The Tower of London is quite likely my favourite thing in all of London (at least so far as I still have lots to discover). It’s hard to believe that on my first visit to London I walked right by it with hardly a second glance and now I take just as many photos of it each time I’m in the city as I do the Tower Bridge. Every angle. Every season. During special events. I want to capture them all. And within it’s walls are even more opportunities for great photos and lots and lots of history.
Construction began in 1066 by William the Conqueror as a means to keep hostile Londoners at bay, and since then it has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of London.
Over the past 1000 years it has been a prison, with its most famous inmates including two young princes (who were presumably murdered), Anne Boleyn (who was then beheaded on Tower Green), Lady Jane Grey (only queen for nine days and then she too was executed), Princess Elizabeth (who thankfully survived and went on to become Queen Elizabeth I), and Guy Fawkes who was tortured at the Tower following the failed Gunpowder Plot.
In addition to prison, the Tower of London has also been a palace, held a royal menagerie (including a polar bear that was said to like to fish in the Thames!), a munitions store during the Civil War (1642-49), and a recruitment and training site for troops during WWI. Finally, today it plays a touristic role giving countless visitors a walk through history each year when they visit. So important is its significance that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
- The famous Yeoman Warder tours to hear all the exciting tales and tidbits about the Tower. They are about 60 minutes long, leave from the main front gate, are free, and are so very entertaining.
- The White Tower which is the oldest medieval building at the Tower, thought to date back to 1078. It received its name in the 13th century when Henry III had the exterior whitewashed, but those stones have mainly been replaced over the years with Portland stone from Dorset. Inside there is an exhibition from the Royal Armouries, a simple Chapel of St. John the Evangelist, and the block and axe that was used to chop off some heads!
- The Crown Jewels treasury that houses not only exquisite crowns, jeweled orbs, and sceptres but also lots of goblets, platters, and other dishes used during Royal feasts.
- Tower Green which saw many prisoners held in the buildings around this area of garden, and then sometimes their untimely deaths on the Scaffold Site.
- Traitor’s Gate where prisoners accused of treason were brought by boat through this entrance- including Queen Elizabeth I.
- The famous ravens that live in the gardens next to the White Tower. Legend says the Tower will collapse if they fly away (their wings are now clipped to ensure this doesn’t happen).
- The Ceremony of the Keys which is free (but advance reservations are required- plan early as it is already booked until August 2015!) and features the Chief Yeoman Warder locking the main gates of the Tower, after which a bugler sounds the Last Post.
Plan Your Visit
- Basic admission prices are £24.50 for adults, £11 for children 5-15 years, £18.70 for students, disabled visitors and adults over 60 years. Tickets can be purchased for a little less if bought in advance online and they also offer a family rate of £60.70 for up to 2 adults and 3 children. If you are traveling by train on the National Rail you may also be eligible for great savings with the 2 for 1 London offer by Days Out Guide. It’s not available all the time but is well worth a quick look on their website to see if it’s available for when you’d like to visit. The Tower of London is also included with the London Pass as another money saving option.
- Opening hours are Tuesday -Saturday 0900-1730 and Sunday-Monday 1000-1730 from March 1st -October 31st. It is then open Tuesday-Saturday 0900-1630 and Sunday-Monday 1000-1630 from November 1st through February 28th. Last admission is 30 minutes before closing time. The Tower is closed on December 24-26th and January 1st.
Make it a Day
In the Area
- Purchase the combination ticket for the Tower Bridge and the Monument to the Great Fire and some great views of London from the top of the Monument (after you’ve climbed the 311 stairs!) and learn about the Great Fire of 1666.
- Take the bus from the Tower Hill stop to Monument stop (line 15) on one of the old Routemaster buses. They are becoming quite rare so take your ride on one while you still can.
- Visit the Roman Wall ruins at the Tower Hill tube stop.
- Grab a bite to eat at the very aptly named Hung, Drawn & Quartered pub that is just around the corner on Great Tower Street.
Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London
- Visit the final resting places of kings, queens, writers and scientists at Westminster Abbey and then enjoy the neo-Gothic architecture of the Palace of Westminster while learning all about the parliamentary system of government.
- Stand in two hemispheres at once on the Prime Meridian in the Meridian Courtyard, do a little star gazing in the Royal Observatory, learn about tales of exploration and endeavour at the National Maritime Museum, take in a unique view of London from the hillside park, and even more at Maritime Greenwich.
- Wander through countless species of trees and flowers in the Arboretum, view 800 paintings from 19th century artists in the Marianne North Gallery, tour the Royal Kew Palace, and visit a Japanese Garden at the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens.
This post is part of my London Love series.
For more information on common (and some not so common) sights in London, as well as itineraries to help you plan your time, please visit my growing collection of posts in London Love.