If you are visiting London, you absolutely cannot miss visiting the Tower of London. It’s full of great stories and artifacts to keep you busy for hours.
While the Tower of London has been around in some form or another for nearly 1000 years, it hasn’t always been a major tourist attraction. It’s more likely that the Londoners of Norman England hated and despised the fortress, at least those who didn’t support William the Conqueror’s claim to the throne of England.
Its first purpose was to act as a stronghold should the citizens prove combative to their new king. It would continue to serve as a defensive structure, a refuge during times of strife, a menagerie holding wild animals, and, of course, a prison.
Best Tips for a Visit to the Tower of London
Today, the Tower of London is the premiere paid attraction in all of England with more than three million visitors a year, and even if you only have one day in London this is the sight to go visit. With so many tourists you’d expect long lines and mandatory reserved time slots. Luckily, that’s not the case and even on a busy day in summer the only long line we experienced was to see the jewels.
You can buy your tickets online and save a pound and possibly avert a queue at the ticket counter but it’s not necessary. Keep in mind that there are a few ways to make the visit even cheaper. If you have the the London Pass, entry here is included on your pass. And if you have the 2FOR1 from a British Railways office, you can use that as well.
The best advice I can give for a visit to the Tower of London is to go early and plan on spending several hours there. We all know that traveling makes you smarter, especially when you go to places that are dripping with history, so take your time. There is too much to do to try and rush it.
Of course, the number one attraction on site is the Crown Jewels, and with good reason. The display is deep within the Jewel House through a labyrinthine passage that takes you through the history of the jewels in a multimedia extravaganza. I was worried that we wouldn’t really be able to see the jewels but it is set up very nicely and you can go back around as often as you’d like. Again, getting there earlier in the day will reduce the waiting time and the number of people.
Check out our podcast: First Timers Guide to London.
After taking in the splendor of the priceless treasures in the Tower of London, Jewel House, be sure and consult your planner’s schedule of events. You really don’t want to miss the free guided tour conducted by a Beef-eater in full regalia, for many this is the highlight of the visit. There will be plenty of time to explore the various towers, wall walks, and dungeons on your own. You’ll also find that there are a number of well acted and designed reenactments and dramas to entertain and inform visitors of all ages.
Other Things to Do and See in England
- Harry Potter’s Backstage Tour in Watford
- Uncovering Secrets of the Canterbury Cathedral
- Punting in Cambridge
- Walking Along the White Cliffs of Dover
One of the best views of the Thames and the Tower Bridge is from the Tower of London fortification walls. Just be sure and start your wall walk in the right place. We went up the external staircase and ended up taking the entire circuit backwards. Luckily it was late in the day and not too crowded.
Christmas in London is magical. A lot of our American customs originated here, thanks to the likes of Charles Dickens. Close to the Tower is one of the best places to find a great London Christmas Market. With over 70 stalls, the Christmas by the River market is right there, and you will not want to miss it!
Be sure and visit the armory in the white tower where you can try on some armor, try your hand at drawing a long bow, or feeling the heft of two handed sword. Who knows, it might even be the sword used to behead Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, or Lady Jane Grey; it must have been a frightening prospect to be a queen back in those days!
When it all gets to be too much take a break on the green, or find a quiet bench under a shady tree and just imagine what life in the middle ages might have been like as a prisoner in the stronghold of England’s Tower of London.
After your visit, go have a typical English meal at one of the many pubs in the area. You deserve it!
Have you been to the Tower of London? What other tips would you share for a visit?
Author Bio: Jim Vail, is a travel, food, and video creator and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 15 years. For many years he lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands, and he’s visited over 90 countries.