Big Ben and the Queen Elizabeth Clocktower stand majestically above the River Thames. They're among Britain's most iconic tourist attractions; every year, millions take snapshots of the tower and take tours in and around it. The rich history of Big Ben and the beautiful area surrounding it makes for a must-go destination during any visit to England.
Many travel destinations are especially suitable for one time of year or another. London has a mild, temperate climate with intermittent rainfall year-round, but the weather is relatively warm and dry during two periods. The first season is late March to early June, and the second is from September to November. Additionally, massive crowds gather to watch the final yearly countdown at midnight on New Year's Eve. Many regard these periods as the best occasions to visit Big Ben, but that also means they're the busiest times of the year.
The day of the week and time of day are important considerations for your visit, too. For instance, weekdays are much less busy than the weekend. Additionally, visitors to Big Ben peak around noon every day. By heading out in the morning or evening, you can dodge the largest crowds.
In addition to the tours of the outside of the tower, it's possible to enter the clock tower. Once inside, you can take a free, timed tour and see the old bell. Depending on your timing, you might even be able to observe a House of Commons meeting. While anyone may enter the Houses of Parliament, entering the clocktower is a privilege reserved for UK residents. However, this includes some students and those staying on a longer visa in addition to citizens.
Visiting during the night or the daytime makes for two distinct experiences that are both worth having. When you visit during the day, you can see the full detail of the clock tower structure. At night, the tower lights up makes for a stark, haunting sight above the River Thames. While visiting Big Ben during the day or the night makes for a different view, both are beautiful, impressive, and patently Instagrammable.
London is well-served by a strong transit network. The metro offers a fairly quick trip to the Westminster station, which is only four minutes away. Eight different bus routes are viable; 12, 148, 717, 793, 7, 87, and 88 all stop within a minute's walk from Big Ben. Drivers will enjoy access to underground parking right across the street from the Houses of Parliament. Overall, Big Ben is a highly accessible destination, whether you prefer to take transit, a taxi, or drive.
Big Ben has been slated for a large refurbishment project from 2017 to 2021. For the duration of this period, the chiming of the bell is generally silent for the first time in over a century. However, the bell is scheduled to chime on special occasions throughout this period. To hear Big Ben ring out over London during a 2020 trip, you'll need to schedule it for one of several important holidays. For instance, Remembrance Day on November 11th, or the winter holiday celebrations from 9:00 on the 23rd of December through to New Years Day.
Big Ben is one incredible attraction surrounded by many. Westminster is one of the most famous, historic areas of London. During your trip to Big Ben, you should plan to visit the other destinations and enjoy the other experiences there. A scenic Thames River cruise makes for a blissful, relaxed afternoon during the warmer months of the year, and travelers may observe a service at the famous Westminster Abbey. There are countless museums and dedications to British history nearby to visit, such as the Churchill War Rooms.
You can easily find an excellent cafe, restaurant, or food cart in the area of Big Ben. Roux at Parliament Square provides a top-notch fine dining experience, and Quilon offers some of London's best Indian cuisine. The Nero Cafe is a beloved destination to pick up some tea or a cup of coffee, and there are dozens of street food joints in the area around Big Ben. From Mexican food at the Santana Grill to Chinese at Baozi Street Food, there's no end to the variety of international eating available. Whether you're looking to sit down or grab something to eat on a stroll down the Thames, you can enjoy world-class options without going out of your way.
While charting your own trip through Westminster can be rewarding, you can make the planning easier by taking a tour. A number of proven tour companies offer guided tours along carefully crafted routes. Many such tours dedicate time to Big Ben or even focus entirely on Big Ben. Depending on your preferred style of tour, you can explore on foot, or you can catch a ride in the iconic double-deck buses of London.
Finding the right accommodations is an important part of any good trip. The London Marriott Hotel and Park Plaza Westminster Bridge are a pair of highly regarded hotels within easy walking distance from Big Ben. For a more sociable travel experience, you can mingle with fellow travelers at several nearby hostels. The London Waterloo Hostel is a popular choice that's fairly close to Big Ben, as is The Walrus Bar and Hostel.