When tourists travel to our beloved capital, one of the first things that they (understandably) want to do is see Big Ben.

Arguably the most distinctive part of London’s skyline, Big Ben is a huge part of the city’s history. In this article, discover 10 fun facts about Big Ben and find out how to get to Big Ben with Uber Boat by Thames Clippers.

Big Ben Trees

#1 – Big Ben is a nickname

Although most people know this iconic landmark as Big Ben, this is actually the name of the bell in the tower – which weighs a whopping 13.7 tonnes! There are a lot of theories about where this name came from; one of them being that the bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the Chief Commissioner of Works, who was affectionately known as ‘Big Ben’.   

The tower itself was previously known as ‘The Clock Tower’, but in 2012 it was renamed Elizabeth Tower to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

#2 – The clock face is made from hundreds of individual pieces of glass

Every clock face is intricately made up of 324 pieces of pot opal glass, all held together with a cast iron frame. With four clockfaces on the tower, that’s a staggering 1,292 individual pieces of glass in total!

#3 – Big Ben was built 164 years ago

The Palace of Westminster was destroyed in a catastrophic fire in 1834 and parliament decided that they would build a new clock tower as part of the restoration works. They started building the tower in 1843 and finished in 1859, making the tower more than 160 years old.

#4 – It’s really tall

Elizabeth Tower is an astonishing 96 metres (just under 315ft) tall – that’s equivalent to 21 London buses stacked on top of each other!

#5 – Big Ben isn’t the only bell in the tower

Believe it or not, there are four smaller bells (known as quarter bells) alongside Big Ben, that are all played together to make its quintessential chime.

Each bell makes a different musical note:

  • The first quarter bell plays a G
  • The second quarter bell plays a F#
  • Big Ben and the third quarter bell both play an E
  • The fourth quarter bell plays a B

Big Ben itself chimes every hour alongside the quarter bells, and the quarter bells chime by themselves every 15 minutes.

Parliament Big Ben Bell Old

Photo courtesy of UK Parliament

Parliament Big Ben Hand

Photo courtesy of UK Parliament

#6 – It has GIANT hour and minute hands

The minute hands on the tower’s clock faces are a staggering 14ft long. To put that into context, that’s equivalent to the height of an adult female giraffe! The hour hands are just under 9ft long, and, sticking with the animal analogy, that’s roughly the same size as an ostrich!

#7 – The Ayrton light

The Elizabeth Tower has something called an Ayrton Light, which is essentially a giant lantern that lights up the clock faces when parliament is in session.

#8 – The bells don’t swing

You may think that the bells inside the Elizabeth Tower swing to make sound, but they’re actually fixed into place and struck from the outside by hammers.

#9 – It has survived a lot in its time

Big Ben has lived through many historical events but has always stood strong. The Commons Chamber was destroyed by German bombs in WWII, but the Elizabeth Tower suffered minimal damage and Big Ben never stopped chiming!

#10 – You can climb up the Elizabeth Tower

If you fancy a challenge, you can climb up Elizabeth Tower to get a unique look at the inside mechanisms and Big Ben itself – but it’s no mean feat! You’ll have to climb 292 steps to get to the clock faces, 42 more steps to where Big Ben hangs and a further 65 steps to get to the Ayrton light – that’s a total of 399 steps!

After 5 years of restoration works, the Elizabeth Tower is expected to re-open to the public in 2023.

Big Ben Night 2

How to get to Big Ben

If you’re planning to visit Big Ben, why not travel in style and meander along the river Thames? It’s just a short walk from Westminster Pier. Travel with Uber Boat by Thames Clippers, you’ll get to see the London skyline up close and experience Big Ben in all its glory from the iconic river Thames.

So, what are you waiting for? Plan your trip today!

Plan your journey