Tower of London
On the Thames embankment outside the moated walls of the Tower of London, in the City of London.
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What is The Tower of London?
The Tower of London complex is an unexpectedly spacious and varied cluster of structures, starting life as a simple fortress with moat in 1078 and later known as the White Tower after it was whitewashed inside and out.
Building began on command of William I, 'The Conqueror'.
The White Tower is 30m (90ft) high and has walls 5m (15ft) thick and is still the centre of the fort, but over hundreds of years under various kings and queens the complex has been strengthened and expanded to include a city arsenal (weapons storage), the Royal Mint (producing and storing coin of the realm) and the Crown Jewels (the spectacular ceremonial jewellery of the monarchs of England).
The Tower of London on the left and Tower Bridge on the right.
The Tower as seen from the outside on the Thames embankment. Tourists who choose not to visit the Tower for whatever reason can still enjoy a free and scenic walk around the perimeter of the complex and over Tower Bridge.
A Map of the Tower of London as it is today.
The Tower's best sights and activities
- A Yeoman Warder guided tour, one hour and free, telling gruesome stories about captives and executions may be both interesting and laugh-out-loud. Some of the Yeomen are very funny, stand-up comedians manqué with practiced patter and great subject matter. Line up early to get within decent earshot and stick close as your tour group wanders around the main attractions.
- The Tower Green Tudor village ambience (33) along with the execution site of two of Henry VIII's wives (30).
The well-presented and hands-on collection of weapons, armour and medieval warfare information in the White Tower (43).
- The Crown Jewels, even if they are all behind armoured glass and you are standing on a moving belt! (40).
- Beauchamp Tower prison graffiti (1).
Even starting early before the crowds a family could spend 2 or 3 hours on those sights and having a bit of a wander.
We were not impressed by the Bloody Tower which was a constricted labyrinth that lacked any bloody feeling. How about a bloody tableau guys?
Nor did we become overexcited by the the Medieval Palace or the Fusilier's Museum which both lacked colour and X Factor. Is it too much to ask for a strangled bloody prince to be left lying around?
The White Tower at 9.30am. Notice the visitor numbers visible on the right. Two, and no queue to see the Crown Jewels.
An elaborate cannon outside the White Tower, made in the 1800's.
The White Tower (left) and line to see the Crown Jewels in the Waterloo Block. It's 12.30pm and a one hour queue - at least - to see the Royal bling thing.
Tower opening times
Tuesday to Saturday 9.00 - 17.30.
Sunday and Monday 10.00 - 17.30.
Last admission 5pm. It's advisable to get there 10 minutes before opening if possible and buy tickets at the Welcome Centre outside the walls if you didn't get them online (bottom left on map above). Better to book online and get a good discount.
Is it worth going to The Tower of London?
We were pleasantly surprised by the spacious and tranquil nature of the Tower complex (and really glad we got there at 9am!), but also disappointed that it was not dark, dangerous and bloody. Although it's obviously the real thing it's been sanitised and organised to deal with the staggering number of tourists, so the real medieval feel has been lost and replaced with Disney stories and distant nightmares.
Also most of London's magnificent museums and extensive art galleries are free to enter and easy to walk in without lining up, something you will probably have to do for the Tower or Buckingham Palace. In addition the entry fees for those two are pricey.
Furthermore, in these days of explicit slasher movies and vampire goths we expected something more visceral and scary.
One of the most popular things to do in London
these days for kids are dungeon and monster experiences where they scare the bejesus out of everybody. Head for London Bridge/Southwark area for a variety of nasty experiences that teens love, not far from London Bridge station up the South Bank.
Standing on a moving belt to ensure tourists don't hang about.
Certainly it's a fine collection of priceless jewelled Coronation ornaments hoarded since the 17th century - crowns, orbs, sceptres, rods, staffs and so on - but somehow we were not especially impressed. Massive diamonds behind glass passing at speed might just as well be imitations, which considering the value of this lot they may be.
Tower Green with two ravens and Tower Bridge on the left.
The Significance of Ravens
'If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall,' goes the legend, probably started by Charles II, so
seven ravens now live in the Tower grounds and have one wing clipped to prevent a catastrophic emigration. Six is the vital number so there's one to spare but they still disappear from time to time and the Ravenmaster has to quickly conjure up a new one. Raven George was fired recently for obsessively eating TV cables while Raven Grog did a flutter (a raven version of a runner) and was last seen frequenting a pub in the east end.
Do not try to feed the critters, they are bold, treacherous and don't respect normal people, much like the kings that used to live in the Tower.
Yeomen Warders, sometimes known as Beefeaters.
Ex-soldiers all, Yeomen Warders have been Royal Bodyguards since 1509 and are called Beefeaters due to their envied access to beef from the king's table.
A Yeoman guided tour to the left and the famous scaffold execution site on the right.
Free Yeoman Warder guided tours start every 30 minutes from near the main entrance and last 60 minutes. They will definitely be fascinating and probably hilarious so get close to your selected Beefie and stick with him (or in a rare case, her).
A few of those who were lucky enough to get the chop on Tower Green (really! the alternative was a down and dirty public execution with a careless, inexperienced or drunken axeman) are Sir Walter Raleigh and three queens of England: two of Henry VIII's wives, Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard; Lady Jane Grey was queen for only nine days in 1553 at the age of 16 and was executed as a traitor.
Historic graffito by prisoners in Beauchamp Tower. Another example.
There are many beautifully carved graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower but few of them are inscribed by famous persons. This tower seems to have been the resting place for lesser people.
Famous Prisoners in the Tower of London
George, Duke of Clarence was imprisoned in the Bowyer Tower and accidentally drowned in a cask of wine in 1477. Apparently he drank too much.
- The 'Princes in the Tower', young Edward and Richard, were 'disappeared' from the Bloody Tower in 1483, probably at the command of that charming Richard III.
- Anne Askew was housed in the Cradle Tower and later burned at the stake for her religious beliefs by Henry VIII in 1546.
- Sir Walter Raleigh, 13 years in the Bloody Tower for plotting against King James I. Beheaded in 1603.
- Sir Everett Digby, a few months in the Broad Arrow Tower for the Gunpowder Plot against King and Parliament in 1605. Hung, drawn and quartered.
A brilliant dragon made from medieval weapons and armour.
The Fit for a King free, permanent exhibition in the White Tower displays 500 years of the best royal armour and weapons, with plenty of dazzling, gem-encrusted swords and silver studded armour but also a fascinating series of hands-on games and quizzes related to survival in medieval times that will keep the older kids and younger adults busy.
Fun and educational displays on the best way to kill, crush or just maim a person.
Authentic armour, with the giant set reaching 2 metres high and the small one built for a very young prince.
Getting to the Tower of London
See City of London Map
On Foot: 20 minutes walk to/from St Paul's Cathedral, 5 minutes from the monument to the Great Fire of London or 20 minutes from various South Bank attractions, 1 minute to Tower Bridge.
By Bicycle: There are docking spaces at Tower Gardens and Crosswall.
By Tube/Underground: Tower Hill tube, London Bridge mainline station on the South Bank or DLR (Docklands Light Railway from east London) stop at Tower Hill.
By Bus: 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1.
By Car: Very expensive but available at Lower Thames Street, 2 minutes walk from the Tower.
By Boat: Head for Tower Pier, which is very close to the Tower. Thames Clipper ferries or riverboats from Charing Cross, Westminster, Greenwich and many other piers.
City of London attractions
Official website: Tower of London
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