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Visiting The Tower of London

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Royal palace? Check. Former prison? Check. Site of execution for TWO English queens? Check, check, and check!

The Tower of London is one of the most fascinating places in the history of the world. Built during the Norman Conquest, this historic castle has been served as a home to kings and queens, a jail for high-profile prisoners, and as the Royal Mint. It is also the current home of the Crown Jewels. Situated in Central London, the Tower of London is one attraction you can’t miss. Let’s dig in, shall we?

The Tower of London at a Glance

Name:The Tower of London
Country:United Kingdom
Nicknames:The Tower
Type of Site:Royal castle, royal palace, museum
Year Built:c. 1070 A.D. (William the Conqueror)
Known For:Royal castle, prison, execution site of Anne Boelyn

History of the Tower of London

The Tower of London may have the most grisly history of any place in all of England. Just the mention of “The Tower” conjures up images of ghastly torture chambers and gruesome beheadings. But, this intimidating structure isn’t only about these grim events. The Tower of London was also an armory, a palace, and served as the Royal Observatory. These days, it is one of the most celebrated places in all of London – and my personal favorite attraction to visit.

Mentioning the Tower of London conjures up images of ghastly torture chambers and gruesome beheadings. But there's more to the Tower than that!
Photo I took of the Tower of London in 2014. The poppies are in commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI.

Built by William the Conqueror sometime around 1070 A.D., the Tower of London immediately became a symbol of power for the newly formed Norman kingdom. Situated on a bend in the Thames River, The Tower was strategically located to protect the growing city of London while symbolically towering over the city as a testament to the new monarchy’s power over the people.

Over the centuries, the Tower of London underwent a number of expansions and renovations. However, one of the most interesting periods in the Tower’s history began in 1483. A series of battles for the throne – known as the “War of the Roses” – had raged for years. The current occupants of the throne were the Plantagenets. King Edward IV just died, leaving Edward’s 12-year-old son to become king. Edward IV’s brother Richard was named protector of the realm.  Long story short, Richard usurped the throne from his nephew and became King Richard III. The boy king (and his younger brother) were never seen again. Years later, 2 skeletons were found hidden in a building near the White Tower, and it is believed that Richard probably murdered the two princes.

The next 70 years saw even more gruesome events at the Tower of London. The Henry Tudor would win the throne, and his son would eventually become King Henry VIII. As king, Henry VIII used the tower to torture and imprison his enemies – many of whom were once his closest friends. Several important figures in English history were imprisoned here before being executed at Tower Hill, which is adjacent to the castle. These figures included Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and Bishop John Fisher.

Henry VIII also had two of his queens executed within the Tower’s walls. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were both imprisoned and beheaded at the Tower of London. Their graves are both located in the Tower’s chapel, the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula.

Today, the Tower of London serves mainly as a tourist attraction, with more than 2 million visitors entering its gates each year. The Tower also houses Her Majesty’s Crown Jewels and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tour of the Tower

"Tower of London EN" by Thomas Römer. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Tower of London EN” by Thomas Römer. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

The Tower of London is actually a fairly large, sprawling complex complete with battlements, gates, a dried-up moat, and even a church. When you arrive at The Tower, be sure to grab a map. Better yet, sign up to take a walking tour with one of the Yoeman Warders (known affectionately as “Beefeaters”) and get to see some of the sites that the general public isn’t allowed to visit.

Upon entering the Tower of London, be sure to sneak a peek at “Traitor’s Gate.” This is the gate through which many of England’s most famous prisoners – including Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More – entered when arriving at the Tower.

In the center of the complex is the large “White Tower.” This is the original building and was used as the Royal Residence. Climbing the stairs in this old castle is a workout, but it’s a hoot. Be sure to check out the spot where the “Two Princes” were found, as well as the armor and weapons museum in the White Tower.

On the other side of the White Tower, directly across from Traitor’s Gate, is where you’ll find the Crown Jewels. You’ll notice a soldier dressed in their ceremonial uniform standing guard at the door. Entrance to the exhibit is included with your price of admission.

Looking left from the entrance to the Crown Jewels, you’ll see the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula. This is where several of Enland’s most famous (and notorious) nobles – including queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – are buried. (Entrance to the church is limited to the Beefeater tours.) You should also take the walking path around to the Tower Green, an open space which sits between the church and the White Tower. There you’ll see a memorial on the spot where it is believed that the executions took place.

Cost and Hours

Getting to the Tower of London is a piece of cake. Just take the tube (London Underground) on either the Circle or District Line and jump off at Tower Hill. Exit the subway, and you can’t miss it.

Hours for the Tower of London are as follows:

Summer (March 01 – October 31)

  • Tuesday-Saturday: 9 AM to 5:30 PM
  • Sunday & Monday: 10 AM to 5:30 PM
  • Last Admission: 5 PM

Winter (November 01 – February 28)

  • Tuesday-Saturday: 9 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Sunday & Monday: 10 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Last Admission: 4 PM

Prices at the gate generally run about £25 for adults and £11 for children ages 5 to 15. Get there early to avoid the lines!

Skip the Lines at the Tower of London

As one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, long lines form during peak season. That is why our favorite way to see London is using the London Pass. This is probably our favorite city pass of all, and it gives you “free” entry to more than 60 London attractions and activities. If you’d like, you can even add on an Oyster Pass (city transportation pass) and use it to get around for just a few extra bucks. Best of all, the London Pass allows you to skip the lines at some of London’s most popular attractions – including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, and more. To learn more about sightseeing in London, follow the link for a complete review of the pass.

Wrapping Up

Visiting the Tower of London is an amazing experience that you’ll never forget. In fact, it is my favorite attraction in all of London. Be sure to leave enough time to explore the Tower of London thoroughly. You won’t regret it!


The London Pass

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