are in session.

The Elizabeth Tower is made from stone and brick, including types from Yorkshire and Rutland. Some of the tower’s limestone is the unique Caen variety, specially imported from France.

The Great Clock

The clock is one of the most recognisable parts of Big Ben and what many visitors come to see. It features four dials, one on each side of the Elizabeth Tower. Each dial is made from 324 pot opal glass, set inside a cast-iron frame. The minute hands, which travel 160 kilometres around their dials each year, are made from copper. The clock’s hour hands are made from gunmetal, three times heavier than their copper counterparts.

The Bells

Big Ben isn’t the only bell inside Elizabeth Tower, but it is the biggest. Four others contribute to the famous London tune. Each has its own note, combining to produce the clock sound. Big Ben’s musical note is ‘E’.

The most famous bell, Big Ben, weighs in at 13.7 tonnes. The first, second and third quarter bells weigh between one and two tonnes, while the fourth comes in at four tonnes. The heavy bells don’t swing but are fixed in place and struck by hammers to mark each hour.

The Palace of Westminster

Also known as the Houses of Parliament, London’s Palace of Westminster is one of its most iconic landmarks and the home of Big Ben. The palace is open throughout the year. Visitors can explore the magnificent rooms inside one of the world’s most famous buildings on a 90-minute guided tour.

Your guide will show you around the House of Commons, the House of Lords and Westminster Hall.

Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Parliamentary estate; its enormous size and magnificent roof make it visually impressive from the moment you arrive. The hall’s long history makes it an unmissable stop for London visitors. Parliament, the British law courts and many government offices were developed here. Westminster Hall has remained a backdrop of the nation’s evolution since the 11th century. Discover 900 years when you swing by on a guided tour.

palace of westminster

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster history and facts

The Palace of Westminster is one of the best-recognised buildings in the world, thanks to its ornate Gothic architecture. The palace was designed by 19th-century architect Sir Charles Barry. Today, it’s Grade I-listed and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discover our brief history of the Palace of Westminster, Elizabeth Tower and – of course – Big Ben!

The Great Fire

Fire has been one of the biggest threats to the palace during its lifetime. In 1834, the old Palace of Westminster was almost totally destroyed by the Great Fire. Some parts survived, including Westminster Hall and the Undercroft Chapel.

Starting again

It was decided the new Palace of Westminster should be built in either the Gothic or Elizabethan style, and a competition was held to find the architect. Charles Barry won with his plans for a new Gothic-Revival palace. Barry’s wife laid the first stone in 1840.

The building was designed to be used by Parliament; the Sovereign’s throne, the Lords Chamber and the Commons Chamber are laid out straight. At the same time, surviving parts of the original building were worked into the new structure. Barry also designed steep roofs and turrets, contributing to the palace’s unique role in London’s skyline today.

Stonework decay

The Palace of Westminster was initially built using sandy limestone from the Anston Quarry in Yorkshire. It was chosen for its low price, being easy to carve and transport in large blocks.

It didn’t take long for a problem to become apparent; the Yorkshire sandstone started to decay quickly due to pollution from burning coal in London. The decline was seen as early as 1849, but nothing was done during the 19th century.

In the 1920s, a large fragment of stone fell from Victoria Tower, and members of Parliament were advised to avoid sitting close to the walls. Something needed to be done, so a new stone was sourced. Clipsham stone, a honey limestone from Rutland, was chosen to replace the old Anston variety. Restoration started in the 1930s but was delayed by the War and finished almost three decades later.

Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben

Big Ben was installed in the Elizabeth Tower, at the north-eastern end of the palace, in 1859. It’s generally more famous than the two other towers: Victoria and Central.

The Elizabeth Tower is 96 metres tall and, as we know, is often called Big Ben after its largest bell. The iconic clock was designed by Augustus Pugin, who collaborated with Charles Barry on much of the palace’s design.

tables outside restaurant in london

Restaurants, bars and shops near Big Ben

Whether you fancy some lunch or a quick pint, there are plenty of places to stop for refreshment near Big Ben; you’re in Central London, after all. Or maybe you want to visit a couple of shops while you’re in the area. There are many nearby. Not to mention tube connections to some of London’s best shopping neighbourhoods.

Where to eat near Big Ben

One of the best places to eat after visiting Big Ben? The Red Lion pub on Parliament Street. This cosy Westminster pub is a stone’s throw from Big Ben, which means many politicians have enjoyed a drink under the elaborate ceiling. English classics make up the menu, including meat pies with potatoes and fish and chips.

More historic pubs in the area include the Westminster Arms and the Two Chairman.

You could also cross over the river and enjoy a delicious lunch, dinner, coffee or cocktail on the South Bank. This area is home to many of London’s best mid-range restaurants.

Shopping near Big Ben

There aren’t too many shops directly around Big Ben, but if you’re in the mood for browsing, don’t worry! The Palace of Westminster is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Covent Garden and Soho, two of the best shopping areas in the city.

You could also walk around half an hour west or hop on the Circle (yellow) or District (green) line to Chelsea. Hop off the tube at Sloane Square and explore; many boutique and independent shops are waiting to be discovered.

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster tours

You can tour the Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster, but you need to book tickets online first. Big Ben is a little different, with tours only available to British citizens when the tower is open.

Houses of Parliament

Palace of Westminster tours let visitors see inside the Houses of Parliament and learn about the building’s history. Book online, over the phone or by going to the ticket office.



Palace of Westminster Guided Tour

Palace of Westminster Multimedia Tour

Inside UK Parliament Guided Tour (UK residents only)





Young adults (16 to 18)




Children (5 to 15)


One free with each adult, or £19


Concessions (60+, students and UK armed forces)





Prices correct as of February 2022

Big Ben tours

Big Ben tours are free! But only UK residents over the age of 11 are allowed. Visitors also need to climb the 334 steps to the top of the Elizabeth Tower without assistance, which means those with heart conditions and in the later stages of pregnancy aren’t allowed.

If you fit all the criteria, you can apply by contacting your local MP or a member of the House of Lords to arrange a tour. They usually fill up months in advance, so you’ll need to plan ahead to visit the tower when you’re in London. There are usually three or four tours a day, depending on the season.

Taking the train to London?

You can easily reach London by train from within the UK, as well as other major European cities, thanks to the many high-speed rail connections available.

If you're already in the UK and heading into London, you can get from Edinburgh to London in 4h, from Manchester to London in 2h 3m, from Glasgow to London in 4h 28m and from Liverpool to London in m. Some of the most popular international routes include Paris to London (2h 17m), Brussels to London (2h 1m) and Amsterdam to London (4h 42m).

Need more information about travelling to London by train? Check out our dedicated page to trains to London.