One of the most incredible places we visited during our visit to London was the imposing Tower of London, a beautiful medieval castle that holds the jewels of the British Crown under lock and key. In this post we give tips on what to see there.
THE TOWER OF LONDON
The Tower of London, whose official name is "His Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London", is a historic castle founded in 1066 as part of Norman Conquest of England, as the invasion and occupation of the Kingdom of England in the 11th century by a Norman, Breton and French army led by Duke William the Conqueror of Normandy was called. The White Tower, which gives its name to the Castle, was built by William in 1078. Initially, the site served as royal residence. The Tower of London consists of a complex with several buildings situated within two concentric rings of walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, most notably under the reigns of Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I, in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The tower has been used in many ways throughout history: as an armory, treasure chamber, mint, public records office, and home to the British Crown Jewels. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 to 1952. In the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was also used as a prison, witnessing the executions of 12 men for espionage. After World War II, the damage was repaired and the castle reopened to the public. Today the Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, receiving over 3 million tourists every year.
The ticket to visit the Tower of London entitles you to visit all rooms open to the public and also the area where the queen's jewelry. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office (outside the Tower) or online. We recommend buying online because in addition to not having to face queues, Ticket prices purchased online are cheaper. See prices and more information at the end of this post.
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HIGHLIGHTS IN THE TOWER OF LONDON
The outside areas are beautiful, with gardens, many buildings and incredible views of the castle walls. Inside, you can find incredible displays of ancient jewelry, armor and weapons, coins and medieval artifacts.
The ticket price also includes a tour with a Yeoman Warder, one of the most sought after attractions by visitors to the Tower (see information about the tours at the end of the post). The iconic “Beefeaters”, as the guards of the Tower are popularly known, are traditional symbols of London and Great Britain. The Yeomen Warders have formed the Royal Guard Corps since 1509.
To be a Yeoman Warder one must have served in the Armed Forces with an honorable record of at least 22 years. Current guards served in Northern Ireland, the Falklands War, Bosnia, and the Gulf and Afghanistan conflicts. They are super friendly and available to answer any questions you have about the Tower of London.
The great stone enclosure that forms the walls of the Tower has protected kings and queens since Henry III's reforms in the mid-13th century. Walk along the wall to explore the Medieval Palace and its massive towers.
Medieval Palace: Discover how life in the Middle Ages could be surprisingly luxurious, stepping into the world of Henry III and his son Edward I, two medieval kings who did much to make the Tower look like it does today. When Henry and Edward expanded the Tower's defenses in the 13th century, they also added a luxurious new palace to the site. And for hundreds of years, kings and queens have stayed in these rooms. The medieval palace in the Tower of London contains recreations of fabulous interiors used by medieval kings and queens during their frequent but short visits to their most important fortress. The Tower of St. Thomas was built by Edward in the late 1270s. Wakefield Tower was built by Edward's father some 40 years earlier. Lanthorn Tower contains rare objects dating back to the time of Henry and Edward.
- Tower of St. Thomas: The Tower of St. Thomas was built by Edward I in the late 1270s. He used this space to meet important visitors and conduct business in front of the massive fireplace.
- Wakefield Tower: Built by Edward Henry III's father, Wakefield Tower was completed some 40 years earlier. Here you can explore the room that was probably his Council Chamber, and his throne was rebuilt.
- Lanthorn Tower: Discover rare objects dating back to the time of Henry and Edward.
- Salt Tower: Scratched on the walls of the tower you will find graffiti left by prisoners almost 500 years ago. This tower originally overlooked the River Thames and in times of difficulty, the archers on the ground floor were able to protect it. During times of peace the room was a warehouse.
- Broad Arrow Tower: From the 14th century, Broad Arrow Tower was linked to the government department responsible for royal provisions. Today, the Broad Arrow Tower has been re-introduced as a guard tower, its original use. In this interactive exhibit, you can discover how the medieval garrison would have defended this section of the wall.
- Combat Platform: Beyond the Wall, this location recreates the atmosphere of an operating fortress, where the garrison would be assembled in the event of an attack. Hear the sounds of the garrison in peace and war, under the shelter of a wooden roof that would have protected them.
- Constable Tower: Here you can explore the remarkable history of the only time the fortress' defenses were breached, when the Tower was stormed during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381.
- Martin Tower: The Crown Jewels are kept in the Waterloo Barracks, but from 1669 until 1841 they were kept in the Martin Tower. Today, this tower houses crowns and diamonds on display that tell the story of English royal crowns.
- Brick Tower (“Royal Beasts”): For 600 years, wild and exotic creatures have been held captive by kings and queens in the Tower of London. The first real animals that arrived at the Tower were lions, polar bear and an elephant that came from Europe and North Africa. The variety of animals in the Tower increased including tigers, kangaroos and ostriches. At the exhibit, located in the Brick Tower, explore the stories of many of the animals kept in the Tower through interactive exhibits, experiencing how the animals lived, learning about what happened when they escaped.
- Bowyer Tower: Explore the story of the Duke of Wellington – war hero and prime minister of the Tower of London.
- Flint Tower: In the 20th century, the Tower continued to play an important defensive role for Britain. See how this ancient fortress continued to play its part in modern warfare.
ECONOMY IN LONDON: ACTIVITY CARDS
For those who want to do many things and visit many paid places in London, the suggestion is to purchase one of the cards that give you direct access to attractions and ride the tourist bus, saving a lot! O THE LONDON PASS is the most famous of them. The card can be purchased in versions of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 10 days. It entitles you to admission to over 60 of London's top attractions and 1 day tour on the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. In addition, the card offers more than 20 exclusive special offers at some of the city's shops and restaurants. See the full list of included attractions in this link. Price: from £69.
The tower was known for its defensive constructions, but a mob of peasants successfully attacked it in the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. The Tower of London is not just a historic fortress – it remains a stronghold with a strong military presence. You will see soldiers guarding the Crown Jewels, as well as the famous Yeoman Warders who guarded the tower for 500 years. Around the Tower is a deep moat.
- Springald: It was the most powerful weapon of its kind in the Middle Ages. The slow pace of fire was matched by fierce power and lethal precision.
- Perrier: This stone thrower was one of the most complicated medieval mechanisms. The Tower of London's Perrier is operated by 4 people, but there are records of some so large that it took up to 16 men pulling the ropes. Its relatively simple design made the Perrier an ideal weapon for both offense and defense, providing a powerful throw.
4. CROWN JEWELS
Part of the Royal Collection and still in use by Queen Elizabeth II, the Crown Jewels contain some of the largest and most extraordinary diamonds in the world. The area is extremely protected by security and not allowed to take pictures on site. The collection is absurdly stunning and includes everything from jewels, crowns, cedars to trays, cameos and silverware in gold and silver.
In this area located on Mint Street, the people and stories behind the coins that have been minted in the Tower for over 500 years. The exhibition is interactive and explores the history of the Royal Mint between the years 1279 and 1812. Featuring rare and unique objects, the exhibition tells the story of some of the most famous monarchs and how their coins reflected the power struggles and politics of your time. On display are the 5 coins that changed history.
6. WHITE TOWER
At the center of the Tower of London building complex is the White Tower. It is the oldest part of the Tower, built to arouse fear and subjugate London's unruly citizens and also deter foreign invaders. It is possible to visit all four floors of one of the most famous dungeons in the world.
What to see in the White Tower:
- Inside the White Tower is located the Chapel of Saint John the Evangelist, built in the 11th century.
- Accompanied by a guide, it is possible to visit the Royal Chapel of Saint John with explanations about the famous armor of King Henry VIII. (Hours: daily at 10:45 am; 12:45 pm and 2:15 pm).
- On the top floor of the tower is an area dedicated to torture in the tower, with an ax dating back to Tudor times. The basement of the White Tower is believed to have been a place used for interrogation and torture of prisoners. Apparently, the last public beheading at the Tower took place in 1747.
- THE white tower It also houses magnificent collections of the “Armaria Real”, including the exhibition “Line of Kings” (Lineage of Kings) the oldest in the world open to visitors with over 300 years of armor! The exhibition includes artifacts used by Kings Henry VIII, Charles I and James II alongside wooden horses.
The museum tells the story of a British military regiment established in the Tower of London in 1685 by King James II. It is housed in a building originally constructed as army officers' quarters. This building still houses the headquarters of the Royal Marine Regiment and a hall used for formal dinners and ceremonial occasions. In the museum, the story is told through the personal experiences of officers and soldiers, drawing inspiration from the rich collection of war diaries and personal letters, as well as its diverse collection. Highlights of the museum's collection include 12 medals won by the Regiment, the King George V uniform, among other items.
The Green Tower contains the evocative memorial to the people who died here by order of the state. Execution inside the Tower, away from the crowds, was a privilege reserved for those of high rank or those who had strong popular support. The most famous executed people who died on the spot are three Queens of England: Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII; Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII; and Joana Grey, declared queen after the death of Edward VI, who was only 16 years old.
9. THE CROWS
Legend has it that “the kingdom will fall” if the ravens that inhabit the Tower leave it. It was Charles II who first insisted that the Tower's crows should be protected. There are 7 Tower ravens currently and their lodgings are located next to Wakefield Tower. They eat about 170g of meat and blood-soaked bird biscuits. The Tower of London management asks visitors not to feed the crows because they can feel threatened and bite anyone who approaches. See more information in this flyer.
10. RESTAURANTS AND SHOPS
Inside the Tower you will find four dining and cafe options serving snacks, fruits, salads, homemade cakes and meals at great prices. See the location of each one by accessing this link.
- New Armories Restaurant: Fresh salads, sandwiches, soups and hot meals. Open daily during Tower opening hours.
- Raven's Kiosk: This kiosk is an option to grab something and continue walking through the Tower. The place serves sandwiches, hot croissants, cakes and ice cream.
- Apostrophe: This is the perfect place for a coffee and cake, a quick bite or a drink at the end of the day.
- The Perkin Reveller: Located on the quayside outside the Tower, this restaurant offers magnificent views of Tower Bridge and the River Thames. The venue serves lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Check out more information at restaurant website.
Inside the Tower of London are located five stores that sell different types of products, each with a specific focus.
- The Tower of London: located in an old victorian building right at the entrance to the tower, this store has 2 floors and has many souvenir options.
- The Jewel House: Once you've seen the crown jewels on display, you can stroll through this shop and take home some replicas.
- The White Tower: This shop located in the basement of the White Tower offers a unique selection of replica armour, replica armor, weapons and men's gifts.
- The Ravens: This is the best store for children with a range of products in two themed areas with knights, prisoners, kings, queens and princesses, with products ranging from clothes to themed books.
- The Beefeater: Here you'll find guidebooks and a host of souvenirs inspired by the Yeoman Warders or 'Beefeaters'.
- Address: London EC3N 4AB, United Kingdom
- November to February: Tuesday to Friday from 9 am to 4:30 pm / Sunday and Monday from 10 am to 4:30 pm
- March to October: Tuesday to Friday from 9 am to 5:30 pm / Sunday and Monday from 10 am to 5:30 pm
- last entry allowed 30 minutes before closing
- indoor buildings close 30 minutes before last entry
- Prices include a Donation to help with Tower of London repairs: £25 (online: £22.70) adult / £11.90 (online: £10.75) aged 5 to 15 / £19.50 (online: £17.70) students, disabled and seniors
- prices no donation: £22.50 (online: £21) adult / £10.50 (online: £9.50) aged 5 to 15 / £17.50 (online: £16) students, disabled and seniors
- Buying tickets online: access this link to buy tickets online and save money.
- Audio guide: £4.00 / available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin
- Tours with guard Yeoman: meet a guard right at the entrance of the Tower for a tour that runs every 30 minutes and lasts about 1 hour. The last tour starts at 3:30 pm from March to October and at 2:30 pm from November to February.
- How to get:
- Subway: Tower Hill Station (Circle and District Line)
- train: Fenchurch Street or London Bridge stations
- bus: 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1
- Free WiFi: Connect to the Tower of London's free wifi (TOWERFREEWIFI)
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