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Secret London: Big Ben from the inside.

by Rajul on October 30, 2009

Big Ben is one of London's primary landmarks, but have you ever wondered what it's like to venture inside it?

Big Ben is one of London's primary landmarks, but have you ever wondered what it's like to go inside the clock tower?

Many people photograph London’s most famous clock tower, but not many know it’s possible to visit Big Ben for free and get a peek inside.

This guest post was contributed by Mike Gerrard and is literally an “inside view” of the world’s most famous clock tower (only possible for a UK resident if you write to your local Member of Parliament):

“If you’ve ever taken a photo of Big Ben on a weekday at noon, by the bell at the top of the tower would have been a group of visitors, some with fingers in their ears.  And one day not long ago, I was one of them.

When I heard that you could visit Big Ben, I immediately wrote to my local MP to get an invitation.  Unfortunately, the Big Ben tour is only currently available to UK residents (details here).

After you’ve written, your MP will pass your details to the right department, who will contact you to arrange a tour.

Big Ben is of course the name of the bell and not the tower.  Although the tower was completed as recently as 1859, no-one knows for sure who Big Ben was, though there are plenty of theories.

Climbing the tower takes you to the museum, once a prison cell for misbehaving MPs (sadly not used since the 1880s!).

Further up you walk right behind the gigantic clock faces (much bigger than they appear from street level) and learn about the problems of pigeons perching on the hands at quarter to and quarter past the hour.

You see how its accurate timing is controlled by the weight of a few old coins.  Your guide will ensure you’re right by Big Ben as the clock strikes.

You don’t need ear plugs but the sound is so loud you’re asked not to stand near the walls (many will move their head back when it strikes).

They don’t want you to get knocked out as it’s hard to get a stretcher up 334 steps!

You’ll need to plan ahead to book a Big Ben tour.  Space is limited to 16 people per tour with only three or four tours a day, Monday to Friday.

You will usually need to give them at least 3 months notice and children under 11 are not admitted.  Tours are free and you should try to get onto the 11.30am tour and be at the top for the noon chime.

Get more information from the Houses of Parliament website.”

Mike Gerrard is the UK and Ireland Travel Feature Writer at Suite101.com.

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