A Beginner’s Guide to the Tower of London
Discover the Crown Jewels, meet the Ravens, join the Guided Yeoman Warden Tour, explore 1000 years of British history, visit The White Tower and the areas where they beheaded kings, queens and prisoners for hundreds of years. Located in the banks of the River Thames and founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England, the Tower of London is what shapes London today. Bloody stories lie behind the walls. Read more about secrets of the Tower.
The Tower had also been treated unfairly by wealthy, powerful people while inflicting harm upon the rest of London.
Founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England, the Tower of London is also near major attractions. Tower Bridge, The Shard, River Thames, a few minutes’ walk to the Southbank, a few miles to London Bridge Station and Borough Market. It was also used as a prison from 1100 for the Norman Bishop Ranulf Flambard but its purpose was to serve as a Royal residence.
This guide will cover the secrets inside The Tower of London, general information about the nearby attractions, how long to spend in the Tower, tips and useful information.
History of the Tower of London
My hunger for knowledge inspires me to write about certain topics, current affairs, geography, science fiction and many others. Today, I was hungry for history, British history to be exact.
British history is known for its line of long-standing monarchy, kings, queens, princes and princesses, prisoners and peasants. It is what shapes the modern royal family today. Between them, there have been bloody murder, torture at the towers and chambers, gruesome stories told for a thousand years. Tower of London has all of these rolled into one.
Click here for the Tower of London website
So, join me on my journey to the past.
How to get to the Tower of London
As the excitement mounted, the unknown expectations of what the Tower of London consists of or how long to visit the Tower of London had me curious. With great reviews, I was itching to see it with my own eyes.
The Tower of London is known for its crowns, jewels and various armours dating back to the 11th Century but it’s more than that. The many stories told were so vivid our imaginations and it was as if we stepped back in time to the 1100’s.
The atmosphere was busy with school children on their Easter breaks, but we weren’t pressed together in a way that was uncomfortable and unpleasant. Wind sweeping off our faces didn’t faze us, a few felt cold but most of us loved the fresh breeze.
The Yeoman Wardour Tour and The Beefeaters
Beefeaters are protectors of the Tower of London, the bodyguard and the royal bodyguards. Their nickname derived from the fact they could eat as much beef at the King’s table as they liked, back in the olden days. There are still beefeaters roaming the Tower of London. What’s so special about them is that they give guided tours to a group of people wanting to know about the stories behind the Tower.
The guided tour comes with the entrance fee and always start every half an hour at the beginning of the tour. The 1:30pm slot was already full of people and the group was larger than expected.
The Beefeater stood at the side of the entrance introducing himself and what he could offer us. British humour at its best, however I felt he spoke fast. Too fast for non-English speakers to understand. Scanning the crowd with frowned faces, I knew they were trying catch what he was saying, some had already lost interest but there are other Beefeaters around, you might be lucky, they may speak slowly.
Throughout the visit of the Tower of London, the Beefeater chose his words carefully. We walked through each part of the Tower and he explained different stories and deaths happening in and around that part.
Stories were told, bloody and torturous scenes ingrained in our heads. Heads chopped off in different areas of the Tower. Archbishops, politicians, kings, queens and prisoners who made their residence here paid the price for painful slow death. Religion, politics, treason, adultery played a part in all these deaths. Prisoners locked up in towers for hundreds of years and ravens flying around. Queens beheaded for adultery, witchcraft and treason.
The Beefeater Tour
In the Beefeater Tour, you’ll learn many stories behind the Tower. Here is what you’ll learn.
William the Conqueror built the Tower in 1078 when he defeated England against King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. 200 years later, monarchs have built defensive walls in order to protect themselves.
Important people that changed the world lived here and we walked in the footsteps of people like King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh and many others.
At the Bell Tower, Sir Thomas Moore and John Fisher were imprisoned for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as the head of Church of England. They suffered terribly for fifteen months at this tower, but they didn’t want to change their beliefs, so remained there until death. Consequently, they were both beheaded at Tower Hill in 1535.
Conclusion to The Wardour Tour
As the tour continued, he resumed to joke, “Beefeaters do sleep, they do breathe, they do eat and yes, they do live in the Tower. I couldn’t order pizzas since the delivery guy could never find the address. They pass the most famous landmark in London every day. They couldn’t miss it, but still adamant the delivery guys couldn’t find it.”
“Teenagers coming home to the grounds drunk. I know I can’t do anything about it because they could get away with. My dirty washing line could be seen through his window but it wasn’t a sight to see.”
The guided tour lasted 50 minutes. After the tour, roam around the grounds like there’s no tomorrow. Get a free map or an audio guide with more than five languages. The map is colour coded and easily read so it’s clear to cover all the grounds.
After the tour
The first leg of my self-guided tour was the Crown Jewels. Start with The Crown Jewels, found in the Martin Tower. Crowns, armory and other royal valuables belonging to the British monarchy are stored here since the 15th Century.
Two British guards stood outside the Martin Tower to protect the jewels. Two canons stood between them. Pictures aren’t allowed here but all the crowns, jewels and armouries were kept in great condition.
The dark and warm entrance to the Martin Tower felt like we were in the 12th Century. The slow but steady queue took us to different items; crowns, jewels and armours belonging to various members of the royal family. Just think that these shiny golden swords engraved personally belonged to the great kings and queens. Videos of kings and queens crowned projected on the large walls . Dates of their coronation included at the bottom.
The White Tower
Built to defend foreign invaders back in the olden days, the White Tower hosts various armories owned by Henry VIII, Charles I and James II, the three of Line of Kings. From the White Tower steps, there is a really good view of Tower Bridge, the strip of the River Thames and the Southbank.
Take a 360-degree video of Tower Bridge, the River Thames, the roof of The Shard and The White Tower here.
Dates were included next to the armories and it is the oldest museum exhibit showcasing King Henry VIII’s, Charles I, James II’s horses, and armors from the 17th Century. The life-sized statues of kings and their horses are a sight to see and not to be take for granted. After all, the horses that played a part in battlements must be acknowledged too. The live sized plastic horses were made from horsehair and can be mistaken for a taxidermy.
The armories and shields were designed intricately with precision. It gave it a personal touch to its rightful kings. Stories engraved in the armors, iron plates and shields tell stories of Alexander the Great. It’s incredible of what you learn and discover from the Tower of London. Take half an hour here and learn all about the Line of Kings of England since the 14th Century.
The third point of my visit was The Battlements. On the way there, there were groups of people crowding around a raven standing on an iron staircase. I wanted to be careful not to scare him away since there weren’t any restrictions on how close you were allowed to get. They flew around the Tower just like any other birds. I thought ravens are another version of crows but really, they’re bigger and squawked louder. Don’t mistake ravens from black crows you see around London, they’re different type of birds.
The ravens shouldn’t be mistaken by crows around London. Their wings are sharper than crows and you can hear them when they fly, whereas with crows, when they fly, they’re more quieter. Legend has it that if the ravens flew or died, the Crown would fall, including Britain.
During the viking eras, the ravens was a symbol for wisdom and thoughtfulness.
The ravens were native to Britain and citations reveal that they lived near people up until the 16th Century. They then declined since it destroyed livestock. At present, the ravenmaster captivates six ravens here in the Tower and are treated like royalties. Servants now look after these ravens on the grounds. Take three minutes to take photos with the ravens. Although they’re not crows, personally, the ravens aren’t that much different when you see them.
The many towers in the Tower of London
After the Battlements, you will many small towers. These towers held prisoners captive for many years. It’s great to see since all prisoners engraved written notes and symbols to say that they were prisoners. Judging by how narrow the towers were, prisoners were kept in cramped conditions, starved to death, not to mention how cold it could get. I felt claustrophobic just being here for 2 minutes.
One prisoner took his time to engrave pictures of dead bodies to tell people that all will die here, and nothing can be done about it. This was how the prisoners must felt, not to mention, hungry. I felt so grateful being in the open air again.
A Catholic Queen held a Protestant prisoner here for believing in his faith.
Take around 20 minutes in the prisoners’ towers.
The Royal Beasts in the Menagerie
The Tower kept many exotic animals which included lions, tigers, zebras, elephants and many more. Surprisingly, wild animals roamed the tower for visitors to see and statues of different animals that are found around the Tower commemorates the real-life wild animals that roamed the menagerie.
Wild animals stated above kept them within the Tower to show their power and status in the country and they were gifts given to them from all over Europe. Sadly, they were mistreated, and people got hurt in the process. There’s nothing interesting in this tower apart from information about the menagerie.
What are some interesting facts about Tower of London?
Tower of London is all about torture, executions and imprisonments. It was also the home of the Royal residents and a place to defend against invaders during battlefields. Visitors often find the gruesome and bloody stories interesting. When Brits curse, they say “bloody”, it’s because London was bloody and gruesome.
Take around 20 minutes here.
“They executed many famous people here at the Tower Green, including Lady Jane Grey and Anne Boleyn,” said the Beefeater. Lady Jane Grey was a teenage queen, married to Lord Guildford Dudley, an English nobleman for 9 days from the 10th July to the 19th July 1554. She was later buried in St Peter Ad Vincula Royal Chapel.
She was executed for high treason, witchcraft and adultery alongside her husband. Her husband was executed in Tower Hill too.
A cart had his body dragged into the Tower, Lady Jane Grey stood watching by one of the windows. A few hours later, they executed Lady Jane at the Tower Green. The sad and horrific story of a loving couple, only teenagers then, wed so young. Along with Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn (King Henry VIII’s wife) were also executed at the Tower Green for treason, witchcraft and adultery.
The Torture at the Tower
Gruesome stories heard in all history happened at The Torture at the Tower. A tool named “The Scavenger’s Sister” crushed the prisoner’s limbs in different places, in opposite directions to confess a crime. Prisoners would use manacles where they would go up two steps up and tighten the prisoner’s arms. The torturer would remove the wicker for the prisoner to hang for 5 to 6 hours. Priest John Gerard also hung here for his Catholic faith.
Medeival religion in London
London were fixed in their religion. If you were from a different faith, you’d get executed or imprisoned. England was predominantly Protestant, so any Catholics were either hung, executed or imprisoned. Many would not change their beliefs in order to conform to society, therefore, sacrificed their lives for their own beliefs.
It has been an experience learning about British history. I learned that British history can be gruesome, sad, bloody, prosperous and happy at the same time. Kings and queens came together to reign England and prisoners were left suffering.
How long does it take to visit The Tower of London?
Allow yourself 2 – 3 hours.
The Yeoman Tour – 45 minutes to an hour – recommended.
The Crown Jewels – 40 to 45 minutes.
The White Tower – Half an hour.
The ravens – You will see them flying around the Tower – take selfies with them for around 3 minutes.
The Menagerie Tower – 20 minutes here reading about its history.
The Beauchamp Tower – 20 minutes.
The Battlements – 20 minutes.
The Prison Tower – 20 minutes.
Torture at the Tower – 20 minutes here.
Spend an extra 30 minutes to just walk around the grounds taking pictures in different angles.
Visiting the Tower of London at night
Although you cannot go inside the Tower at night, there’s a few people taking photos outside. The Tower and Tower Bridge lights up beautifully overlooking the River Thames because, in darkness, all you can see is the Tower. The twinkling lights from the city buildings against the flow of Thames water made the evening sparkle. It’s so much better at night. It’s always breezy but while here, take photos in front of Tower Bridge and the River Thames from here, especially if you’re eating in Coppa Club Restaurant.
It gets busy during the day so if you do have spare time after visiting other attractions, head over to the Tower of London at night.
Spend your evening in Coppa Club Tower Bridge restaurant in an igloo or the restaurant. You’d have to book the igloos in advance, but the restaurant is just as good. Click here for the website.
Tower of London Opening times are
Summer 1 March – 31 October – Tuesday-Saturday: 09:00-17:30
Winter 1 November to 29 February – Tuesday-Saturday: 09:00-16:30
How to get there
To get to the Tower of London, take the Circle and District line (yellow and green tube line) and get off at Tower Hill. It would be convenient if you stayed nearby as there are many hotels around this area including Doubletree Hilton and The Guoman Hotel nestled near Tower Bridge and the River Thames. Tower of London will be in front of you.
Because of COVID-19, www.discount-britain.com will not be selling tickets before 31 May 2020. If you’ve booked tickets before 30 April through this website, you will be contacted by them as soon as possible. However, after the 31 May, you can rebook discounted tickets. I usually go to this site for future bookings to major attractions. Check out the Tower of London for next year’s bookings.
Check out the Golden Tours website for Hop on and Hop off tour here. Outside the Tower, there is a bus stop for Hop-on and Hop-off tours from other companies. Hop-on Hop-off tour guides are always there for any questions.
The best time to visit the Tower of London is either in the morning or the last attraction you see at the end of your day. After it rains, a few people buy tickets to go inside and they have found there’s fewer people. During school holidays, it does get busier but when I visited, I felt comfortable with the crowd.
You can pay by cash and online for discounts and packages. It’s recommended to buy your tickets online. It’s cheaper than paying at the kiosk.
A few fish and chips stalls, coffee shops and other restaurants can also be found here. Book coach tours and explore places outside London like the Stonehenge from the nearby Visitor Information desk.
Head over to London Bridge for Borough Market if you want grab lunch. It closes at around six in the evening.
Itinerary list of things to do around Tower of London
Tower Bridge – Take a few minutes for photos by the River Thames and 45 minutes for the tour.
Walk towards Borough Market – fruit and veg stalls, dairy and fish products.
The Southbank area – Stroll through the Southbank area overlooking the River Thames. You will see several British pubs, European restaurants including Greek and Italian, cafes, cocktail bars, Shakespeare Theatre, the National Theatre, parks, Tate Gallery, the London Eye, Shrek the Experience, Sea Life London Aquarium, the London Dungeon, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Click here for 14 Things to do around the Southbank.
Trafalgar Square – Walk through Whitehall from Westminster Abbey, (take photos with the horse guards along the way) take photos and having lunch here. Near Trafalgar Square, you can visit Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Behind Leicester Square you can visit Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus links to Regent Street, Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street (shopping area), Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue for major theatre shows and Chinatown. Click here for Attractions in Piccadilly Circus.
When you’re in Trafalgar Square, go through the Admiralty Archway, walk through The Mall and visit Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park and The Green Park – Spend 30 minutes each. Admire the Victoria Memorial statue.
The Mall is a wide road leading to Buckingham Palace from Admiralty Archway and are used for major ceremonies, including royal events.
It is clear to say that the Tower of London was used for the royal residents, barracks, prisons and now, a museum. Prisoners included Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth I. The kings and queens wanted to rule the way they wanted to and if they didn’t get their way, executions and imprisonment had to be made brutally and bloody. They would kill their own brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers to rule the monarch. That’s how far they would go to get to the top.
It is also clear that the monarchy and the prisoners lived side by side. The only difference was that the kings and queens lived lavishly, well fed with the finest beef in town and had warm blankets to sleep with. They knew prisoners were in the next towers, starved, cold and depressed.
The 3 hours spent at the Tower of London has been a memorable experience and cannot be compared to any other European history. I recommend visiting the Tower of London but be prepared to spend two to three hours inside. Choose your time wisely.
For more information on the Tower of London, visit Time Out Magazine here.
Click here for the Tripadvisor website. There are 65,000 (2020) positive reviews
Click here to go back to other Things to do in London.