The Tower of London or to give its official title (Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of The Tower of London) is one of London’s most iconic and historic buildings.
We recently had the opportunity to visit and learn about its varied history along with the people and animals that have lived within the tower over the centuries.
With over 3 million visitors every year, here are some of the highlights, tips and tricks that you won’t want to miss.
Construction of the Tower of London was commissioned by William the Conqueror towards the end of the 1066. Its initial purpose was a fortress to provide a base for royal power in the City of London and a stronghold to which the royal family could retreat in times of civil disorder.
As well as being a Royal residence and treasury for the Royal family the Tower has had many uses during its lifetime including a prison, place of execution, Royal Mint and even a zoo.
Over the past 1000 years it has witnessed many great events in British history including getting damaged during the blitz in the Second World War.
The Tower of London is one of the few intact medieval buildings and since 1988 has been an UNESCO world heritage site.
Buy your tickets online before you visit
I recommend that you pre book your tickets online before you visit, which will save you time waiting in line and can also work out cheaper than the gate prices.
We had our tickets from Buyagift.com which I would highly recommend. Not only can you make a saving on the gate price they are also flexible as you have 10 months to use your voucher.
This gave us the option to change our itinerary dependent on the weather which was definitely the case during our visit as we encountered everything from warm sunshine to snow.
When we arrived at the Tower of London we headed to the Group Sales desk and handed over the voucher and in return we received our entrance tickets to the attraction – simple.
The Tower of London Experience
The Tower of London experience starts as soon as leave Tower Hill tube station. You will see lots of people taking selfies and family photos (us included!) and it’s such a great place to pause and to take in the beauty of this historic building which sits majestically on the River Thames next to the Tower Bridge.
We also took the opportunity to have one of the iconic London themed cupcakes from Lola’s Cupcakes – they are delicious and are highly recommended if you are visiting London!
We crossed the moat which surrounds the tower and entered via the main entrance at Byward Tower where a giant trebuchet is on display.
The girls are now 7 and 9 and have ever growing imaginations and the medieval topics which have been explored in school have given the girls a keen interest in history.
First impressions when you enter is just how vast the Tower of London is – 12 acres in fact. The Tower of London consists of several buildings, 20 towers, interior and exterior walls and a moat.
If you are a step counter you will love the Tower of London as it involves a lot of walking, and climbing plenty of steps so wear comfortable shoes. I think we covered over 15,000 steps on our visit!
Yeoman Warder Tours
As we entered the tower we met the Beefeaters or “Yeoman Wardens” who are tasked with the job of guarding the crown jewels as well as acting as tour guides for the tower.
We learnt that they got their Beefeater name because historically they were allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king’s table. Today to become a Yeoman Warden they have to earn the privilege by serving 22 years in the armed forces.
For an insider’s view of the Tower of London the free 1 hour long Beefeater guided tours which run every 30 minutes are highly recommended or you can purchase an audio guide.
Fun Trails & Smartphone Apps
However for children there are also other fun ways to learn about the tower which let you explore the attraction at your own pace.
From the welcome centre you can collect a free activity which added extra excitement for the children as they learnt about the tower through fun quizzes and tasks.
I would also recommend downloading the free Time Explorers app to your smartphone prior to your visit which will send you on interactive challenges as you explore the tower and is great fun for both adults and kids!
One of the main reasons why the Tower of London is so popular with tourists is because it’s still the official home of the crown jewels for the British royal family.
With armed guards at the entrance it’s heavily defended even today which is understandable especially with over 23,500 jewels on display with the total value estimated to exceed £20 billion.
As you enter the room via one of the strongest fortified doors I have seen, you get so close at the beautiful crown jewels. To keep crowds moving a moving walkway runs either side of the glass cabinets which hold the crown jewels.
The girls could not believe the size of the crown, it was a fabulous treasure chamber containing, gold, silver and many precious stones. The most famous of which was the Cullinan I, the biggest flawless and colourless cut diamond on earth, embedded in the royal sceptre and the Imperial Crown which the Queen still wears today.
tip – Don’t rush through the jewel room you can re-ride the walkways as many times as you wish.
Because of the tight security in this section there was no photography allowed so unfortunately, we are unable to share with you pictures of the fabulous crown jewels.
Due to the popularity of this exhibition queues are to be expected, so I would recommend that you make this one of the first places to visit when at the tower.
Royal Beasts at the Zoo
It was interesting to learn that the Tower of London was home to one of Britain’s first zoos during the 1200s and remained there for 600 years.
During this time in the confines of the brick tower it was home to numerous wild and exotic animals, some which the people of Britain had never seen such as lions, kangaroos, ostriches, elephants and even a polar bear who used to go fishing in the River Thames!
In 1835 the zoo closed and all the animals where moved to what is now known as London Zoo in Regent’s Park.
There are various menagerie animals sculptures located around the Tower of London in reference to the animals that called the tower home for over 600 years.
A favourite of ours were the monkeys sitting on the wall near the tower and the interactive royal beast displays where we were able to experience the sights, sounds, and even smells of the animals.
The White Tower
This is the most impressive and oldest part of the fortress built on the site of the Norman Keep by William the Conqueror. Constructed from Caen stone imported from France and standing at 27 metres tall it dominates the local skyline making it one of the most famous and beautiful keeps in the world.
Home to the 11th century chapel and Royal Armouries collection we loved viewing all the medieval weapons including spears, swords and suits of royal armour including that of Henry VIII in an exhibit called the Line of Kings.
It truly felt like we had gone back in time and it was amazing to see how much metal was placed on their bodies and how difficult it must have been to move yet alone fight.
The white tower was one of our favourite areas of the tour for the children. There were lots of interactive exhibits which brought the history of this part of the castle to life.
The girls had the opportunity to become a medieval long bowman shooting arrows and firing cannons as an English Civil War artillery captain.
As well as being a royal residence and a zoo, the Tower of London is best known as a fearsome prison over the centuries.
When the white tower was constructed in 1066 it was never built as a prison but the building was so good at keeping people inside as it was as keeping intruders out it was the perfect place to keep captive some of the country’s most high profile prisoners.
Some of its most famous inmates were the second wife of Henry VIII Anne Boleyn, Guy Fawkes, Sir Walter Raleigh and even Deputy to the Führer” Rudolf Hess, who served as Hitler’s second-in-command in the Nazi Party.
It was like stepping back in time as we learnt what life was like for prisoners and why they had been imprisoned, which led to lots of questions from the girls.
Interestingly, there were only 22 executions which took place within the Tower of London and most of the executions took place during the last century, the last of which was German spy Josef Jakobs on August 15th 1941 who was executed by firing squad for spying. The chair is still preserved today at the Royal Armouries’ artefacts store.
After our recent visit to the Royal Mint in Wales where the countries coins are currently produced it was fascinating learn that from 1279 and 1812 the tower was home to the Royal Mint, where the majority of the countries coins were made.
I highly recommend taking the wall walk around the huge stone battlements which form the towers walls. These have protected kings and queens since Henry III’s fortifications in the mid-13th century.
The wall walk is like a maze and the girls had great fun climbing the winding stone steps and exploring different rooms they had found. Another benefit of making the climb onto the battlements is that you are rewarded with some of the best views of Tower Bridge and the skyline of London.
Spot the ravens at the Tower
Look out for the ravens who preside over four different territories within the Tower precincts and have lived here for centuries. We did manage to spot several during our visit who freely roam around the tower.
Legend states that if they leave, the tower and kingdom will fall. There are actually seven ravens at the Tower at the moment – the required six, plus one spare! and have their own enclosure at the tower.
The ravens at the tower are looked after by the Ravenmaster and dine on a very interesting diet of raw meat, and blood covered bird biscuits – yuk!
Ceremony of the Keys
The ceremony of the keys is a 700 year old tradition of locking up the Tower of London and is the oldest military ceremony in the world.
Every evening at 9:53pm, this seven minute ceremony takes place between the sentry and the Yeoman Warder, better known as the ceremony of the keys and the locking of all the doors to the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are housed.
Amazingly in November 2012, the key to the internal lock to the Tower was stolen. The lock was immediately replaced but it does question who has the spare key?
This was highly recommended to us but tickets for this free event get booked up months in advance. So if you are planning a visit you can pre book here
Discovering the rest of the tower
There is so much to see and do here, there are several towers to explore, buildings to look at and exhibits to explore – we spent over 3 hours exploring the attraction.
Whilst many of the prisoners were executed on Tower Hill in front of large crowds some were executed within the walls of the Tower and is now depicted with a glass memorial. Some of the most famous executions here were Henry VIII’s wives – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard along with Guy Fawkes.
This area is also a great place to sit and relax and view the homes within the tower walls. We never knew that people actually live inside the tower and the paint on the doors of where they live is actually the same paint that is used on Tower Bridge nearby!
In the dungeons there were instruments of torture that were used at the Tower of London during the 16th and 17th century and you can learn about the mysterious deaths of Prince Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York at the Bloody Tower in 1483.
At traitor’s gate the infamous entrance which allowed access to the tower from the river Thames, many of its prisoners were brought to the Tower in boats through this very gate.
There is a café and snack bars onsite for drinks and light snacks but we gave them a miss opting to dine at The Ivy restaurant. If you can get a reservation its well worth a visit and is located just a short walk from the tower across Tower Bridge.
From our table we were rewarded with beautiful views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge which was even more spectacular at dusk.
The Tower of London is undoubtedly a must-see attraction when visiting London. There is plenty on offer to keep both adults and children entertained and is fascinating to learn about British history and to see the crown jewels in such an iconic location.
Due to the popularity of the Tower of London, ticket lines can be long. I would strongly advise that you book your tickets online in advance.
We had the family pass for the Tower of London and Hop On, Hop Off Thames cruise pass from Buyagift.com (currently £95.00). You can also make additional savings on these prices as throughout the year buyagift run several discount code campaigns – currently using FIRSTORDER will give you a further 10% discount.
We received two vouchers – both valid for 10 months for two adults and two children. There was no need to book in advance for either of these experiences and all we had to do is bring your valid voucher on the day.
We had such a busy itinerary that we didn’t use our 3 day Hop On, Hop Off Thames cruise voucher but plan to use this on our next visit to London, another benefit of the 10 month flexibility of the buyagift voucher.
We were provided with complimentary tickets for our visit from buyagift. All thoughts and opinions are our own.