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The Tower of London

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Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, theTower of London is a must-see for anyone exploring the English capital. With close to 3 million visitors a year, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London!

Follow the guide!

In this article:
👉 Brief history of the Tower of London
👉 Visiting the Tower of London
👉 Access

👉 Want to know more about London’s history? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free tour of the city.
You’re free to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide at the end of the tour!

A short history of the Tower of London

The origins of the Tower of London

While fortifications have been erected on the site of the Tower of London since Roman times, the present fortress dates from the time of of William the Conqueror (11th century). The newly-appointed English monarch ordered the construction of the Tower of London at the end of 1066, the very year of the Norman conquest.

The White Tower was completed in 1078: it is the oldest building in the fortress. In the following centuries, the kings Richard I, Henry III and Edward I also added their contribution to the Tower of London with the constructions of walls, moats and defensive towers.

The layout of the Tower of London changed very little since the end of the 13th century, although many renovation works were subsequently carried out inside the enclosure to modernize and enlarge the buildings built in the previous centuries.

Tower of London

Royal palace, prison and… menagerie

While the Tower of London was home to the residence of British monarchs, it also played a considerably less glamourous role… that of a prison (from the year 1100)! A prison indeed, but only for distinguished prisoners: Queens in disgrace, dissident nobles and intellectuals in protest were in turn imprisoned in the Tower of London. Among them Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh or Thomas Moore. Centuries later, during the Second World War, the fortress briefly resumed its role as a prison.

But the impressive London fortress has welcomed much more surprising guests… in the 1330’s, the Tower of London was home to the royal menagerie !

Over the centuries, the Tower of London took on a number of other surprising functions: armory, treasury (with the Royal Mint), public archives…

🤔 Fun fact 🤔
The English expression ‘to be sent to the tower’, which means going to prison , is a reference to the Tower of London.

The Tower of London, a Unesco World Heritage Site

In 1988, the Tower of London was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site to recognize its historical significance and to ensure its preservation.

Each year, millions of visitors flock to the famous English fortress, making the Tower of London one of the top tourist attractions in England!

Tower of London - guard

Visiting the Tower of London

Spread over a surface area of 12 acres, the Tower of London is actually a large complex consisting of a a host of historic buildings, each more impressive than the last. While all of them are worth a look, some of them are particularly impressive!

You’ll find a map of the site here.

The White Tower

The Tower of London gets its name from this tower – which has all the appearance of a dungeon. Located in the heart of the ortress, the White Tower is the oldest building.

Built by William the Conqueror to assert his power over Londoners and to discourage invaders, the White Tower has become over the centuries a symbol of the power of the capital and the country as a whole. Inside, be sure to have a look at the Chapel of St. John and the Royal Armory.

The Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels are still in use in official ceremonies and totalize a dizzying total of 23,578 gems!

Among In this sumptuous collection, the most famous pieces are without question :

  • The Crown of Saint Edward, made in 1661. It alone features 440 precious stones.
  • The Sceptre and the Cross, symbols of power of the British monarch
  • The Koh-i-Noor, a diamond of 105 602 carats surmounting the crown of the British Royal Family

Be warned, the Crown Jewels are victims of their success and you may have to queue in order to admire them… But be patient, the visit is really worth it!

FYI, guides are not allowed to enter Crown Jewels exhibition and photos are prohibited.

Tower of London - Waterloo Block

The ramparts

Built in the 13th century, the broad ramparts are surmounted by several watchtowers, includingSt. Thomas’s Tower) and the Salt Tower.

They offer a breathtaking view of the Thames, Tower Bridge and the City. You’ll also access the Medieval Palace by taking the Wall Walk .

The Medieval Palace

The Medieval Palace invites you to a fabulous journey through time to discover the life of English monarchs in the Middle Ages. The palace houses the reconstruction of of the personal apartments of kings Henry III and Edward I, who reigned on England in the 13th century.

The Traitors’ gate

Built in the 13th century by King Edward I to provide a water gate entrance to the Tower of London, the Traitors’ Gate soon took on a much less sympathetic role… and became the gate through which prisoners entered the Tower of London.

Tower of London - Traitors' Gate

The Royal Mint

From 1279 to 1812, the Tower of London also housed the Royal Mint . This institution was tasked with minting the country’s currency and producing the coins in circulation.

While the headquarters of the Royal Mint has long since left the Tower of London, an exhibition invites visitors to discover the essential role of this little-known institution.

The Ceremony of the Keys

Every day, from 9:30 to 10:05 p.m., a curious ritual takes place at the Tower of London… It known as the Ceremony of the Keys, during which the tower is locked and the keys escorted by guards in a safe place, until the next day.

A handful of visitors can attend the ceremony each day, provided they have booked their ticket in advance on the Tower of London website. Attending the ceremony is free of charge!

Find out more here.

🐦 The crows of the Tower of London 🐦
For many centuries and still today, the Tower of London has been home to a small group of crows. Why, you may ask? Well, according to legend, the British monarchy will collapse the day the Tower of London no longer houses any ravens.
You can imagine that the English, who are very attached to their monarchy, hold the ravens of the Tower of London as the apple of their eyes and pamper them with love and devotion!

During your visit, be sure to have a look at:

  • The Beauchamp Tower
  • The Bloody Tower
  • The Bell Tower
  • The memorial to the prisoners executed at the Tower of London
  • St Peter ad Vincula (a Norman chapel who is said to be haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn)
  • The Royal Rifle Museum
  • The aviaries housing the Tower’s ravens
Tower of London - yard

💡 Guided tour of the Tower of London 💡
While the Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters), the ancestral guardians of the Tower of London, still roam the fortress, their missions have changed somewhat since the 15th century. They now offer fascinating (free!) guided tours of the tower! The tour starts every 30 minutes next to the main entrance and lasts about an hour.
If you prefer, you can also take a more complete guided tour, either in groups or privately. But Captain Ulysses recommends that you take the Yeoman Warders tour and complete it with an audio guide that allows you to explore the site at your own pace.

Access

Getting to the Tower of London

The The Tower of London is perched on the banks of the Thames, east of the City. The nearest means of transportation are:

  • Metro: Tower Hill station (Circle, District and DLR lines)
  • Bus lines 8, 9, 11, 15, 15B, 22B, 25, 133 and 501

You’ll find a map explaining how to get to the Tower of London from the nearby subway stations here.

The hop-on hop-off sighseeing bus tours also stop at the Tower of London.

Opening hours of the Tower of London

The Tower of London is open every day of the year except on December 24th, 25th and 26th, and January 1st.

The opening hours vary according to the season:

  • March 1 to October 31: 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Sundays (last entry at 5:00 p.m.)
  • November 1 to February 29: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays and Sundays (last entry at 4:00 p.m.)

Visiting the Tower of London takes at least half a day.

Tower of London - clock

Admission to the Tower of London

Admission rates for the Tower of London are:

Adults
16 to 64 years old
26 £
Children
5 to 15 years old
12,9 £
Families #1
1 adult and up to 3 children
38,9 £
Families #2
2 adults and up to 3 children
64,9 £
Reduced rates
Seniors over 65, young visitors aged 16 to 17, students, people with disabilities
20,7 £
AudioguideFrom £4

⚠️ Be warned ⚠️ : the Tower of London is very touristy! To avoid queuing for hours at the entrance of the site, Captain Ulysses strongly recommends opting for a skip-the-line ticket to the Tower of London

💵🤩👍 London Pass 👍🤩💵
The entrance to the Tower of London is also included in the London Pass. It also gives access to some 80 London attractions, including many of the capital’s most iconic landmarks and activities: The Shard, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge Experience, Windsor Castle, a Thames Cruise, Kensington Palace, the Churchill War Rooms, a day’s hop-on hop-of bus tour…
Captain Ulysses therefore highly recommends opting for the London Pass if you’re planning on visiting a few attractions: you’ll quickly make a return on your investment!

👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!


Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions in London!

🛏️ Accommodation: If you haven’t booked your accommodation in London yet, Captain Ulysses highly recommends checking out Booking.com. From youth hostels to luxury boutique hotels: you will find exactly what you need!
If your budget is limited, the Captain recommends looking for an accommodation in Paddington or Kensington: the options are generally more affordable than in the centre and the location is quite convenient.
If you’re budget isn’t too tight, the Park Plaza London Riverbank is a nice option.
And if you’re looking for a very nice hotel, the Captain most definitely recommends the Goring: it is an iconic property right in the centre of London.

🎟️ Activities: For your visits and activities in London, the Captain recomends checking out GetYourGuide, Civitatis and Tiqets. Skip-the-line tickets, cruises, guided tours, activities off the beaten tracks… You will undoubtedly find what everything you need… and more! Keep in mind that London is a very touristy city: if you want to avoid queuing for hours, skip-the-line tickets are great time savers!

🎫 Citypass : If you’re spending a few days in the capital, Captain Ulysse recommends investing in a city pass which will give you access to the most iconic monuments and attractions in London. There are 2 options: the London Explorer Pass and the London Pass (which also includes a 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour.). These passes have 2 major advantages: the discounts and the skip-the-line accesses.

🚐 Transfers: London is a huge city and the airports are quite distant from the city centre. If you want to avoid spending hours in public transports to get to your hotel, you can book a transfer from the airport. A car will be waiting for you at the airport and will take you wherever you want in the city centre. Find out more here.

🚌 Transports: The capital being quite spread out, there’s no avoiding taking public transports. The good news is that they are quite easy to navigate! You can also opt for a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour, which includes an audioguide and stops at the main attractions and monuments in the city.

✈️ Flights: To get to London, there are plenty of options: planes, buses, trains and even ferries. For your flights, the Captain highly recommends that checking out Skyscanner: you’ll be able to find the best deal for the dates on which you plan on traveling to London. If your dates are flexible, you will even be able to compare prices over several weeks in order to find THE best deal. London is also easily accessible by bus and train. To book your trips, the Captain warmly recommends Omio, which allows you to travel through 44 countries with 207 train and bus companies, including Eurostar.


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