A 1,000 year old fortress and castle that has been used as a Royal palace, the Royal Mint, a prison and place of torture, that houses the Crown Jewels and and has been home for a menagerie of exotic animals, it sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book; except the Tower of London is a work of history not fiction and can be visited without leaving the city of London.
I’m embarrassed to admit that despite living and working in London for decades, I didn’t visit the Tower of London until relatively recently. It was such a brilliant trip that I’m now thinking about when I can go back.
In this post, I’ll share with you my tips and guide for how to visit including what to see, how to buy tickets and a sprinkling of the history that makes the Tower of London one of London’s (and the world’s) most visited tourist spots.
What to see in the Tower of London
There’s a lot of history and sights packed into the Tower of London. Here’s my quick run down of what to see, focusing on the main highlights.
The Crown Jewels
Be prepared to be dazzled by 23,578 gemstones. I have to say, I didn’t expect to be wowed by the Crown Jewels but I was. I don’t know why I had such low expectations – it’s not like I live a life surrounded by gigantic, expensive gems but it was very impressive to see the Crown Jewels up close.
You’ll find the Crown Jewels in the Jewel House (obviously). Be prepared, there will be a queue to get in so take sunscreen if you visit on a sunny day.
Practically speaking, you sail past the Crown Jewels on a conveyor belt so your view will be fleeting. However, I think that’s better than having to jostle for a view.
People ask are the crown jewels in the Tower of London real. The answer is yes. Don’t get any ideas – they’re under armed guard.
The Jewel House features Crown Jewels past and present – the Queen’s (now King’s) current favourites are highlighted with ‘in use’ signage so you can see the jewels she will wear for his next official ceremony.
The White Tower
The White Tower is probably the Tower of London that you have in mind. It’s the imposing white castle that stands at the centre of the complex. The White Tower was built to terrify Londoners into behaving properly so don’t worry if you find the tower a bit intimidating at first sight.
It makes for great pictures from the outside but you can also go inside where you’ll find a host of exhibitions ranging from the Royal Armouries and the Line of Kings, old battle armour worn by past kings.
Inside the White Tower you can also learn more about Torture at the Tower – the basement was used to interrogate prisoners, and there is an old executioners block at the top of the tower.
You can take a free guided tour inside the White Tower.
Tower Executions & Torture Exhibition
If the White Tower has piqued your interest for all things torture at the tower, there is a fascinating, if a bit morbid, exhibition at the Lower Wakefield Tower dedicated to torture and executions.
The Medieval Palace and Wall Walks
Those walls encircling the Tower of London, you can go for a walk along them. It gives great views and photo opportunities over London and Tower Bridge and you’ll learn the history of defending the tower. You can also go insides the battlement towers with each one offering something different to see.
Make sure you don’t miss the Medieval Palace (the collective name for St Thomas’s Tower, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower). Although it’s a re-creation, it’s a very excellent re-creation of the luxury lifestyle the Kings and Queens enjoyed when they stayed at the Tower of London. Quite a contrast to what the prisoners experienced.
Yeoman Warders a.k.a The Beefeaters
I wasn’t organised enough to get myself onto one of the Yeoman Warders tours around the Tower of London and it was a mistake. The Yeoman Warders, known most famously as the Beefeaters, are full of tales about the history and happenings at the Tower of London. Beware – some of the stories are a bit gruesome so won’t be fit for kids (or adults) who scare easily.
The Beefeaters and the Guards: You’ll notice there are two different kinds of ‘guards’ at the Tower of London. You’ll find the famous Beefeaters, but also the sentries that you might normally associate with Buckingham Palace (the red jackets and large black fuzzy hats). It’s one of the bonuses of the Tower of London that you get to see both icons in one place. Just be aware, while you can lark around with the Beefeaters, the Guards are on active military duty so you need to be a bit more respectful.
As the old saying goes: ‘If the Ravens leave the Tower, the Kingdom will fall…’ Perhaps this is the reason the ravens are still there to this day. The ravens have names and the theory is that there must be six ravens to ensure the Kingdom doesn’t fall. There are usually seven ravens in residence; the six, plus a back-up. The ravens can be hard to find because they’re free to roam the tower, so keep your eyes peeled. Free ice cream to the first person who spots one?
The Beefeaters also give ‘Raven talks’ if these blackbirds capture your imagination.
The Royal Beasts and the Royal Menagerie
Speaking of animals at the Tower of London, for over 600 years, wild and exotic animals were help captive at the tower and there is now an exhibition that explains the history of the Tower as a menagerie. Animals from lions to elephants to alligators to kangaroos were kept at the tower as a symbol of status and power.
The Bloody Tower
The Bloody Tower was the Tower of London prison and a visit inside will introduce you to the history of the prison aspect of the tower. Don’t miss the magnificent portcullis as you enter – it was designed to keep prisoners in and invaders out. I think it looks like something out of The Game of Thrones if you ask me.
The Royal Mint
The Royal Mint exhibition was an unexpected highlight for me. Firstly, because I hadn’t realised until visiting that the tower was the location of the original London Mint.
The exhibition talks you through the history of money making. It’s an interactive exhibition with plenty of coins and machinery to keep the kids (and adults) entertained.
I recently also visited the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery just outside London where I discovered the distillery used to be a paper mill for the Bank of England.
The list of is more expansive than this so if you have a special interests in infantry or battlements or armoury, you can visit the extra exhibitions.
Interested in Shakespeare? Check out my guide to visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace: 17 Best Things To Do In Stratford-upon-Avon – England and 14 Best Things To Do In London’s South Bank
Tips for Getting Tickets
Is Tower of London Free?
The bad news is that if you want to visit Tower of London, you’re going to have to pay for tickets.
How much are tickets?
The good news is that tickets are not wildly expensive. The prices are £25 for adults and £12.50 for kids. But see below because I have some tips for getting discounted tickets.
Do I need to book in advance?
While tickets don’t usually sell out, I would still recommend that you book in advance. Why?
- Tickets are often a bit cheaper if you book in advance;
- It saves you queuing on the day;
- Get a happiness boost from the anticipation – I’m not even kidding. Psychologists have discovered that we get an emotional boost when we have booked activities to look forward to.
How to book in advance?
My favourite tip is to book using Get Your Guide. Why?
- They sometimes have discounted ticket prices e.g. at time of writing the tickets were £22.50 for an adult compared to £25 buying them direct. If not, the prices are the same as on the official website.
- Right to cancel – check the details but many bookings come with the right to cancel for free up to 24 hours before your booking date.
- It’s quick, secure and easy – the website is designed to make booking easy. (In Dubai, I was able to book Burj Khalifa entrance tickets on Get Your Guide when I couldn’t get the official website to work).
- Summary of visitor info – there’s a section for each ticket/tour telling you what you need to know like opening hours all in one handy place.
- Visitor tips from reviews – the wonderful people who leave reviews with visitor tips have helped me skip lines and pack the right things more than once.
- There’s an app – who doesn’t love an app? Store your tickets on your mobile in the app and access them even when you’re offline, very handy when you’re overseas and don’t have free data.
- Look out for ‘Certified’ tours – that means one of the Get Your Guide bods have taken the tour (presumably in disguise) and have certified that the tour fits the description, is a great quality tour, and gives you what you pay for.
BOOK NOW: You can book certified Tower of London tickets on Get Your Guide – this ticket includes access to the Crown Jewels, all exhibitions and a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) tour.
Otherwise, you can book direct on the official Tower of London site.
Are tickets timed?
Tower of London tickets are not times. They are valid for the whole day until 5:30 p.m in summer or 4:30 p.m. in winter.
Do you need to book a tour?
It’s not necessary to take a formal tour of the Tower of London. My advice would be to buy a ticket, pick up a free map as you go in and join one of the free Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) tours.
I also bought one of the kids’ guides – a brilliant comic-style guide that talks you through some of the history and is a great bit of memorabilia.
How to take a private tour
The best bang for your buck (pound in this case) is going to be a private tour that takes you to a few of London’s highlights. It’s also a great way to tackle the city if you’re short on time or energy. Make sure you book a tour that includes entry to the Tower of London and doesn’t just stop outside.
Welcome to London Tour is a great full-day tour that includes a tour of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London (with the Crown Jewels), the Changing of the Guard and a cruise on the River Thames.
How long does the Tower of London take?
How long to spend at the Tower is going to come down to a number of factors. Season and date will make a difference with summer season at the weekend taking longer for everything from tickets to toilet queues and, of course, access to the Crown Jewels.
And then there is how much of a history fan you are. I spent half a day, arriving late morning and leaving mid-afternoon and that was the perfect amount of time. In hindsight, I’d have visited in the morning or the afternoon as the restaurants nearby and food choices inside are limited.
Tower of London hours
The Tower of London opening times are seasonal. The tower opens at 9 a.m. in summer and 10 a.m. in winter. It closes at 5:30 p.m in summer and 4:30 p.m. in winter. Last entry is 30 minutes before closing, but I’d say 30 minutes is definitely not going to be enough.
Access the Tower of London before it opens
If crowds and queues are putting you off visiting, book this Tower of London small-group tour with a Beefeater – a Beefeater will show you round the Tower of London including the Crown Jewels before the official opening time. At only £57, it’s a steal if you want to see the magic of the tower without the people.
Should I buy the London Pass?
If you plan to visit the main tourist sights in London, you might benefit from buying the London Pass. Over 80 attractions are included, and you will get free entry to the Tower of London. Find out more and book The London pass. Price, £79.
How to get to the Tower of London
Where is the Tower of London?
The Tower of London is in the east of the city. The official address for Google maps is: Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB.
You have a few options for getting there. In my order of preference:
Visit by Tube
The nearest Tube Station is Tower Hill on the District Line. From Tower Hill, it’s a 5-minute walk.
If you’re new to London and the Tube, download this free Tube map which you can use to plan routes (saves you deciphering the spaghetti mess that is the Tube Map).
You can read more about taking the Tube in London in my post.
Visit by Hop on Hop off Sightseeing bus
If you are exploring London using the hop on hop off bus, it will stop at the Tower of London. Simple. I love these buses for exploring new cities. They’re a cheap and fun way to get around, especially in a city like London where everything is more spread out than you might expect. Bonus: it’s cheaper to book online in advance. You can book your London Hop on Hop off Sightseeing bus tickets. Price, £34.
Visit by Taxi or Uber
Riding in a Hackney taxi (the famous black bubble shaped taxis) is part of the London experience. It’s one of the more expensive ways to get around the city but definitely worth adding to the list at least once. To hail one, just wave your arm. Frantically.
Alternatively, and cheaper – Uber.
Drive to the Tower of London
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend driving to the Tower of London because parking is going to be a nightmare – hard to get a spot and expensive. However, if this is your chosen transport option:
- check out parking places near Tower of London using Parkopedia
- and don’t forget to pay your Congestion Charge
Where to stay near the Tower of London
First of all, why stay in the east of the city? Because east of central is where all the cool stuff happens. From Brick Lane to Shoreditch out to Hackney and London fields, staying near Tower Bridge, you’re well located to pack the most authentic, local London nightlife into your stay.
All of these hotels are within a 10 minute (or so) walk to the Tower. There should be something at every price point here (keeping in mind that London isn’t the world’s cheapest city).
Four Seasons Hotel London at 10 Trinity – Whether it’s a special occasion or Four Seasons is your usual class of hotel, this is a wonderful luxury stay in an equally wonderful location.
Doubletree Hilton Tower of London – I’ve not stayed in a Doubletree that I didn’t like. Do they still have those really yummy chocolate chip cookies?
Travelodge London Central Tower Bridge – I applaud Travelodge for their budget rates in a big (not budget) city like London. Clean rooms and a solid place to rest your head.
Some Fun Facts
Think you know your Tower of London history? Here are a few fun facts.
When was the Tower of London built?
The Tower of London wasn’t built overnight – it took around 20 years and has been added to and updated over time. The White Tower, the part that gives the Tower of London its name, was finished in 1078.
How old is the Tower of London?
The Tower of London is well over 1,000 years old. Hope I’m still going strong when I reach 1,000.
Who built the Tower of London?
William the Conqueror built the Tower of London (though I suspect he didn’t actually built it himself, probably got some peasants to do it).
Why was the Tower of London built?
The Tower has had a versatile range of uses over the century. Originally it was built to act as a fortress but significantly, it was built as a show of power. If you want to be crude, it was a very expensive and elaborate bit of willy waving on the part of William the Conqueror (I’m only brave enough to say that since William the Conqueror is dead and the tower no longer holds executions).
When was the last execution at the Tower of London?
Did you know that the Tower of London held prisoners until as recently as the 1950s when the Tower was home to the infamous East End London gangsters, the Kray Twins. The last execution at the Tower of London was in 1941 – not all that long ago. The last man executed, Josef Jakobs, was a German spy.
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