On the contrary of what some might think the Tower of London is only the 6th most popular attraction in London with 2.5 million visitors (2011). British Museum (6 million visitors) and other free entry museums are well before the Tower in number of visitors. I think that the adult ticket at 20,90 £, children 6 - 16 yr at 10,45 £, students & + 60yr at 17,60 £ are a reason for this even if the Tower has quite developed its spectacle part (since my previous visit 50 years ago!).
There are actually 3 usual ways of buying your ticket and avoiding lines:
- Go to one of the 4 ticket counters at the opening (Tuesday - Saturday 09.00 h; Sunday & Monday 10.00 h). You can see from my photo 1 that the lines are rather short on a Saturday in August.
- Buy your ticket the day before after 16 h, no line.
- Book your ticket online (small price reduction). You can choose to collect your tickets on the day of your visit or have them posted to you. However, if you are booking less than 7 working days (UK) or 10 working days (non-UK) in advance, you will need to collect your tickets on the day. Information on where to collect your tickets will be provided in your booking confirmation email. Be well aware that you cannot print your tickets at your home as you are often doing for plane or train tickets.
At the entry of the Tower there is some lining up even at 9.00 h because of the security check of your bag (photo 2).
Like already mentioned here there is lining up at the Crown Jewels. Start your visit with this part. Till about 09.30 h you can enter directly the building (photo 4). Later you have to pass by crowd barriers who canalize the flow of visitors (photo 3).
For the other parts there is here and there some short lining to pass narrow doors.
Take also into account there are many stairs.
You can see about everything in 4 hours time.
First thing when visiting the Tower is to hurry up to the Waterloo block where the Crown Jewels are on exhibit. Do it before 09.30 am. to avoid the lines. Visitors are whizzed past the Crowns on a moving walkway.
If you are early you can go back and look again if they are real or fakes because that is an often asked question.
As I believe what the authorities, especially Royals, say and as the jewels are surrounded with Beefeaters, an armed guard at the entrance (photo 1) and also some canons (photo 2) in front of the building they must be real?!
Furthermore the motto on the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom being "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (= shamed be he who thinks evil of it) I can't imagine Elisabeth II making me pay 21.45 £ to see fake diamonds?!
But another thing is sure; replicas of the British Crown Jewels exist because they were shown on an exhibition in Hannover in 1997.
Photos being not allowed inside I took pics of the guard at the entrance. Actually this guard is from the same battalion as the guard at Buckingham Palace.
When I visited the Tower Guards battalions alternated with the 2nd Battalion of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (PWRR) an infantry regiment for the south east of England, known as "The Tigers" (photo 3).
It must be terribly boring to stay in front of the Crown Jewels not even smiling to the pretty girls passing by, just from time to time moving riffle from one hand to another and doing a few steps.
If you want to see more militaria, on the right of the Crown Jewels building has opened the Fusiliers' Museum (photo 4).
After several years of scaffolding, scrubbing and polishing the Norman architecture of the White Tower is again visible since begin 2011 like it must have looked around 1100 after the death of William the Conqueror the Duke of Normandy who had it built.
It is certainly the most imposing building (36m x 32.5m across and 27.5m tall) of the Tower complex. It is also inside that there is most to see. As the White Tower is close to the Crown Jewels (where you should start your visit early to avoid the lines) continue with the interesting and spectacular Royal Armouries' collection.
"Fit for a King" (open since April 2010) shows five hundred years of spectacular royal armour. The skill of the royal armourers was to combine practical protection for tournaments and battle with breathtaking designs and decoration.
My photo 2 shows the gilt armour of Charles I, the only English monarch ever to be executed. He was beheaded on a scaffold erected just outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall in 1649.
There are also a number of weapons and guns on display; they belong to the Royal Armouries whose main museum is located in Leeds. Photo 3 shows a heavy mortar of caliber 18 1/2 inches used at the siege of Namur (Belgium) in 1695.
I also liked the decoration of a 24 pounder bronze gun (photo 4 & 5) made in Mechelen (Belgium) 1643 and captured from the Spaniards.
This exhibition, open since April 2010, shows five hundred years of royal armour.
Visitors who have been at the Tower a few decades ago will observe that presently the part of spectacles has been markedly increased aiming at a younger public of visitors.
The display of the royal armour inside the White Tower is also spectacular. Lights moving from bleu to red and green reflect on the armours and are somewhat excessive because they mask the real colours or gilded decoration.
More spectacular is the choice of the armours, mainly those of King Henri VIII. For obvious reasons everybody stops at this field and tournament armour from 1540 on my photo 1.
Henri VIII was 49 when this armour was made for him in Greenwich. It is unlikely he competed in tournament.
The other magnificent silvered and engraved armour was also made in Greenwich around 1515 for Henry VIII at the time of his marriage with Katherine of Aragon; the horse armor was made in Brussels (photo 2 - photos were difficult due to the terrible lights).
My photo 3 is that of a field armour garniture and half shaffron from the Earl of Worcester (1570). It has the latest technical advances but weighs 59 kg, the heaviest armour of that time!
White Tower - The Line of Kings.
This gallery of 10 wooden horses from about 1690 belongs to a display of Kings in armour mounted on these carved horses.
The Line of Kings as it is called started with 10 figures to which during the centuries were added more monarchs. The heads of the monarchs were sculptured; the figures were dressed with armours and seated on the life size sculptured horses.
The Line of Kings was on display in the New Armouries of the Tower already in the 17th c.
Ten of the wooden horses have been brought together and restored but without the Kings in armour. Each horse has the armour of the corresponding King alongside the wall and the names of the monarchs are displayed on the red banners above each horse.
It seems that replicas in fiberglass of the armours will be made. The helmets will contain the original carved and painted heads of the Kings so that they will appear like they were on display around 1800
It's very special and I think unique.
There were not only heraldic lions at the Tower of London but also real ones!
In 1251 King Henry III was keeping a polar bear. There were leopards and even an elephant. Later there were six lions kept in a barbican called Lion Tower. The royal collection was increased by diplomatic gifts and became a public attraction during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Begin of the 19th c. the menagerie was open to the public at six pence the entry.
On a board of the Royal Beasts exhibition in the newly-opened Brick Tower, is written that visitors bringing a live dog or cat to feed the beasts would not pay the entry. Should we believe this?!
There was even a Monkey Room with monkeys living in a furnished room to amuse the visitors. In 1831 the 32 animals were moved to the zoo of Regents Park.
This 6 centuries old Menagerie explains why there are a number of animal sculptures at the Tower.
By chance (and the kindness of the receptionist) I happened to have one of the very few rooms of my hotel with a direct view on the Tower of London.
It was not without some perplexity that I saw on the towers and walls large panels with "HENRY VIII - DRESSED TO KILL".
Actually it is an exhibition from 3 April 2009 until 17 January 2010 about Henry VIII's finest armour and weapons, created for the King. This exhibition is included in the normal ticket.
I visited the Tower a few decades ago and gained now the impression that the spectacular side is privileged. I found the slogan "See some killer objects" a bit on the catchy side. All sovereigns of that time had armour for tournament and combat.
I did not visit this exhibition. I'm not fond of the queuing at the Tower and I have seen plenty of armour at the exceptional collection of the Hofjagd-und Rüstkammer at the Neue Burg in Vienna.
From my room I could also see how on their West side the historical buildings of the Tower of London are dominated by the brown modern commercial buildings of St Katharine docks. But, well, London is a great mix of ancient and contemporary buildings in which perspectives are often lost to the detriment of the historical buildings and monuments.
The Tower of London is an ancient fortress (1076) standing on the banks of the River Thames. Over its history it has been used as a royal palace and fortress, a prison, an arsenal, and a jewel house, amongst other things.
Attracting loads of visitors from around the world, it is best to get there early if you want to avoid the crowds. You can also save time by buying your ticket in advance from any Tube station.
Once inside you can enjoy a guided tour led by the Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters), who live within the Tower precincts. If you are around in the evening check out the Ceremony of the keys, when the Beefeaters lock the Tower gates and the keys are ceremoniously locked away in the Queen's house.
Besides the history, and the numerous towers to explore, the biggest draw card for visitors are the beautiful Crown Jewels. You can see some of the worlds largest and most historic diamonds....but sorry ladies, they are a little too big to be made into a ring!
If you don't end up doing one of the tours, you can still do a self-tour (guidebook in hand!) or pay extra for an audio-tour. We just wandered about, amazing over the Crown Jewels, exploring the towers and trying to take photos of the resident ravens.
While we were up in the London Eye, we could just barely make out the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge in an easterly direction - I did not realize these two landmarks were so far away from the Westminster area we were touring on that day. However, back in 1979 we did have a good look around that part of London as well.
The Tower of London actually comprises a walled fortification with several defensive turrets forming an interior courtyard where the most visible building, the White Tower with it's four battlements juts high above the other buildings. The Tower complex includes the River Thames waterfront as one of it's sides and there is a gate which allows a boat to enter from the river.
Formerly the site of a Roman fortification, the White Tower was the first of today's buildings constructed here, in 1078 on the order of William the Conqueror, shortly after his successful invasion of England in 1066. Other walls, towers and fortifications were added over the centuries but one of the earliest uses of the site was as a zoo (1204-1835) for displaying some of the strange animals that were being discovered as exploration blossomed. Of course the Tower is also famous as a jail for high profile prisoners and for the many executions carried out both within (nobles) and without (common criminals) its walls. No prisoners have been held there since the early 1950s, so the Tower of London is now mostly a tourist attraction, although the Crown Jewels are still kept there for safekeeping.
The second photo gives you an idea of how close the Tower is to the impressive Tower Bridge while the third one shows an interior courtyard view toward the White Tower.
The Tower of London has a long and diverse history. The present White Tower is on the same site as the original wooden fort erected by Wm. the Conqueror.
The moat, double drawbridge entrance, towers, and curtain wall were added in the 13th Century.
Even though the Tower of London has been a fortress and royal palace for hundreds of years, most people think of it only as a prison and a place of execution. But, did you know that it's also been used as a royal mint, royal armory, royal zoo, and royal observatory?
Today, the only animals in The Tower of London are six or seven ravens. They are kept because of a legend that says that the White Tower (and the Monarchy) will collapse if these ravens leave.
Perhaps the real role of the White Tower is security of the Monarch. (That's why the Crown Jewels are kept there!)
Many people who come to visit the Tower of London come to hear about the gore and violence. Most prisoners were kept in the Bloody Tower where the Yeoman Warders looked after them.
Edward IV's two sons were put in this tower by their uncle who became Richard III!
Trials took place in Westminister Hall. So, prisoners were ferried to Westminister Hall and back to the Tower along the river. Of course, crowds would wait by the river to discover the verdicts of the court, wishing to see a public execution! When the prisoner arrived back at The Tower, the executioner stood behind him and would indicate the verdict by using the head of his axe. If it pointed toward the prisoner, he was guilty; if it pointed away from the prisoner, he was not guilty. Seven people died here.
Today, 40 Yeoman Warders guard the tower.
The Tower of London is located just east of the City limits.
I realise that the Tower of london is probably high on the list of must sees for visitors to London, and rightly so. with almost a thousand years of history, the priceless Crown Jewels, ravens and splendidly attired Yeoman warders, it really is a wonderful place to visit.
What people are perhaps less aware of is the Ceremony of the Keys. It is by ticket only (limited numbers) but is really well worth seeing.
Tickets for this ceremony are free but you need to apply 6-8 weeks in advance. Write to The Ceremony of the Keys, Waterloo Block, HM Tower of London, London, England EC3N 4AB enclosing a stamped addressed envelope or coupon-response international and stating the names of the attendees.
As the Yeoman warders put it, at 700 years, it's the longest running show in town.
Traitors Gate was originally called Water Gate but changed its name when the gate became a landing place for boats carrying the Crowns' enemies. Traitors Gate would be the last thing the would see before entering the Tower and being put to death. Princess Elizabeth on a visit to the Tower on Palm Sunday 1554, refused to enter via the gate saying she was no traitor, she changed her mind when the heavens opened and threatened to soak her. On a latter visit as Queen she insisited on entering via the gate proclaiming that what was good for a Princess was good for a Queen - but she did get out alive - most who entered did not.
Although the Tower of London has not been used as a Royal residence for many years, the site does still contain accommodations suitable for royalty. This fact, combined with the presence of the Crown Jewels means that a contingent of Queen's Guard is posted to the Tower to provide one sentry each for the Jewel House and the Queen's House located within the walls. The Guard is normally comprised of troops from any one of five regiments of Foot Guards in the British Army, namely the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish or Welsh Guards. However, on occasion these duties can and have been performed by other Commonweath units from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Nepal.
The duties of protecting the Crown Jewels are shared with the Yeoman Warders who are also posted to the Tower of London (see my 'Local Customs' tip).
I had a very good sightseeing partner. Unless you want to pay someone to walk you about London, your best bet is to hook up with someone in the "know" Such was the case here at the Tower of London. Jenniflower and I got up very early on a chilly Saturday in January. It was a remarkable sight for we were virtually the only people out walking. This afforded some excellent photo opportunites as the sun rose up casting daylight across the facade of this famous landmark.
Getting to the Tower early is highly advisable and check for specials like 2 for 1 which makes the admission price more affordable. See the "Crown Jewels" mind you they are paste copies but brilliant ones at that. The gold punch bowl was unbelievable, such wealth and it sits behind a hermetically sealed glass case and benefits no one. Such a shame, things like that should be used or melted down to help feed and clothe the poor.
The torture room was a bit unnerving, I just cannot get over how people actually created these devices and used them on other human beings. Man's inhumanity against man. Very sad, very tragic.
Make sure to rent head sets with a self guided tour of the Tower. I did not think I would use one but I tried it and I really liked it. It was a well done guided tour and afforded me some information I might have otherwise not known.
New permanent displays on the theme of prisoners have been installed in the Bloody Tower and Beauchamp Tower at the Tower of London. The new displays incorporate the latest audio and visual effects to create an exciting and interactive experience for visitors. Learn how prisoners spent their time while confined in these rooms and contemplate the reality of Tower imprisonment.
Ravens ( in one of the small pix ) are kept because of a legend that says that the tower and therefore the Monarchy will collapse if the Ravens leave, so a few are kept on hand --- Just in case!!!