But since 2010, the only visitors who have been permitted to tour the landmark have been British citizens. For security's sake, a regulation required Big Ben tour-seekers to write their representatives in Parliament—and of course international visitors don't have any.
That's been particularly unfair for Americans because Big Ben is actually a cousin of Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. Although far apart in size and age, both were cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London. (Big Ben cracked, too, which wasn't uncommon for such big ringers—but it was repaired.)
Now, following a lengthy and thorough restoration that renewed Big Ben once again, visitors to London are ringing in a new era.
Big Ben tours have finally been made available to foreigners.
The guided tours will start in July. The U.K. Parliament, which will oversee the tours, describes the experience this way:
"On this tour, you will see the inner workings of the clock mechanism, stand next to the world-famous Big Ben bell as it strikes the hour, and step behind the dials each spanning 6.9m [22.6 ft.] in diameter. ... Visitors must be aged 11 and over and be comfortable climbing 334 steps unaided and able to sustain moderate physical exertion for up to 90 minutes. You will experience high noise levels from the clock mechanism and bells—ear defenders [ear plugs] will be provided."
Did you catch that? Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the building. That's actually named the Elizabeth Tower. Maybe knowing that tidbit will help you win your next pub quiz.
Admission for the tour is £25 (US$31.60) for adults and £10 ($12.64) for children ages 11–17. Admission includes a visit to Westminster Hall, the cavernous, millennium-old room where Queen Elizabeth II lay in state before her funeral.
The first batch of tickets, for July 3 to the end of September, went on sale this week at Parliament.UK. They are already sold out.
The next batch of tickets will go on sale at 10am London time on July 12. New tickets will be released at 10am London time on the second Wednesday of every month for the foreseeable future.