If you have a British passport, then you can be waitlisted by your local MP for the big, big, Big Ben climb. By Holiday Goddess Editors.

If you’re British,and have a London trip planned, then you’re in luck – if you are prepared to wait for your application for a tour to be approved, then you can climb all the way up and inside Big Ben. (Unfortunately access to overseas visitors is not available). To get your (flat) shoes on the very first step inside, though, you’ll first need to contact your local Member of Parliament, some months ahead, and obtain permission. Only 16 visitors are allowed up at a time and there is a long waiting list in peak seasons, so plan well ahead if you want to see the famous clock face from the inside.

The clock is famously reliable, though the weather may not be: if it rains (it did when Holiday Goddess Editors visited) the steps behind the large clock face can be quite wet – wear sensible shoes, as your grandmother would have said – this is not Manolo-friendly. Once inside though, you’ll find out all kinds of odd facts about the world’s most famous clock. Believe it or not, the time of the clock is adjusted with a small stack of old penny coins. They sit on top of the pendulum, and adding or removing just one penny is said to change the clock’s speed by a fraction of a second.

Climbing up the winding, stone staircases is hard work. You’re allowed to rest part of the way up, to explore a small museum, but otherwise you will have to be fit to take on Big Ben. Anyone with the slightest degree of vertigo may have to think twice about going. The view is spectacular but if you are terrified of heights, we think Big Ben is probably one of the most intimidating places to stand in the world!

During wartime, Big Ben’s bells have been silenced, and the clock faces darkened (during the Blitz, there was a fear that the illuminated clock face would be used as a guide by German pilots). Londoners rely on Big Ben to chime in the New Year, although in the 1960s snow and ice delayed the chimes by ten minutes. Extremely hot weather a few years ago also stopped the clock.

The bell is nicknamed Big Ben in honour of a heavyweight boxer of the day, Benjamin Caunt. At least, that’s one theory. It was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by a vast team of horses, whereupon it cracked and had to be replaced. Peering inside the tower, it’s hard to believe that men actually pulled this 13 ton monstrosity up nearly 200 feet. Some other trivia – if you happen to live in Westminster, then on New Year’s Eve you will hear Big Ben strike thirteen if you have the radio on as your ears detect the chimes from the real Ben, and the radio Ben. It’s something to do with the speed of sound, apparently.

So how does it feel to be up there? It’s a little bit like being in your own spy movie. It’s impossible not to think of Richard Hannay hanging from the clock face in The Thirty Nine Steps. ( Hannay was trying to stop a bomb by delaying the minute hand.) This great British icon has also been in a James Bond film (Thunderball) and of course, Doctor Who and The Avengers – and Captain Scarlet. It’s a heart-thudding experience, partly because climbing the 334 limestone stairs is like the biggest workout you will ever experience. Realising that you could trip and fall through the clock face at any point also made Holiday Goddess’s heart race! The guide kindly checks on everyone’s progress all the way up though; if you want to return to terra firma, just say the word and you will be helped by an escort.

There are three tours a day. Small children are not permitted. Don’t be late either – you’ll need to be smartly on time in the foyer of Portcullis House, nearby, to meet your guide. For more information (and a free Big Ben download for your computer, striking the hour), see Visit Big Ben.

About Holiday Goddess Editors

Holiday Goddess. Travel for Less.