Organised tours take place every day for visitors keen to find out more about the rich history of this impressive London attraction, with millions of people making the trip to view this stunning structure each year.
Unique architecture and design
Located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben is actually the name of the great bell that resides in the Elizabeth Tower (formerly the Clock Tower), which first chimed in 1858.
Renamed in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for her 2012 Diamond Jubilee, the Elizabeth Tower was designed by Charles Barry as part of his ambitious plans for the reconstruction of the Palace of Westminster following a major blaze at this renowned London landmark in October 1834.
The second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world (beaten only by the Minneapolis City Hall clock tower in the US city), the Elizabeth Tower is 96 metres tall and contains almost 400 steps for those visitors eager enough to reach its top.
It resides opposite Westminster Bridge in the heart of the City of Westminster and features four ornately enameled clock faces, all designed by Augustus Pugin and measuring an impressive 23 ft in diameter.
This is just one of the many impressive statistics that visitors to the tower will learn about during their tour, with other interesting facts including how the minute hands of the clock tower are each 4.2 metres in length and weigh approximately 100 kg. Meanwhile, each clock dial contains 312 individual pieces of glass.
Famed for its reliability, the movement of the clock tower was designed by lawyer and amateur horologist Edmund Beckett Denison in partnership with astronomer royal George Airy. It is most definitely an impressive feat of engineering, as even after a bomb destroyed the House of Commons chamber during the Second World War, the clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours.
Construction of the timepiece was entrusted to clockmaker Edward John Dent; although his death in 1853 meant his stepson Frederick Dent was commissioned to complete the work the following year.
However, arguably the most important aspect of the tower is the Great Bell that chimes out across the City of Westminster and can be heard up to four miles away on a clear day.
Big Ben is the largest of tower’s bells – there are four other bells that chime the quarters of the hour – and weighs just over 13 tonnes. Cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1858, Big Ben is struck by a 200 kg hammer to deliver its deep E note when chiming the hours.
Often used to refer to the landmark in its entirety, the nickname for the Great Bell is believed to be in honour of engineer and politician Sir Benjamin Hall, although a rival theory states the name relates to the bell’s impressive size and is a reference to contemporary heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt.
Whatever the origin, Big Ben has become one of the most popular and important landmarks in the whole of London and continues to enthrall and attract visitors from across the globe, drawing them in their droves to the City of Westminster.
Travel options and other local attractions
Situated in the heart of the capital, the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben can be reached via a number of nearby London Underground stations. These include:
- Westminster (Circle, District and Jubilee lines)
- St James’s Park (Circle and District lines)
- Waterloo (Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern and Waterloo & City lines)
National rail services can also be reached at London Waterloo station, while local bus services run to this busy area of the capital throughout the day and night.
Anyone considering driving into the heart of the City of Westminster might like to make alternative plans, as this is one of the busiest parts of London, with millions of visitors every year.
It is not just Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower that bring the considerable number of visitors from across the globe to this bustling area of the London though, with other nearby attractions including the Palace of Westminster (home to the Houses of Parliament), as well as the Coca-Cola London Eye, the London Sea Life Aquarium and Westminster Bridge.