The Tower of London, the name deceives you if you take it at face value based upon its modern appearance. Today, The Tower of London is much more than a tower, it’s actually the oldest castle, fortress, and prison in London. Intrigued by the colorful history of death and imprisonment, the Tower draws visitors from all over the world! The Tower of London is packed with things to see and can get a little overwhelming if you aren’t careful. To help you out, I have put together this post to ensure you don’t miss any of the good stuff. LOL!
Getting to The Tower of London
The Tower of London is easily accessible by bus, train, or car. The nearest underground station is Tower Hill accessible from the District and Circle Lines. Overground, you can get off at Fenchurch Street and have a short 5-minute walk to the Tower, or take bus 15, 42, 78, 100, or RV1.
If you’re just visiting for a few days and want convenience, consider taking a Hop-on, Hop-off bus. These tours are a great way to get the layout of the city, and they always stop at all of the major attractions. Marty and I had fun on the BigBus Tour through London, and it dropped us right at the corner of The Tower of London!
Hours: The Tower of London is open Tuesday -Saturday from 9:00-17:30, and Sun-Mon 10:00-17:30 March-October. The tower closes one hour earlier Nov-Feb.
Tickets: At the time of this posting, tickets were 25 pounds/person, or 63 pounds/family (includes 2 adults, plus up to 3 kids age 5-15). Visit the Tower’s website to verify current ticket prices. When buying your ticket, they are going to include a voluntary donation onto the price noted above, just politely tell them that you do not want to do they voluntary donation if you are not comfortable paying it. Avoid the lines by buying your tickets at the Trader’s Gate gift shop, located down the steps from the Tower Hill Tube stop. You can also buy tickets online or by phone and pick them up at the group ticket office.
History in a Nutshell
I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of historical facts, just the basics to help bring the Tower to life for you a little. The original tower, now called The White Tower, was constructed in 1078 by William the Conqueror and later completed by his sons, William Rufus and Henry I. The White Tower is awesome with its 15-foot thick walls that stand 90-feet high, now that’s some protection!
The Tower is now a complex made up of many towers surrounded by protective walls and has served many purposes over the years. Through history, it has been a prison, a palace, a library, a treasury, a bank, an observatory, and an arsenal. It was also here that Sir Walter Raleigh became a prisoner. Numerous beheadings and executions have also taken place on the Tower grounds including William Hastings, Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine Howard, Jane Boleyn, and Lady Jane Grey to name a few. This sorted past gives the Tower intrigue and mystery drawing countless visitors each year.
Navigating the Grounds
Entering the Tower
After purchasing tickets, everyone must enter through the same area. Look just down the hill from the ticket office and you will see the queueing area just outside the drawbridge. Wait in line, show your ticket, grab a free map if you haven’t already, and then take off! I really loved walking over the drawbridge and seeing the old moat down below. Of course, today there isn’t water in the moat, it’s a beautiful green grassy area which we will discuss later on. This is where you will meet for the Beefeater tour, also discussed later.
The Crown Jewels
I recommend getting to The Tower of London right when they open, check hours on their official website here. Once you are in the gates, head immediately toward the Jewel House, where the Crown Jewel display. This way you can beat most of the other people and have a much shorter wait. This is exactly what Marty and I did on our visit, and we only waited about 10 minutes, just some of the interior queue had built up. Later in the day when we walked by, the queue was outside wrapped around and around, I can only imagine how long they waited.
The Crown Jewels are absolutely stunning and are truly indescribable. Here you will see a large collection of everything that is used during a coronation ceremony, even the eating utensils. Gaze in awe at the 530-carat diamond, the “Great Star of Africa” that is in the Sovereign’s Sceptre. I honestly don’t know how Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was able to hold up that crown containing the beautiful “Mountain of Light” or the 2,800 other diamonds in her crown. I think my neck would snap!
Be ready for them to watch your every move in here, so be on your best behavior. The jewels are under armed guard at all times, and the massive vault doors that weigh over 4,400 pounds are sure to keep anyone out. No photos are allowed inside, so I don’t have any of Marty’s amazing pictures to show you, but trust me, the Jewel House is so worth your time.
Yeoman Warder Tour
Check your program for times of the Yeoman Warder Tour, also known as the “Beefeaters”, and make sure to be there for the tour. This tour makes a huge difference on the overall visit, as you get to hear history from the men who have been standing guard over this fortress for years. If you are thinking of applying for the job of Yeoman Warder, you need to have some serious qualifications. In order to be a Yeoman Warder, you must have served honorably in the armed forces for at least 22 years before even being considered for the job!
The tour occurs every 30 minutes and can get very crowded. Despite the crowds, the Yeoman do a great job of ensuring you can hear as they generally have loud, booming voices. The hour-long tour will teach you about the intriguing history of the Tower including the people who were imprisoned, tortured, and executed here. They will delight and disgust you with their humor and gruesome stories. They will let you know that the grass is so green in the moat area because of it gets fertilized by all the carcasses, rats, poo, and plague victims that used to be here. The Beefeaters will entertain the kids with stories of the zoo animals that once roamed these grounds, and they will intrigue history lovers with true stories from behind the walls of the Tower.
Head inside the White Tower
The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower of London. When built, it was a symbol of power as it was the tallest building in London. When first erected, the White Tower was a safe refuge. It didn’t have as many windows, and the stairs used to get in, and the ones you see once inside, could be removed, ensuring your safekeeping during times of attack. Stepping inside, you feel as if you have been instantly transported to the past. Notice the thick walls and the gorgeous doors as you enter. The main attraction here is ‘The Line of Kings’, where you can see the armor arranged on life-sized wooden horses, some of which were carved back in the 17th-century!
In addition to the ‘Line of Kings’, the White Tower also contains the Royal Armory. I was amazed at the size of some of this armor. Man, the old Henry VIII was a big man! Also, notice the child-size armor displayed. I couldn’t imagine putting a child in this and setting him off on a horse. Upstairs from the Royal Armory is the chapel, St. John’s Chapel that dates back to 1080. St. John’s Chapel is the oldest church in London, be sure and give it a visit.
On the top floor, you will see the awesome dragon, named “Keeper”. Keeper was made up of materials that represented the different roles that the Tower has been involved in during its history. There were ruby eyes representing the Jewel House, guns, and armory representing the armory house, a cage for his ribs that could have represented the prison or the zoo, and telescopes for legs to represent the observatory. He was really cool, and honestly, seemed right at home in this medieval fortress. The top floor also displays the chopping block and execution ax used at the Tower.
Look at the Execution Site
On Tower Green, right outside of the White Tower, you will find a memorial to all of the people who were executed at this site. Three queens lost their head here-Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. The Yeoman taught us that even though the tower is known for execution, there have only been 22 people who have lost their lives here. The majority of the executions took place at Tower Hill.
Go Up the Bloody Tower
The Bloody Tower is where the two princes were said to have been murdered. The two young princes, Edward V and his little brother Richard are said to have been sent to the tower by their uncle. He then had them declared illegitimate so that he could take the crown from Edward V. It worked. The uncle was crowned King Richard III and the boys were never seen again. But the story doesn’t end there, almost two centuries later, the remains of two young boys were found here.(cue dramatic music)
The Bloody Tower is also where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for 13 years, and where he wrote his History of the World. You can view his bedroom, study, and walkway while visiting.
Beauchamp Tower (Prison)
Take a few minutes to tour Beauchamp Tower. This tower was the prison that housed “important prisoners”. Inside, you will find the walls covered with carved messages. The inmates would spend hours carving out artwork or messages into the stone walls surrounding them. The graffiti seems to speak to you as you read it, still telling the stories of the past. Lady Jane Grey’s husband, Lord Dudley, carved “IANE” into the stone during his time here. It’s labeled #85 if you want to check it out on your visit.
Traitors’ Gate was mesmerizing to me. Traitors’ Gate was the boat entrance to the Tower from the Thames River. I could envision Princess Elizabeth I, later Queen Elizabeth I, being escorted in through this gate before being imprisoned here.
See the Ravens
Ravens have been a part of the Tower of London for years. The myth says that if the ravens leave the Tower, then the Crown will fall and Britain with it. The birds have been well protected and well taken care of here since King Charles II. One of the Beefeaters is in charge of caring for the ravens, and seeing that they get their daily quota of raw meat. The Tower tries to keep seven ravens on hand at all times. The tradition requires six, and then they keep one extra, “just in case”.
Walk the Wall
The large defense walls offer you an excellent view of not only the Tower grounds but also the famous Tower Bridge. On a crowded day, you will definitely have to wait your turn for a selfie from this vantage point, but it is well worth it. The wall also offers a great view of the river, City Hall, and the Shard. During your walk on the wall, you will be lead into several reconstructed rooms of the palace. During our visit, one of the rooms had Queen Elizabeth I in it! Ok, she was only an actor in character, but still.
Watch the Key Ceremony
The tradition of locking up the Tower has taken place every night for hundreds of years. At exactly 9:52 p.m., the Chief Yeoman Warder comes out with a lantern in one hand and the keys in the other. He meets the other soldiers, and the ceremony takes place. You can book free tickets to watch the ceremony online, but you need to do it fast as tickets for this ceremony fill up months in advance.
During our visit, Marty and I just happened upon the morning unlocking of the gate. We stood down by the river and were able to watch the guards open the Tower for the day.
You can easily spend several hours exploring the Tower of London. After visiting, I understand why it is one of the city’s top attractions. I felt as though history had come to life for me as I roamed the castle grounds. There are so many interesting exhibits and history at the Tower, that adults and children will have a great time visiting here. If the Tower of London is not on your sightseeing list, add it! The Tower is so worth the money and time.
We would love to hear from you. What was your favorite part about the Tower of London? If you haven’t visited, what do you look forward to seeing?
Like this post? Pin It!