Updated on September 20th, 2023
The Tower of London is undoubtedly one of the top attractions to visit in the United Kingdom. It is the home to the British crown jewels, a palace, a fortress & a prison all rolled into one. It is also instrumental in some of the UK’s grandest, most notorious & unbelievable history. Here are my top tips for visiting the Tower of London.”
Tower of London, United Kingdom
I’ll be honest. I live just outside London. I have visited the Tower of London many times over the years, but I have never actually been inside its walls. However, as COVID has curtailed my travel plans, I figured that now is the perfect time to spend time getting to know my own country. As a result, I have discovered how fascinating & beautiful the UK truly is!
If like me, you have never visited & are able to, then all I can say is DO IT NOW! Firstly, in normal circumstances, they can receive up to 10,000 visitors a day. When I went there were around 300. You have the chance to view this icon of history, pretty much by yourself, without queues. Secondly, they desperately need our help. The palaces are a self-funding charity. If they don’t have money, they close. Currently like many businesses & institutions across the world, the palaces are facing unprecedented financial challenges. They have already been forced to make redundancies & more are bound to follow.
Therefore, now is the perfect time to show your support & immerse yourself in the folklore that surrounds this unique attraction. If you do, here is my list of best things to see & top tips for getting the most from visiting the Tower of London.”
For more about the top 5 palaces in London, check out my post HERE.
Planning a tour of the UK? See my Sottish Highlands Itinerary – A 10 Day Road Trip for the Highlands & Islands
15 Amazing Things To See & Top Tips for Visiting the Tower of London
RIGHT NOW! GO!…if you can. Under less unusual circumstances, the Tower gets very busy so plan your visit for mid-week if possible. Tuesdays & Wednesdays are generally quieter & avoid the UK school holidays. Booking ahead will help to avoid the queues & is currently essential. In addition, get there early. The closer to the opening time you can arrive, the better. For all details on opening times check on the HRP website.
For an adult ticket, entrance to the Tower of London is £25, £12.50 for a child (2020 prices). Go directly to the Historic Royal Palaces website to buy your tickets & book ahead. However, if you are considering visiting any of the other palaces (Hampton Court, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace or Hillsborough Castle), then you may like to consider becoming a Member. This costs £55 for a year & now is the best time to join as they are offering 15 months for the price of 12 (if you choose Direct Debit). Then admission to all palaces is free for as many visits as you like.
How much of the Tower of London is currently open?
During the current COVID restrictions, there are a few attractions which are also not accessible to visitors. These include the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula (see more on this later) & the Beauchamp Tower where you can view the graffiti left by prisoners. They are impossible to make “COVID secure” within current guidelines. In addition, the Yeomen Warder tours are not running at this time.
As soon as they begin again…
Join a Beefeater Tower of London Tour
Also known as Yeomen Warders, the Beefeaters have played a pivotal role in the protection of the palace for over 600 years. This position is highly sought-after & swathed in centuries of tradition. These 32 men & women (5 have unfortunately been made redundant due to current financial challenges) have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times. To gain the role they need to have served in the military for at least 22 years & received a long service & good conduct medal.
Under normal circumstances the tours are included in the price of your admission, take around 1 hour & leave from the moat just inside the entrance.
Whether the tours are running or not…
Befriend a Beefeater
The Yeomen Warders are the font of all knowledge on the inner workings of the Tower. And they love to share their stories. If for whatever reason you visit & can’t get a tour, then hunt down a Beefeater & start to ask questions. There are plenty of them to meet around the Tower & in my experience, they love a chat! I quizzed a few of them & picked up some fascinating stories on my visit which I am going to share. My conversations with them were definitely one of my highlights from visiting the Tower of London. For example, did you know the origin of the phrase “one for the road” started here?
Within the Tower of London there used to be 23 pubs! One was just by the entrance, where the guards would lead the prisoners on their final walk to the executioner. The landlord would pull a pint for them & it was the last they would ever drink.”
Head straight for the Crown Jewels
Another important tip for visiting the Tower of London is to head straight to the Jewel House first. I have read that at busy times the queue can be up to 2 ½ hours! I walked straight in. Unfortunately, no photos or videos are allowed but the sheer grandeur & ostentatious display of wealth will take your breath away.
The Jewel House is protected by sentries from the Grenadier Guard who regularly make their presence felt to deter any intruders with an impressive marching display. Inside, you can view the royal regalia (sword, orb & surprisingly tiny gold gown) along with alter displays for the big ceremonies & celebrations. A conveyor belt parades you past a startling array of sparkling crowns before you can stare in awe at Queen Elizabeth II’s. Then go home & polish your jewellery! Check out all the facts about the Crown Jewels here so you know what to look out for.
My favourite thing in the whole display was the Grand Punch Bowl. Sculpted from pure gold & the ultimate in decadence. It is 1 metre in diameter & holds 144 bottles of wine. That’s one hell of a party!”
Here is my list of amazing things not to miss when visiting the Tower of London.
The real symbol of the Tower of London is the White Tower. Completed in 1100, it stands proud in the middle of the complex. It was built by William the Conqueror to intimidate & control London. Today, it houses numerous rooms each with their own unique place in history, including the Chapel of St John. Kings & Queens have been praying here for over 900 years! In addition, it is home to the Line of Kings, a historic display of armour & weapons. It started in the 16th century to show off the power of the monarchy. Check out seemingly very well-endowed Henry VIII!
Located above Traitors Gate is the Medieval Palace, built in the 12th century by Edward I. You get a real sense of how life would have been back in those days with a carefully reconstructed replica of the kings’ bedroom, among other gems.
The Thames was originally held back by the inner wall which you can now see as the gate marked for the Bloody Tower. There is a ring at the base of the gate where they tied up the boats. Then in 1200, the King decided to extend, & instructed his men to reclaim the land. They sunk huge metal pylons into the water & created Traitors Gate as the new entry point. The ambition & ability to do this back in those times blows my mind!
Traitors Gate then became the most notorious of all the entrances to the Tower, where boats would arrive directly from the river.
The Yeoman Warders met the prisoners at the steps. If the Yeomans axe faced them, they were to expect execution. If it faced away, it’s imprisonment.”
Only 10 people were actually executed at the Tower of London. There is a monument by the lawn to those who were (including Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives Anne Boleyn & Catherine Howard). Most met their grisly end & were executed at a point on Tower Hill. After that, the guards paraded the traitors head on a pole through the streets of London. The bodies of those who faced this notorious end were buried (minus their heads) in the Chapel.
In the Bloody Tower is the story of two princes who were brought here after the death of their father King Edward IV. The elder was due to be king, but the boys mysteriously went missing. In their absence, their uncle King Richard III was crowned in his place. It is still unclear what happened to the poor boys but I’m sure King Richard was totally innocent! 😉
In addition, you can gain an insight into the world of famous explorer Sir Walter Raleigh who was imprisoned here in 1603. The original plan was to execute him but instead, he stayed with his wife, created a garden, a laboratory, wrote a book & was held for 13 years.
Don’t miss the opportunity to walk around the walls of the Tower & learn more along the way. You can also get excellent views of the London skyline & Tower Bridge. It was fascinating to see the graffiti created by prisoners on the walls of the Salt Tower. It dates back to the 1500s.
The Tower of London was seen as a force of power throughout London & across the world. The builders constructed the Tower as a fortress but enemies rarely attacked. There are many spiral staircases around the Tower (beware if you suffer from claustrophobia).
If you feel particularly clumsy as you trip your way up the steps (like me!), don’t worry. They created the steps deliberately with some at different heights. As a result, they put invaders at a disadvantage during the climb to attack.”
Want to see more of London? Check out my One Day London Itinerary – 1 walk, 22 amazing attractions & 21 sights around London Bridge.
The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula
The Chapel is apparently the last resting place of over 1000 bodies discovered during an excavation in the 1800s. Each was placed in a lead box & laid in the walls here. Therefore, it’s apparently amazing to see inside although closed during my visit. They have regular services which you can attend & the carolling event at Christmas time is supposed to be very special. If you get a chance to, nab yourself a ticket!
Thinking about Christmas? Check out my Unique Travel Gift list for the perfect present for the travel lover in your life.
The other most famous residents of the Tower of London are its ravens. The legend is that should they ever leave, both the White Tower & the Kingdom will fall. The ravens here are huge & more than slightly sinister. As a result, I certainly wouldn’t mess with them!
What surprised me most about my visit to the Tower of London is that a number of people actually live within its walls. The 150 strong community includes the Beefeaters, their families & those of the priest & doctor. Apparently, they now have only one pub. I can’t help thinking what a strong sense of community & tradition is upheld there & how many amazing stories are told over a few pints!
Most of the Yeomen Warders live within the actual castle walls. The more eminent residents have the 400-year-old Tudor houses around the outskirts of the square. The Queens House is guarded by another sentry & has been home to the Towers chief officer since 1540 (not same guy all the time, obviously ;). They can & have interrogated prisoners in this house, including another famous inmate, Guy Fawkes.
In 1605 Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. He was caught red-handed & brought here to answer questions about his co-conspirators.
Apparently, he took a lot to crack & it wasn’t until he had been placed on the tortuous rack 3 times that they actually learned his real name. Before that, he said he was called John Johnson!”
If you are not staying then the best way to plan your journey is to use the official Tower of London website which contains all the information you need.
In conclusion, visiting the Tower of London is a fantastic excursion & one that I would recommend, especially if you have never been. Now is definitely the time to see this icon at it’s best & have it to yourself!
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