Travelers to London simply can't visit the city without a glimpse of Big Ben, the iconic clock tower that stands at the east end of the Houses of Parliament. More than just an unmistakable postcard image, the historic monument has long served as a symbol of London, with its riverside location making it the striking centerpiece of the Thames waterfront.
The most exciting ways to see Big Ben are from a capsule on the nearby London Eye Ferris wheel or gliding by on a Thames River cruise, both of which offer magnificent views of the 315-foot (96-meter) clock tower and the Neo-Gothic Palace of Westminster, the home of the Houses of Parliament. The landmark can also be experienced at its most atmospheric on a night tour of London, when it's dramatically illuminated. In addition, holiday travelers can join the crowds to watch the city's legendary New Year's Eve fireworks, which take place right in front of Big Ben.
Those wanting to learn more about British politics, with its complex system of monarchs, lords and elected members of parliament, can arrange a tour of the Houses of Parliament or even watch a debate from the public galleries. Big Ben, however, is off-limits to everyone except UK residents, who still have to request permission from their local member of parliament to visit. For everyone else, the clock tower is best admired from afar.
Did You Know? Big Ben is actually the nickname of the bell inside the famous clock tower—the tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower, renamed in 2012 in honor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Before 2012, the official name was simply Clock Tower.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are located in Westminster on the north bank of London's River Thames. The nearest tube station is Westminster, reachable on the Circle, District and Jubilee lines. On foot, it's a short walk across the bridge from the London Eye. The public galleries of the Houses of Parliament are open to visitors when Parliament is in session, while guided tours run most Saturdays. Big Ben can be visited only by UK residents.