Elizabeth Tower, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, is a fitting reminder of her long reign. The clock tower that houses Big Ben wasn’t always called Elizabeth Tower. It received the name in spring 2012 upon the auspicious occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The second English monarch to reach 60 years on the throne (after Victoria), Elizabeth received a warm welcome during the official celebration of her long rule. It wasn’t long after that the British parliament decided to give the official name to Big Ben’s home. The west tower was already named after Victoria, so it seemed like a natural choice to name the other after another beloved monarch.
Elizabeth Tower London
Many mistakenly think that entire clock tower is named Big Ben, but that’s the name of the bell. Together, the bell and tower mark one of the most famous buildings in Europe. The neo-Gothic structure lies at the northern end of the Palace of Westminster, all overlooking the River Thames. The building, standing since 1859, has become a symbol of London and England as a whole. Artist Claude Monet captured the scene in one of his iconic paintings, and hardly a movie set in London goes by that doesn’t include a view of the parliament building with the London Eye in the distance.
The name Elizabeth Tower may be new, but the building has a deep history. Nestled in the Westminster borough, the tower and its famous clock are close to the prime minister’s seat of government on Downing Street and the grand Westminster Abbey. While the building is relatively new for London, this location long has had connections with British government. A royal residence once stood on the site, built in the 11th century. The royals ruled from Westminster for centuries until a fire changed their course and moved their seat of power. Parliament has met here since the 1200s; their originial buildings, too, were burned a few decades before the current building was under construction.
Because of its singular history and importance to England, the entire building, including Elizabeth Tower, Victoria Tower and Big Ben, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNSECO. With its iconic status, it’s no surprise that many people include a visit in their London tours. Visitors have a variety of ways to explore, everything from taking a few photos outside to detailed guided tours. Residents of the UK must arrange a visit through their member of parliament or their Representative in the House of Lords and need to pass through security before the tour. Americans and other overseas visitors can purchase tickets for Saturday tours, and additional tours are available during the summer. Unfortunately, they’re not eligible to climb to the top of Big Ben. Only British citizens can book tours to the top of Elizabeth Tower.
Along with the guided tours, there are several more ways to connect with this historic landmark no matter where you call home. Visitors are welcome to watch select debates and committee meetings. Even if politics aren’t your thing, it’s still fascinating to see the government at work. All visitors should begin in the Cromwell Visitor Center, which is easy to reach from public transportation. The Circle, Jubilee and District lines all reach Westminster Station by rail, and Victoria Tower also on several bus routes. If you’re planning on walking, the building is easily accessible by the Waterloo and Westminster bridges. Both of these are wheelchair-accessible as is the visitor center and much of the parliament building.