It’s going to be awfully quiet in Westminster for the next four years. Big Ben’s famous chimes will sound for the last time at noon on August 21, before they fall silent until 2021—ending 157 years of almost continuous timekeeping.
Although the bell will still ring for important national events, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday, visitors will no longer be able to hear the iconic note of E natural at the top of the hour, and the four quarter bells that ding every 15 minutes.
The reason? Repairs. “This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock on a long term basis, as well as protecting and preserving its home – the Elizabeth Tower,” explained Steve Jaggs, keeper of the Great Clock.
During the restoration, the clock will be dismantled piece by piece to allow each cog to be examined and repaired. The four dials will also be cleaned, the glass refurbished, the cast iron framework renewed, and the hands will be removed and refreshed.
But rest assured, while Big Ben is getting some much-needed TLC, there are plenty of other nearby attractions to check out (and bonus, many of them are FREE). Here are some of our favorites:
Sit in the Public Galleries at the Houses of Parliament
The clock tower that houses Big Ben is attached to the Houses of Parliament – and visitors are welcome! Whenever either the House of Commons or House of Lords are in session, it’s free for the public to go inside and sit in the public galleries.
Attend a service at Westminster Abbey
On Sundays, Westminster Abbey is open for services, and members of the public can worship free of charge. See the spot where British monarchs have been crowned for centuries, and more recently, where Will and Kate exchanged their heartfelt vows. To explore more of the church and visit the monuments, group tours are available on Mondays through Saturdays.
Stroll along the Westminster Bridge
For incredible views in every direction, walk along the Westminster Bridge and admire Parliament, Whitehall, the Strand, South Bank, and the London Eye, while taking in all the sounds and smells that make London so unique.
Check out the Churchill War Rooms
History buffs will surely get a thrill out of visiting the underground bunker where Winston Churchill worked – and occasionally lived – during World War II. Here, guests will get a glimpse into what life would have been like during the tense days of combat, including a visit to the Map Room, which has remained exactly as it was left on the day the lights were switched off in 1945.
See the Household Cavalry Museum
Watch troopers working with their horses in the original 18th century stables (via a glazed partition) and hear accounts of their demanding training at this living museum. For an extra special treat, time your visit to coincide with the Changing of the Queen's Life Guard, which takes place daily on Horse Guards Parade at 11 AM.