Since first sounding in 1859, Big Ben has been one of the most treasured symbols of Britain.
Nothing lets you know you’re in London more than the sight of Big Ben. This iconic clock tower is used in many well-known British films such as Bridget Jones’ Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually to set the scene of the action. Positioned on the bank of the River Thames, you’ll get the best view of it if you walk along the South bank of the river or cross over Westminster Bridge, heading toward the Houses of Parliament.
Although this magnificent clock tower is usually referred to as Big Ben, this is actually the nickname of the largest of the clock’s bells, the one that chimes on the hour – an unmistakable deep sound that resonates across the city.
The tower itself, previously named the Clock Tower, was designated as Elizabeth Tower in June 2012, in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. This, however, has not stopped the popular tradition of referring to it simply as Big Ben.
The construction of the classic Gothic Revivalist-style tower was completed in 1858 and it forms part of the Palace of Westminster, re-built on the site following destruction of the previous structure by a fire in 1834.
At 96 metres high, Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the British Isles. Each face is seven metres in diameter and consists of 312 pieces of opal glass held in an iron framework. The hour and minute hands are 2.7 and 4.3 metres long respectively. At sunset, the four clock faces are lit up so that they are visible across the city. Originally lit by gas-lamps, now replaced by electric lights installed behind each of the translucent clock faces, Big Ben appears to glow from within.
Despite being a world-famous tourist attraction, only British citizens are able to gain access to Big Ben, by scheduling a tour via their member of parliament. However, the thrill you’ll get when first set eyes on this magnificent building, and on hearing its majestic chime more than makes up for this.
Big Ben is located in central London, North of the River Thames. The nearest Underground station is Waterloo.