Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB
If you’re visiting London for the first time, this should definitely be on your list of things to see. The amount of history within these walls is stunning, as are the Crown Jewels. Young children, however, will not be as entertained.
Hours & Admission
Open: Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00am – 4:30pm, Sunday-Monday: 10:00am – 4:30pm (last admission: 4 pm)
- Please check their website for any closures and notices before visiting.
Admission: Tickets purchased online will cost those 16 and up: £21.50 and children 5-15: £9.70. Members of the Historic Royal Palaces are free.
- Admission cost is current as of this publication (Feb. 2018). Click here for more information on pricing.
TIP: Purchasing your tickets online will save you £2-3 approximately per person than purchasing at the gate.
Be sure to scroll to the bottom to get my tips on touring the Tower of London!!!
The Tower of London is a castle, built in 1066, by William the Conqueror. William took over as ruler of England that same year, after childless King Edward (who was his first cousin once removed) had died. Many citizens at the time opposed William’s reign. So William, who had become King of England, decided to build the Tower of London, with the grand White Tower in the center. Not only was the Tower built to defend and protect London and the royalty within its walls, but it was also seen as a symbol of oppression from the new ruler.
The Tower of London consists of several buildings, towers, interior and exterior walls, and a moat. In the middle, sits the White Tower, built in 1078, which was once a prison and a royal palace. Kings have expanded and added on to the Tower over time.
So much history sits within these walls of the Tower. These buildings used to house an armory, a treasury, a small zoo with exotic animals, government offices, and now one of these buildings houses England’s Crown Jewels. During your visit, you can walk through some of the towers, learn how prisoners were tortured, experience medieval London, examine weaponry, and see the priceless jewels of England.
The Tower of London was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, recognizing its historical significance and the need for future generations to protect it.
After entering the Tower of London, just in front of the White Tower, you will see what remains of a wall from the late 1230’s, built by Henry III to defend his palace.
The White Tower
Take a moment while climbing the stairs to the White Tower to realize how many important, historical people have walked into this very same building!
The White Tower is called a Keep, which is the strongest building within a castle; at one time, it contained the finest accommodations for royalty. Use of the White Tower as a royal residence was prevalent for centuries but later declined during the Tudor dynasty in the 1500’s.
The main exhibit within the White Tower is the Line of Kings, which is detailed below. On the second floor of the White Tower, you can find St. John’s Chapel, believed to have been built between 1077-1097. Be sure to visit the hands-on exhibit where children can fire a crossbow, fire a canon, and command a ship. There is also a large room in the lower level of the White Tower that features canons, swords, and other weapons from centuries ago.
Here are some additional photos of the interior of the White Tower:
The Line of Kings
Within the White Tower, you’ll find the main exhibit called the Line of Kings, which displays royal armor on life-like wooden figures. This exhibit was actually created in the late 1600’s and is one of the earliest known historic exhibits. Witness the amount of detail in the metal, how much of the body was covered, as well as how armor has changed over the centuries. It’s amazing to see how much metal was placed onto a knight’s body. The weight, along with the heat and the minimal visibility, must have been cumbersome and difficult, albeit necessary for protection.
The Crown Jewels
To see the infamous Crown Jewels of England, head to the back of the Tower of London. You’ll find them in the Jewel House in the Waterloo Block, the building furthest away from the entrance. Guards stand watch outside by the doors.
The Crown Jewels that you will see date from the 1660’s. After a civil war and the execution of King Charles I in 1649, Parliament ordered the destruction of all of the earlier Crown Jewels, selling them for currency and ridding themselves of all traces of the monarchy. When Charles I’s son came out of exile in 1660 and was crowned King Charles II, the Crown Jewels were remade (from detailed records) for his coronation.
When you go in to see the Crown Jewels, the maze of large rooms you’ll walk through reminds me of a waiting queue at Disney World. Large rooms with lots of writing, screens showing movies, and less popular items are on display before the jewels.
Once you arrive at the Crown Jewels, there are guards standing watch. The jewels are in a rectangular, clear display case and 2 moving walkways line either side of the case. To view the Crown Jewels, you stand on one side of the glass case and are slowly moved along on the walkway. When the moving walkway is over, that’s it – you’ve seen the Crown Jewels. It lasts all of about 30 seconds. If you want more time to look at them, you can stand further back in the room and look all day. Also, if you are lucky and have few visitors with you, you can walk back to the start of the moving walkway and see the jewels again. No photos are allowed of the Crown Jewels.
In addition to the Jewels, you can see other royal regalia including royal dishes and dinnerware, coronation robes, orbs, swords, and sceptres.
Seven ravens are kept in the Tower of London at all times (six are required and the seventh is a spare). There are many stories as to how and why the ravens became a permanent fixture here, but local legend states that six ravens must be kept at the Tower at all times or Britain will fall and disaster will occur. The ravens have likely been at the tower since the late 1600’s under the command of King Charles II. However, ravens have been a common site in the city of London for centuries.
Unable to fly long distances because one wing is clipped (which makes them unbalanced), the ravens are bred in captivity and very well cared for and respected at the Tower. They are released from their cages during the day and are often seen gathering in grassy areas. The ravens are fed by a Ravenmaster, cared for by the Yeoman Warders, and can be seen during your visit.
The Yeoman Warders (nicknamed the Beefeaters, but don’t call them that!), provide guided tours around the Tower. These free guided tours are included in your admission fee and start every 30 minutes near the entrance. Since the 1500’s, Yeoman Warders have guarded royalty. The men and women of the Yeoman Warders have at least 22 years in the armed forces, have a rank of warrant officer or above, and had good conduct throughout their military experience.
Yeoman Warders also “lock up” the Tower of London each night at 9:53pm. This ceremony has been going on every night since the 14th century. Despite no monarch or other royalty currently living at the Tower, the Crown Jewels and other important historical artifacts are here, which is why this tradition continues today. If you would like to see the locking of the Tower, you must have tickets. Tickets for this are often sold out 6-12 months in advance so you must plan ahead! Photos of the locking of the Tower are not allowed. Click here for more information on tickets to this ceremony.
Scaffold Site Memorial
Most executions ordered by an English monarch were done at Tower Hill, which is next to the Tower of London, outside its walls. Over the course of 400 years, 112 people were killed at Tower Hill. However, people who were of high rank or standing were executed within the walls of the Tower of London. This kept the monarch from bad publicity, as well as preventing the public from gathering and shouting/cheering on the execution. Within the Tower, there is a memorial where ten people were killed at the scaffold site. The most notable people killed here were two wives of King Henry VIII. The names of those executed here are listed on the turquoise circle. Brian Catling created the touching memorial.
Torture, Towers, and Other Exhibits
During your visit, you can walk into a few towers (there are in fact 21 here), walk on top of the interior walls, as well as see several exhibits. Within the Wakefield Tower, you’ll find an exhibit on instruments of torture that were used at the Tower of London during the 16th and 17th century. See replicas of the rack, scavenger’s daughter, and manacles that were used during this time period.
Also in the Wakefield Tower, you can see the spot where King Henry VI died. In 1471, it is believed that King Henry VI died while praying in the chapel within this tower. It is widely thought that he was murdered by his successor, Edward IV.
In the Bloody Tower, you can see how some prisoners lived, as the living quarters of Walter Raleigh are on display. He was imprisoned in the Tower during his trial in 1603. Also, you can learn about the mysterious deaths of Prince Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York. After being confined to the Bloody Tower in 1483, the young boys were believed to have been murdered by their uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester so that he could become king; Prince Edward V was to become king due to his father’s death, but after his disappearance (and presumed death), his uncle Richard became King Richard III.
The Bloody Tower also contains a portcullis, a medieval heavy grated door that slides open and closed, protecting an entrance. Near the Bloody Tower is the Traitor’s Gate, which allowed access to the Tower of London from the River Thames. Many prisoners were brought to the Tower by boat through the Traitor’s Gate. When prisoners floated to the gate under London Bridge, they would often see heads of executed prisoners on spikes.
In addition, you can walk the walls of the towers. These long and tall stone walls joined the towers and were topped with battlements for protection against invading enemies.
Other items to see at the Tower include:
- An artistic collection of exotic animals that were once kept at the Tower of London, called the Royal Beasts
- The Coins and Kings exhibit
- The Fusiliers’ Museum
- Beauchamp Tower, which was once used as a prison for high-ranking people and is famous for the graffiti carved into its walls by prisoners
- The day I visited the Tower of London, it was rainy and cold and we stayed for about half a day. Plan on at least 3-4 hours for an average visit. Because of the weather, there weren’t a lot of other tourists while we were there so we didn’t encounter any lines or bottlenecks during our visit.
- There are dining facilities within the Tower of London, most notably the New Armouries Cafe. This cafe seats large groups of people and offers hot cafeteria style food. Food here is pricey; my family and I packed a lunch and ate at the cafe’s tables. One small cafe is also within the Tower walls near the ravens, and two eateries are just outside the walls.
- Wear good walking shoes since you’ll be walking a lot at the Tower, including walking on uneven surfaces and tight spaces.
- If you don’t like waiting in lines, arrive here first thing when the Tower opens and head to the Crown Jewels first. If you do, you’ll avoid waiting in an enormous line and seeing the jewels with several hundred other people!
- There are plenty of places to shop in and around the Tower.
- I recommend you buy your tickets online before you visit to save a bit of money and avoid standing in an extra line. Click here for more information on tickets.
- After exiting, stop by the river to get a great view of Tower Bridge. It’s a great stop for a photo-op!
I hope this aids in any vacation planning to London. This truly is a spectacularly historical place and is not to be missed!
sources: wikipedia.org, hrp.org.uk, freetoursbyfoot.com, englishmonarchs.co.uk, wonders-of-the-world.net