Famous Clocks of Europe from Modern to Medieval

By Michelle Yastremsky

Some clocks don’t just count the minutes and hours, they turn each new hour into a celebration of the passing of time and tell stories from the changing of the seasons to the astronomical signs at large.

From London’s Big Ben to the Prague Orloj, here are 10 stunning and famous clocks in Europe worth taking the time to visit.

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Ankeruhr • Vienna, Austria

Art Nouveau masterpiece from the early 1900s.

Every day at noon, visitors to Hoher Markt may be lucky enough to catch a special mechanical performance unfold right in front of their eyes. This unusual clock not only marks the passing of time, but also features a collection of copper figures representing popular historical personalities; during the main showtime at noon these characters parade around the clock for a must-see spectacle.

Prague Orloj • Prague, Czech Republic

The oldest functioning clock of its kind.

Legend has it that a councilman from Prague had the designer of this piece blinded after the clock’s completion to prevent him from building anything quite like it ever again. Whether or not this story is actually true, it’s clear that the Astronomical clock located in Prague’s Old Town Square is unlike any other in the world.

Rathaus Glockenspeil • Munich, Germany

Watch the life-sized knights perform!

In addition to telling time, this unique clock tower in Bavaria’s capital retells several stories in Munich’s capital, from the wedding of Duke Wilhelm V (founder of Munich’s first brewery) to the traditional dances that have become a cultural staple. The life-sized figures put on a show two or three times a day depending on the season; 11AM and noon year-round, and an additional celebration at 5PM.

The Zytglogge Tower • Bern, Switzerland

Clocks, prisons and paintings in one!

The 15th-century astronomical clock of Bern was added to its already existing medieval tower which already served as a prison, guard tower, center of urban life and memorial! In addition to the time-telling capabilities, visitors will be treated to a stunning fresco depicting Adam and Eve’s eviction from Paradise.

Strasbourg Astronomical Clock • Strasbourg, France

One of the oldest preserved automaton in the world.

The current version of the clock, located in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg, is actually the third version set in place. It includes a calendar, planetary dial and a display of the positions of the sun and moon as well as different solar and lunar eclipses.

Big Ben • London, England

The second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world.

Though one of the only clocks on this list that solely tell time, Big Ben has become one of the most recognizable and iconic landmarks to decorate the London skyline. Parts of the tower are due for a renovation come 2017, so pay a visit before the chiming comes to a pause!

La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin • Blois, France

A mechanical dragon clock!

Every hour on the hour, passersbys of this unassuming building in Blois are treated to a show that’s truly larger than life. For about five minutes, the dragons guarding the building emerge from outside the windows for a surreal spectacle they won’t soon forget.

Horologium mirabile Lundense • Lund, Sweden

Lund Cathedral’s astronomical clock, hidden away for almost a century.

First constructed in 1380, this treasure was stuffed into storage in 1837 and remained there until 1923. The board of the clock is currently only set up for the years 1923-2123, which means it will once again beg for an overhaul.

Torre dell'Orologio • Venice, Italy

Also known as St. Mark’s Clock.

Visible from the waters of the Venice lagoon, this clock tower displays the time of day, dominant zodiac sign and the current phase of the moon. It is Venice’s official time keeper, setting the standard to which all other clocks should be set.

Zimmertoren (Zimmer Tower) • Lier, Belgium

Also known as the Cornelius Tower.

Whether you want to know the time of day, the season of the year, the age of the moon, the dominant zodiac sign or even the position of the tides, this clock has it all. You can even track the metonic cycle and the epact; the hand on this dial revolves only once every 19 years!

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