Big Ben in London

The Houses of Parliament's iconic clock tower is one of London's most famous landmarks.
British Union flag in front of the clock face of Big Ben in London on a sunny day
Clocks in the London, including Big Ben, change twice a year. © / Jon Reid.

The history of Big Ben

Find out about the history of Big Ben, the origins of its nickname and more with Visit London.

What is Big Ben?

The Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower, commonly called Big Ben, are among London's most iconic landmarks and must-see London attractions. Technically, Big Ben is the name given to the massive bell inside the clock tower, which weighs more than 13 tons (13,760 kg). The clock tower looks spectacular at night when the four clock faces are illuminated.

Two red London buses pass in front of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on a sunny day.

Who designed and made Big Ben?

Big Ben was designed by Edmund Beckett Denison and Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal, and was constructed by Edward John Dent and Frederick Dent.

When was Big Ben built?

The Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834. In 1844, it was decided the new buildings for the Houses of Parliament should include a tower and a clock. 

A massive bell was required and the first attempt (made by John Warner & Sons at Stockton-on-Tees) cracked irreparably. The metal was melted down and the bell recast in Whitechapel in 1858.

Big Ben first rang across Westminster on 31 May 1859. A short time later, in September 1859, Big Ben cracked. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer. This is the bell as we hear it today.

Fun facts about Big Ben

  • Each dial is seven metres in diameter.
  • The minute hands are 4.2 metres long (14ft) and weigh about 100kg (220lbs, including counterweights).
  • The numbers are approximately 60cm (23in) long.
  • There are 312 pieces of glass in each clock dial.
  • A special light above the clock faces is illuminated when parliament is in session.
  • Big Ben's timekeeping is strictly regulated by a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum. 
  • Big Ben has rarely stopped. Even after a bomb destroyed the Commons chamber during the Second World War, the clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours.
  • The chimes of Big Ben were first broadcast by the BBC on 31 December 1923, a tradition that continues to this day.
  • The latin words under the clock face read DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM, which means "O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First"
  • In June 2012 the House of Commons announced that the clock tower was to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.  

How tall is Big Ben?

The clock faces of Big Ben on a sunny day

Elizabeth Tower stands at more than 96 metres (105yrds) tall, with 334 steps to climb up to the belfry and 399 steps to the Ayrton Light at the very top of the tower.

Where is Big Ben?

Big Ben is found in the Elizabeth Tower at the north end of The Houses of Parliament in Westminster, Central London, next to the river Thames.

There are several London bus routes that go past the tower, and Westminster Tube station is directly across the road, serviced by the Jubilee, District and Circle lines. Westminster pier is next to the tower and is served by a number of river bus travel options.

Why is Big Ben called Big Ben?

The origin of the name Big Ben is not known, although two different theories exist.

  • The first is that it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works, a large man who was known affectionately in the house as "Big Ben".
  • The second theory is that it was named after a heavyweight boxing champion at that time, Benjamin Caunt. Also known as "Big Ben", this nickname was commonly bestowed in society to anything that was the heaviest in its class.

Big Ben chimes

Ever wanted to hear what Big Ben sounds like at midday?

Can you go inside Big Ben?

Big Ben is one of London's top attractions. You can visit Big Ben and go inside by booking a 90-minute guided tour that takes visitors up 334 stairs to see the clock mechanism room, behind the four clock dials and the Belfry, where the famous bell is located. Tours can be booked by visiting the official UK Parliament website.

You can take a tour of the Houses of Parliament next to The Elizabeth Tower. Alternatively, watch this behind-the-scenes video of Big Ben in action.

Big Ben and Elizabeth Tower refurbishment work

The five-year restoration project on the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben was completed in August 2022. The extensive work included restoring the clock face to its original Victorian style and the iconic dials to their original Prussian blue colour. Other works included installing energy efficient LEDs behind the clock face and replacing 700 defected masonry stone pieces.

What is the closest Tube station to Big Ben?

The closest Tube station is Westminster (District, Circle and Jubilee lines), which is around a two-minute walk away.

Various bus routes stop close to the Houses of Parliament.

There are Santander Cycles docking stations nearby in Smith Square and Abingdon Green.

Ticked off Big Ben and ready to explore some more? Check out the other must-see London attractions and the best things to do in London, from where to eat and shop to the best musicals in London to round off a day in the capital in style!