Photo: Pajor Pawel/Shutterstock

You've Been Referring to Big Ben Wrong (and Other Things You Need to Know Before Visiting)

London Insider Guides Culture
by Morgane Croissant Feb 23, 2023

The most famous clock tower in the world and one of the most recognizable landmarks in London alongside Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben is a must-see for first-timers in the English capital. But while it looks like a simple clock tower, Big Ben has a long and fascinating history, and some features, that you probably never knew about.

Where is Big Ben located?

Big Ben from Westminster Bridge

Photo: Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock

Big Ben is located on the north bank of the river Thames, in the borough of Westminster in London. The borough of Westminster is also home to Buckingham Palace (only a 15-minute walk from the clock tower) and Westminster Abbey (a four-minute walk from the clock tower). Westminster is one of 32 boroughs that make up London.

More specifically, Big Ben is on the northern end of the Palace of Westminster, AKA The Houses of Parliament.

How to get to Big Ben

The easiest way to get to Big Ben is by taking the subway (AKA “the tube”). The Circle line, the District line, and the Jubilee line (depicted in yellow, green, and grey respectively on subway maps) will get you straight to the station Westminster. From the station, it is only a one-minute walk to the clock tower.

When was Big Ben built and why?

Big Ben clock in London

Photo: Pajor Pawel/Shutterstock

After the Palace of Westminster (AKA The Houses of Parliament) burnt down almost entirely in 1834, plans to build a new palace got underway quickly. Architect Charles Barry was selected to design the new building and his drawings included a clock tower. The construction of the new palace started in 1840 and the construction of the clock tower began three year later.

Designing and building a clock tower is one thing, but designing and constructing the most accurate clock in the world is another. In 1846 a competition for the best clock design was opened and the plans of Edmund Beckett Denison were chosen. In 1852, the year Queen Victoria inaugurated the new palace, Edward John Dent was hired to construct the clock, which his son, Frederick Dent, completed in 1854. The clock ticked for the first time inside the tower in 1859. At the time, the clock was said to be the most accurate one in the world.

While Big Ben is relatively recent, it is believed, that there has been a clock tower on the site since the late 13th century.

Why is Big Ben called Big Ben?

Big Ben is not the name of the clock tower, it is the name of the 15.1-ton bell inside the tower that chimes every hour. It is believed, but remains unproven, that Sir Benjamin Hall, who was involved in the construction of the new palace and the clock tower, inspired the nickname.

Since Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the official name of the clock tower is the Elizabeth Tower. Prior to 2012, the name of the tower was known as St. Stephen’s Tower.

How tall is Big Ben?

Big Ben, or as it is officially known, the Elizabeth Tower, is 315-foot tall.

When does Big Ben chime?

The Great Bell, AKA Big Ben, chimes every hour. Four quarter bells chime every 15 minutes.

Big Ben in numbers

  • The clock tower is the same height as 21 London buses piled on top of each other, i.e. 315 feet.
  • There are 292 steps to get to the dial and 334 steps to get to the belfry where the Great Bell is kept.
  • The clock has four dials, each with a 23-foot diameter. At night, the four dials are illuminated.
  • From 1939 to 1945, the four dials of the clock were kept dark to comply with the Blackout regulations imposed during the war.
  • The hands on the clocks are incredibly long and heavy. The minute hands are 13.7-foot long and weigh over 220 pounds. The hour hands are 8.8-foot long and weigh over 661 pounds.

Is Big Ben under construction?

Big Ben covered in Scaffolding

Photo: ako photography/Shutterstock

Is 2017, extensive conservation work started on the clock tower and the clock itself. For almost five years, until May 2022, the tower and the clock dials were covered in scaffolding. During the work, the chiming of the bells stopped; they resumed in November 2022. At time of writing, conservation work is ongoing inside the clock tower.

Can you go inside Big Ben?

Those who wish to go inside Big Ben can do so on a 90-minute guided tour that will take them all the way to the belfry, where the bells of the clock tower are located. The guided tour requires some level of physical fitness since there are 334 steps to climb up a narrow spiral staircase to get to the top. Tours of Big Ben fill very fast (often weeks in advance), so make sure to book your ticket online as early as possible. Tickets for the tour cost $31.85 (£25) for adults and $12.75 (£10) for children aged 11 to 17. Children under the age of 11 cannot take part in the tour.

Where to stay in London to be near Big Ben

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend in London! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

London Marriott Hotel County Hall


See more photos

Only a five-minute walk across the river Thames via Westminster Bridge to reach Big Ben, the London Marriott Hotel County Hall is a historic five-star property that has views on some of the most iconic London landmarks. Request a room with a river view to see the best of London’s skyline, including the London Eye. Being a five-star property, the London Marriott Hotel County Hall has a large indoor pool, a gym with fitness classes and personal trainers, and a restaurant, Gillrays Steakhouse & Bar, overlooking the Thames.

Book Now

Great Scotland Yard Hotel


See more photos

This five-star hotel, just a nine-minute walk to Big Ben, is housed in a 1820s building. Inside, the decor is a mix of traditional and modern features, with heavily decorated and very atmospheric common areas contrasting with elegant, subdued rooms and suites. Being a luxury property, the Great Scotland Yard Hotel has all the bells and whistles you’d expect: a Michelin-starred chef, a hidden whisky bar, an afternoon tea lounge, and a fitness centre.

Book Now

Conrad London St James


See more photos

The Conrad London St James is a luxury hotel located in a 19th-century building in the heart of London. Only a 10-minute walk to Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, and just a four-minute walk to Westminster Abbey, this property is ideal for those who want to get to know London on foot. There are dining and drinking options on site with the Pem restaurant where you can try out British fare, the Meantime Brewery for beer, the Blue Boar pub for wine and gin, the Hedgerow for cocktails, and the Orchard room for afternoon tea. The decor at this hotel is contemporary and elegant, and there is a fitness center for those who like to hit the gym, even while on vacation.

Book Now

Discover Matador