The Tower of London is one of the oldest buildings in London and in my opinion one of the (if not THE) most important historical locations in the city. Where is was occupied by royals and other important people back in the days, now you can visit this fortress turned museum and learn all about the building and its inhabitants through interactive tours and displays.
“The Tower” has served as a castle, state prison, spot for executions, palace and treasury for the jewelry of the royal family for over 900 years. The original fort was founded in 1087 as a pretty basic square fort (called “The White Tower”, which can now be found in the middle of the complex), commissioned by William the Conqueror and served as a protection against the conquerors from Normandy, shortly after winning at the Battle of Hastings.
The last king to use the Tower as a palace was James I, who lived from 1566 to 1625. After this, the Tower was best known as a prison and execution location, in particular for people from higher circles. For example, during the reign of Maria Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I (her sister!) was imprisoned for some time and Thomas Moore (writer and philosopher) and Anna Boleyn (Queen of England from 1533 to 1536) where executed here. The last prisoners were held here until World War II.
Since 1988, The Tower of London has a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Let’s take you through the complex, so you’ll understand why:
What we'll cover in this article
TOWER OF LONDON TOUR REVIEW
Nick and I had visited the Tower of London back in 2014 as part of a guided tour with CityWonders, where we also visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. That was a really good trip, but unfortunately we didn’t have any time to explore the Tower on our own.
So when we got the invitation from the people over at Historic Royal Palaces to come and join them on a “Breakfast with the Ravens” morning at the Tower, of course we had to say yes! We would get special access along with a few other bloggers and videomakers, witness the special “Ceremony of the Keys”, meet the incredible ravens of the tower on a tour with the one and only “Ravenmaster” and have some time at the end to explore the rest of the Tower for as long as we liked.
Let’s take you along with us to show how that experience was:
During our visit in 2014… ah so young we were!
Our lovely blogger group, and our route below:
As soon as you step outside of the Tube stop “Tower Hill”, you should walk up the little platform next to the Underground-sign, because you have a great view over the Tower of London. I always bring our visitors here and it’s a great place to start your walking tour around this part of the city.
After that, you either cross the road and walk along the side of the castle (as seen above), or you take the tunnel to end up at the area where the entrance to the Tower is. You can find the ticket boots here (I can recommend getting your tickets online though), some shops and you can walk along the river to get to the Tower Bridge as well.
Clearly, we visited in Summer last time, although we had a lovely sunny day at the Tower as well this week! It doesn’t really matter in which season you visit the Tower, because there are events going on at the Tower grounds all year round. There are theatre shows in the Summer and even an ice-skating rink in Winter, for example.
We entered through the side (the group entrance), but normally, you would enter through the main entrance on the front
Guided Tour With a Beefeater
The main entrance of the Tower of London is located at Byward Tower, where the so-called “Beefeaters” or “Yeoman Warders” can be found. They got the name beefeaters, because they used to be wealthy enough to be able to afford buying meat, not because they were cannibals or something like that. Actually, our Beefeater tour guide happened to be vegetarian, haha!
These historical figures are not only responsible for surveillance, but they also give guided tours, which are super interesting (and included in your ticket, so definitely go for it!)
For example, did you know that the Beefeaters even have their own pub? It’s true, see this video:
Of course, you can wander around on your own, but I HIGHLY recommend a Beefeater-guided Tour
Our funny guide, Ravenmaster Chris Skaife
Beefeater and his dog, hihi!
Meet the Ravenmaster
One of the forty Yeoman Warders, the so-called “Ravenmaster” (who you just met in the pictures above), takes care of the ravens who have lived here for centuries. He opens and closes their enclosures twice a day and makes sure they are fed and healthy.
The Ravens are in the Tower because of an old legend that says that there should always be six ravens in the castle to keep England free from incidents. Just to be sure, there are eight ravens now, and their wings are clipped.
This is where the ravens are kept during the night, or when they just want to hang out
Some serious conversations go on here!
The White Tower
Unlike previous forts at this location, the White Tower, as the fort was known at the time, was entirely made of limestone. Later, the fort was extended by King Richard Leeuwenhart with moats that were filled by the water from the Thames. Additional fortifications were built around the fort, creating an extensive building complex.
In the White Tower, you can now find the Royal Armories, among which the armor of Henry VIII. You can also see a range of armor and shields up close, one of the largest collections in the world.
Part of the old Roman Wall
I think I forgot to edit this photo -meh.
There is even a chapel inside the White Tower
The Crown Jewels
One of the big draws of visiting the Tower of London is of course that you can see the Crown Jewels of the British Royal family here.
In “The Jewel House”, you can admire almost 24.000 gems that are all part of the rich collection of jewels of the family. The Queen of England regularly wears jewelry from this collection, in which case a simple sign saying “in use” will be on the spot of that item. Because, why make things complicated, right?
You can’t take photos inside the building where the crown jewels are, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s definitely worth visiting. While the showcase of the actual crowns seems a bit silly (long conveyor belts move past it, so you don’t stand still at any of the glass cases), you do get to come up real close to the jewelry and catch a glimpse of the incredible details that went into making the pieces.
I overheard a tour guide say that apparently the crowns are so heavy because of all the gold and the gemstones, that you can only wear it with your head held firmly upright, because you could break your neck otherwise! Ouch!
-almost- as beautiful of the real ones!
The Animals of the Tower of London
Henry I, the fourth son of William the Conqueror, founded Britain’s first “ZOO” at Oxford’s Woodstock Park in 1100. It wasn’t to enjoy the looks of them, oh no, but simply an easy way for him to contain them before hunting them down. Jah.
King John brought the animals (or what was left of them) over to London to the Tower’s menagerie and over the coming centuries, the building would host zebras, tigers, polar bears, lions and even elephants. Unfortunately for most of the animals, in those days there wasn’t much knowledge going around on these tropical animals, which resulted in diets such as bread and wine or even iron nails! Yeah, the ostrich didn’t survive that. But, in return, the trainer of the polar bear, who had to let the animal fish in the river Thames on a rope, and some of the people managing the baboons (who walked around freely) didn’t have such a good time either.
Some of the animals were later moved to Regent’s Park, where 20 years later, they were put on show in another exciting public attraction that we now all know as London Zoo. Makes you rethink our moderns zoo’s a bit though, or what do you think? Not of this time, or still relevant?
Around the Tower, you can find these wire-statues of all the animals that would live here. Quite incredible!
Discover all the Secret Corners
After our tour, most people had to go to work (as it ended around 9AM), but because I have the best job in the world – I was able to change plans and hang on for another hour or two to explore the rest of the buildings on site.
Seriously, there is so much to see and do here, I could have easily spend another two hours to see everything!
Traitor’s Gate with no water in Winter (above) and with water in Summer (below)
There is a small museum about the Royal Mint inside the walls
Spotted a Dutch guy here as well…
…Stunning views from the walls of the Tower…
I skipped the exhibition on torture devices. First lunch!
People actually live inside the Tower, did you know this? There are about 40 families here.
The paint on these doors is the same as from the Tower Bridge. Love it!
The Ceremony of the Keys
A special event happening at the Tower of London twice a day, is the “Ceremony of the Keys”. It’s a 700 years old tradition where the gates of the Tower of London are being (un)locked to the public by the Chief Yeoman Warder. We were lucky enough to witness the morning event.
The warder walks from Byward Tower to Traitor’s Gate, where he meets the members of the Foot Guards regiment to accompany him back to the gate. First go to the outer gate, then they walk back and the oak gates of the Middle and Byward Tower are (un)locked.
As a visitor, you can attend this ceremony for free, but because there are only about 30 tickets available, you have to request your ticket well in advance (as in: a YEAR in advance, minimum)
You can’t move around during the ceremony, nor take photos or videos. Also – be on time. In over 700 years the ceremony was late only once and this was during the Second World War. Yah – They won’t wait for you, trust me!
That is a GOOD set of house keys!
I wonder if the guy in the back can actually see something though?
The gates are open!
Whether you’re a history buff, a dreamer of knights & princesses, a Royalty-Fan, a lover of jewelry or simply looking for a not-to-miss activity in London, I can strongly recommend you to take half a day out of your London visit to explore the Tower of London. But PLEASE promise me to arrive right when the gates to the Tower open, so you can beat the crowds. Walking around a nearly empty fortress is simply a fantastic experience you have to experience in your lifetime.
Above: after 11 AM
Below: before 11 AM… need more motivation to get up early?
Address: Tower Hill, City of London, London EC3N 4AB
How to Get to the Tower of London: Get out of the Underground at “Tower Hill” Station and walk in 2 minutes to the entrance of the Tower. You can also walk in 8 minutes from “Aldgate” Station, or from train station “Shadwell” or “Wapping” in about 15 minutes.
Opening Hours: Daily openend on Monday & Sunday from 10:00 to 16:30 (in summer until 17:30), Tuesday to Saturday from 09:00 to 16:30 (in summer to 17:30), except between 24-26 December and on 01 January.
Ticket Prices: You will always get the best price when you book online for Tower of London admission tickets. Save time by selecting Print at home and bring your ticket with you. Tickets are around £22.70 for adults and £10.75 for children. This includes access to the Tower of London, admission to all exhibitions (including the Crown Jewels), a Yeoman Warder tour, live historical re-enactments (when available), children’s activity trails.
Where to eat at the Tower of London: Around the Tower, there are many places for a bite or a drink, such as Pret a Manger / Starbucks (in front of the opening gate of the Tower), The Wharf Kiosk (snack by the river), the New Armouries Café inside the Tower (Light bites, hot meals), the Raven Café inside the Tower (a variety of gourmet sausages) and the Perkin Reveller (British food, stunning views, we have been here and definitely recommend it!)
Disclaimer: We were kindly invited to have breakfast with the Ravens and walk around the Tower of London by Historic Royal Palaces. All photos and opinions in this article are 100% our own.
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