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Big Ben & Houses of Parliament - formally known as the Palace of Westminster - is one of the most iconic and popular destinations for London explorers. A world heritage site as well as one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, a visit to this impressive icon is a must on any London vacation itinerary.
The Palace of Westminster dates back to 1097, when it was initially built by King William II, (although stories persist that there are still remnants of a Roman temple underneath the palace foundation.) Known as the oldest ceremonial hall in Britain for centuries, the current Gothic structure that sits on the edge of the Thames was re-built in 1854, and today, the massive site serves as the meeting place of the two houses of Parliament, and is the center of British government.
Big Ben is arguably the most famed feature of the Palace of Westminster, and was built in 1859. Renowned as one of the largest and most accurate four-faced clocks in the world, Big Ben originated as one of the most famous symbols of the United Kingdom, and has retained that reputation for more than 150 years.
The Palace of Westminster’s primary gothic structure – the home to the Houses of Parliament - boasts more than 1,100 rooms, 11 courtyards, and well over 100 staircases. In addition to the main palace, the Houses of Parliament also boasts a number of historic elements and aspects, including the Jewel Tower, which was built by Edward III in 1366, and Westminster Hall, which is an original facet of the initial 1097 construction.
Big Ben Tower, which was formally renamed as Elizabeth Tower in 2012, features an 8’ 8” diameter bell that stands 7’ 2” tall and which weighs 13.7 tons. The clock itself weighs about 5 tons, with the hands extending 9’ ft. and 14’ ft. long, respectively. Towering 315 ft. over the central London landscape, Big Ben is still known as one of the most steadfast and reliable clocks in the world, with only minor interruptions in its more than 150 years of service due to world wars or - less dramatically - scheduled repairs.
Visitors can tour the interior of Houses of Parliament all year round (except for holidays) via a guided or an audio tour. Guided tours in English start every 15-20 minute or so from 9 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. all day long. Guided tours in other languages, including Spanish, French, Italian and German, are also offered daily at set times, and every tour runs about 75 minutes.
Tickets are available online before a visit, or can be picked up at the Ticket Office on Victoria Embankment in front of the Portcullis House, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and on Saturdays from roughly 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
One of the great aspects about Big Ben and Houses of Parliament is that the sprawling site just a stone's throw from a cluster of favorite London attractions including Westminster Abbey and St. James Park, and the London Eye and Sea Life Aquarium, which are located just across the Thames. Be sure and plan a little time to take a stroll across the famous Westminster Bridge, where brilliant photos of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye can be captured.
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are located on the edge of the Thames in the heart of central London.
The closest station to Big Ben and Parliament is Westminster, which can be reached via the Circle (yellow) and District (green) lines.
Additional tube stops that are in the area include Embankment (Circle and District line), Waterloo Underground and Lambeth North (which are both located on the Northern or black line)
With centuries of history and a stately presence in the heart of the action, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben earn the reputation as being one of London’s most legendary sites. Take a stroll along Westminster Bridge or tour the interior for an in-depth perspective, and discover one of the city’s most inspiring destinations.