How to make the most of your visit to the Tower of London
When you want to make the most of your visit to the Tower of London, you’ll 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 and many more.
The Tower Bridge, The Shard, and the River Thames, are a few attractions you must visit before or after the tour, and 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.
The Tower of London is one of the most famous buildings in London. This guide will cover the secrets inside the tower, 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.
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, and it’s near major attractions in the Southbank. The Tower of London is one of the things to do in Southbank. Bloody stories lie behind the walls. Read on to find out more about the secrets of the tower.
Throughout the years British history is known for its line of long-standing monarchy, kings, queens, princes and princesses, prisoners, and peasants. The Tower of London had been treated unfairly by wealthy, powerful people while inflicting harm upon the rest of London. It is also what shapes the modern royal family today. Between them, there have been bloody murder, torture at the towers, chambers, and gruesome stories told for a thousand years. The 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
There are so many ways in how to get to the Tower of London. The quickest way is to take the tube to Tower Hill, the District and Circle Line (yellow and green), cross the road and it will be just in front of you. If you want to walk across the Southbank (link), then it’s only a few minutes-walk along the Southbank. The major station is London Bridge, and from London Bridge, you can take bus numbers 15, 42, 78, and 100 which stop outside the Tower of London.
The Yeoman Wardour Tour and The Beefeaters
Beefeaters are protectors of the Tower of London, the bodyguard, and the royal bodyguards. Back in the olden days, their nickname derived from the fact they could eat as much beef at the King’s table as they liked. There are still beefeaters roaming the Tower of London, and 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. You can ask them any questions you may have regarding the Tower of London or the Royal Family.
The guided tour comes with the entrance fee and always starts every half an hour at the beginning of the tour. The 1:30 pm slot was already full of people and the group was larger than expected. Because I went during the school holidays during the Easter Break, I was worried there would be a group of school children, but there was space to walk around the grounds of the tower. The weather was still windy, so don’t expect London to be sunny during Easter.
The Beefeater stood at the side of the entrance introducing himself and what he could offer us. He’ll use British humour, but I felt he spoke fast, too fast for non-English speakers to understand. Scanning the crowd with frowned faces, I knew they were trying to catch what he was saying, some had already lost interest but there are other Beefeaters around, you might be lucky, they may speak slowly. If not, after the tour, just ask them questions you might have missed from the Wardour Tour.
Throughout the visit, 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 and suffered until they died. 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 about the Tower.
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 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 the 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 their deaths, consequently, they were both beheaded at Tower Hill in 1535.
Conclusion to The Wardour Tour
As the tour continued, he resumed joking, “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 it. 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 in 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, and you’ll find crowns, armoury and other royal valuables belonging to the British monarchy. They are all 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 are 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 armouries 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. Feel free to take photos by the stairs, and 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 armouries and it’s the oldest museum exhibit showcasing King Henry VIII’s, Charles I, James II’s horses, and armours from the 17th Century. The life-sized statues of kings and their horses are a sight to see and not to be taken 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 taxidermy.
The armouries and shields were designed intricately with precision. It gave it a personal touch to its rightful kings. Stories engraved in the armours, iron plates, and shields tell stories of Alexander the Great. It’s incredible what you learn and discover at the Tower of London. Take half an hour here and learn all about the Line of Kings of England going back to 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 could 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.
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, they’re quieter when they fly. Legend has it that if the ravens flew or died, the Crown would fall, including Britain. During the Viking era, the ravens were a symbol of 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. Presently, the raven master captivates six ravens here in the tower, and are treated like royals. Servants now look after these ravens on the grounds, and the best part is, they’ve been given names to make it personal. Take 3 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 see 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 would get. I felt claustrophobic just being there for 2 minutes. I really felt for the innocent prisoners. No one should be executed for their religious beliefs. London was fixed in their religious denominations. If you were from a different denomination, you’d get executed or imprisoned, and England was predominantly Protestant, so any Catholics were either hung, executed, or imprisoned. Many would not change their beliefs to conform to society, therefore, sacrificed their lives for their own beliefs.
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. A Catholic Queen held a Protestant prisoner here for believing in his faith. After I visited the towers, I felt so grateful to be in the open air again.
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 you’ll see several statues of different animals commemorating the wild animals there.
Wild animals were kept within the Tower to show their power and status in the country. They were also 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?
The 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, and when Brits curse, they say “bloody”. It’s because London was bloody and gruesome between the 12th and 14th Century.
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, who was an English nobleman for 9 days between the 10th July to the 19th July,1554. She was later buried in St Peter Ad Vincula Royal Chapel. Lady Jane Grey was executed for high treason, witchcraft and adultery alongside her husband, where he was executed in Tower Hill too.
A cart had his body dragged into the Tower, and 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.
Torture at the Tower
Gruesome stories heard in all history happened at The Torture at the Tower. “The Scavenger’s Sister” crushed the prisoner’s limbs in different places, and 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 was also hung here for his Catholic faith.
How long does it take to visit The Tower of London?
Allow yourself 2 – 3 hours.
The Yeoman Tour – 45 minutes to an hour (included in the entry price) – 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.
Spend an extra 30 minutes just walking around the grounds taking pictures from different angles.
Visiting the Tower of London at night
Although you cannot go inside the Tower at night, there are a few people taking photos outside. The Tower and Tower Bridge light 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 you’re here, take photos in front of Tower Bridge and the River Thames, especially if you’re eating in Coppa Club Restaurant.
It gets busy during the day so if you have spare time, take a long breezy quiet walk through the Southbank at night. You’ll see St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Big Ben, and the London Eye illuminate in the dark.
Tower of London hours
Summer 1 March – 31 October – Tuesday-Saturday: 09:00-17:30
Winter 1 November to 29 February – Tuesday-Saturday: 09:00-16:30
The majority of us have had our first vaccinations for COVID, so if you plan to visit us, make sure you click the link which will take you to the https://www.gov.uk/uk-border-control.
If you want to find out more about discounts, visit www.discount-britain.com for cheap 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 tours here. Outside the Tower of London, there is a bus stop for Hop-on and Hop-off tours from other companies too, but Golden Tours is the best one. 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 since it can take 2 – 3 hours to make the most of it. After it rains, a few people buy tickets to go inside, and they have found there are fewer people. During school holidays, it does get busier but when I visited, the grounds were large enough to run around in.
You can pay by cash and online for discounts and packages, but 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.
Itinerary list of things to do around Tower of London
You can also take a walk in the Southbank during the day. Here are some attractions you can see during your walk.
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.
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.
When you’re in Trafalgar Square, go through the Admiralty Archway, walk through The Mall, and visit Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park, and 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 is used for major ceremonies, including royal events.
Hidden Gem: All Hallows by the Tower Church and The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett
All Hallows by the Tower Church is situated next to the Tower of London. It’s the oldest Anglican church in London and still holds services to this day. After your tour at the Tower of London, why not give All Hallows by the Tower Church a visit, later, you can eat at the Coppa Club Tower Bridge restaurant, famous for its igloos by the River Thames, overlooking Tower Bridge and The Shard.
All Hallows by the Tower Church have survived many disasters including The Great Fire of London and the German bombers during the Blitz. It can also be missed since everyone will be attracted to the Tower of London. If you’re into Roman floors, the history of Anglo Saxons, and Ernest Shackleton, then this place is for you. Compared to Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, there’s not a lot of people here, so it’s an intimate experience if you don’t like crowds. Check out the crypt museum and the many multi coloured glass crests on the stained-glass windows. It’s historical, spooky, creepy, and interested at the same time.
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.
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 monarchy. That’s how far they would go to get to the top. A lot has changed throughout history, and the present-day royal family would never dream of being King or Queen, it’s too many responsibilities.
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. When I visited, it was my last thing to do in London for the day, because by 5 in the evening, I could relax and just drink by the River Thames. It can be tiring walking the grounds, so if you have small kids, they might not enjoy it.
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.
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