Welcome to one of London's most famous attractions - the one where not all previous visitors managed to get out alive!
Walk the path of Royalty gone by and discover the rich, and sometimes grisly, history of one of London’s oldest and greatest landmarks...
At nearly 1000 years old the Tower of London is an imposing and recognisable stone built palace, fortress and former prison (amongst its other uses!) built in the centre of London on the banks of the River Thames.
Not solely just one tower, the name encompasses a number of buildings and structures over eighteen acres within its outer walls and its long history is intertwined with the history of the British Monarchy.
Such a rich history and so many original features led the Tower to become a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.
The history of the Tower of London is a long one, beginning with William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings and the beginning of the Norman rule of England. William decided he needed to ensure that the people of England knew who was in charge now and also wanted to ensure the safety of his troops by building an imposing fortress.
He built the White Tower (designed and built by Gundulf of Rochester), or old keep, within the old Roman city walls and this would have been the tallest structure around for many years after.
Construction started around 1078 and finished in the reign of his son, William II, in 1100. The tower was made from white limestone quarried in Caen, Normandy, France.
Subsequent monarchs (particularly Henry III and Edward I) added to and extended the fortress over the years which included two enormous curtain walls, twenty one towers in total (not all are still standing today), residences for the monarchs and the moat which was fed directly from the River Thames (this was drained in 1843).
Most of the alterations and additions were made between the 11th and 16th centuries with luxurious residences for the Monarch of the time kept at the Tower until the 17th century.
The Tower was unscathed during World War I with a bomb only reaching the moat, but sadly suffered a number of structural losses during bombing raids in World War II.
Numerous famous (and infamous) people, along with thousands of others were imprisoned at the Tower after its construction was completed in 1100.
For some prisoners of a noble background, being imprisoned wasn’t the awful experience most others had as they were kept in relative luxury - even if they were heading for the executioner’s block!
Torture was something that was popular within the prison walls, mainly in the 16th and 17th century and the Tower became famous for its use. It was used for extracting information and The Rack was a particularly favoured method of the guards.
Just a few of the better known prisoners who were kept at the Tower, including some that never made it out alive, were…
Over the many years of the Tower of London’s history, Monarchs have kept their most precious robes and jewellery stored in the stronghold. Since the 17th century the Crown Jewels of the English monarchy have been stored here along with many other items of ceremonial and coronation importance. They have only been moved twice in their history - once was during WWII where they were moved to Windsor Castle for their safety.
The nearest successful attempt to steal the Crown Jewels was in 1671 when Colonel Blood tried (but failed) to remove them from the Tower - it was a very close shave!
The Crown Jewels that we see today are unfortunately not the original coronation jewels from around the 11th Century. Sadly the majority of these were destroyed during the English Civil war with only a few pieces remaining. Once Charles II regained the throne in 1661 he reinstated new pieces and the collection has been added to over the years which is what is currently on display in the Tower today.
The Tower has also had other valuable assets within its walls historically. In around 1279 King Edward I moved the Royal Mint into the Tower which produced the majority of the country’s coins. It stayed here until 1810 where it was moved to nearby Tower Hill and then to Wales in the 1960s.
Other precious rarities have been kept in the Tower for many years but these were living artefacts! In 1235 King Henry III reportedly received three leopards from the Roman Emperor and was inspired to start a zoo at the Tower.
Over the following hundreds of years animals of various types were brought to the Tower’s zoo, including other big cats, an elephant and a polar bear. The zoo was closed in 1835 due to concerns about the animal’s welfare and the remaining animals were moved to Regents Park where London Zoo was founded.
The other main use of the Tower over the years has been that of a Royal Armoury. Weapons were made and stored here from the time of William the Conqueror and from the 17th century people could pay to visit to see the collection. There are still parts of the armoury on display in the White Tower but the majority has been moved to museums in Leeds and Fareham.
Visiting the Tower allows you to immerse yourself in many years of ceremony and history and there are numerous places to visit within the walls. Some of the highlights that shouldn’t be missed are:
The keepers of the Tower who work in many guises in looking after it. It would be difficult not to spot them in their distinctive uniforms! One of their most important jobs (aside from the safety of the Crown Jewels) is the ancient Ceremony of the Keys which has been performed every night for over 700 years!
Be sure not to miss a guided tour by one of these knowledgeable men and women who have many stories to tell about the Tower and it’s (occasionally gruesome!) past.
Quite literally the jewel in the crown of visiting the Tower! This amazing collection of 23,578 gemstones is kept under armed guard in the Jewel Tower and a trip to see them first hand (albeit behind glass) is not to be missed.
There are many pieces to admire and a number of these are still used in ceremonies so occasionally they may be missing from display and ‘in use’. These jewels are sacred from both a religious and royal perspective, representing the passing of the Monarchy from one royal to another. Key pieces in the collection are:
Ravens were first required to be kept within the Tower by Charles II who was told that ‘The crown and the Tower itself would fall if they left’.
Iconic residents of the Tower since then, the ravens can be seen around the grounds of the Tower although their lodgings are on the South lawn. They are kept close by by having some of their primary and secondary flight feathers trimmed from their wings which stops them from flying too far.
They are also encouraged to stay by being kept well fed and looked after by a key Beefeater, the Ravenmaster. There needs to be at least six ravens within the Tower but there is often one or two more as ‘spares’ just in case any do roam out of the walls!
The parish chapel for the Tower where both Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey have their final resting place.
The place where the suspected murder of the Princes in the Tower took place.
One of the most recognisable castles in the world and an iconic London landmark, the White Tower contains the 11th century Chapel of St John the Evangelist. Also within its walls are the Royal Armouries.
An exhibition showing the workings and history of the Royal Mint in it’s 500 year home at the Tower.
Along the South Battlements explore a number of other towers such as the Lanthorn and Salt Towers (among others) each hosting its own history of the Tower of London itself.
Originally named Water Gate, this was an entrance to the Tower via the river and although originally for the royals to use to enter the palace it was renamed due to the number of prisoners brought into the Tower via this entryway.
Tickets can be pre-booked online at www.hrp.org.uk or bought on the day from the ticket office on Tower Hill. Ticket prices (subject to alteration) are:
The Tower of London (EC3N 4AB) is within the western part of the borough of Tower Hamlets on the border of the City of Westminster.
It is situated on the north bank of the River Thames alongside Tower Bridge. HMS Belfast is moored directly across the river from the Tower.
Due to its central location in the capital, the Tower of London can be accessed in a variety of ways.
Due to the location of the Tower of London there are numerous options for accommodation in the central London vicinity. From hostels and budget hotel options all the way through to five star luxury, there are many places to stay.
Central London, by it’s nature as a capital city, has many attractions to see and things to do. Just a few of the many options available in the vicinity of the Tower of London are:
Click here to see the latest ticket prices.
The Tower of London is famous for being a well preserved example of a medieval castle and fortress which still has a number of original features present.
It also contains the Crown Jewels of the British Monarchy that can be viewed and the famous Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters) who protect and look after the Tower along with the ravens that live within the walls.
There are many people who have been killed over the 900 years since the Tower of London was built including many famous people for example two of Henry VIII’s wives (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) and Guy Fawkes (who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament).
Click here to read more about the famous executions that took place at the Tower.
It is recommended that you take 2-3 hours to explore and visit the Tower of London fully.
There are a number of things that are included in the Tower of London tickets along with entrance to certain towers and exhibits within the Tower. Other aspects included are; viewing the Crown Jewels, Yeoman Warder tours, meeting the ravens (bird dependent!) and seeing the Tower guards,
It is said that the infamous Kray twins were the last people to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.
No, unfortunately photography is not allowed in the Crown Jewels exhibit so therefore you are unable to take your own photos of them.
Over three million visitors visit the Tower of London each year!
Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) and their families live within the walls at the Tower of London if they would like to.
No, there is no accommodation that allows members of the public to stay at the Tower of London.
There are a number of theories as to why Beefeaters are called such, the main one seems to imply that the Warders were able to eat beef from the King’s table in earlier years.
Others say that it meant that they were issued a bigger ration of food to enable them to do their job or were even paid in part for their jobs with food. Another version is that the term is derived from the French word ‘buffetier’ which indicated that the Warders looked after or even tasted the King’s food for him.
The Crown Jewels are not insured against loss and are essentially classed as priceless. A rough estimate of what they could be worth in total is approximately £2.9billion.
As with the Tower of London itself, the Crown Jewels are part of the Crown estate which is owned by whoever is currently Monarch. They are not the Monarch’s personal property to sell and are held ‘in right of the Crown’.
The Tower of London is part of the Crown Estate which, although this is owned by the Queen, it is not actually her private property and she therefore cannot sell it. This is passed from Monarch to Monarch and is classed as ‘in right of the Crown’ (i.e. whoever is currently the King or Queen ‘owns’ it!).