The Tower of London is a definite “must see” on any visit to London, providing a colorful journey into the centuries of history all contained within its immense walls. It is a popular attraction, so don’t be surprised at the length of the queue to enter through its gates. To have more time inside, a London Pass can get you a fast and “free” entry ( the pass itself costs money but includes entry to the Tower and nine other very popular attractions). It is the type of place one can visit again and again.
The Tower encompasses a dozen acres in the heart of London.
Here are some reasons you should visit the Tower of London:
TheBeefeaters, dressed in their traditional colorful uniforms, act as your guides relating equally colorful stories about the history of the Tower. Many tales are rather gruesome, some familiar from school or television but all are fascinating. The “tower” is synonymous with imprisonment but it has also functioned as an armoury, a zoo, and a treasury since itwas built in medieval times. Kings and other royals have also used it as a sanctuary. It is an imposing structure even today, rather grim and forbidding still, twelve acres or so large, with a border on the river Thames. Prisoners used to enter the fortress through Traitors Gate having been rowed silently and oft secretly to their final “home” rather than taken through the streets of London.
Traitors Gate – entrance to the Tower from the Thames
Besides acting as tour guides, the Beefeaters are primarily the soldiers and Royal guards at the Tower. (only a few of them are guides!) At the Tower, they guard more than bricks and mortar: this is the home of the Crown Jewels. You can line up to see the jewels but, as can be imagined with these priceless items, the security is very strict. Only so many people are allowed in the vault/display room at a time and you must never stop moving so your view is short and sweet. The sight of these sparkling, famous, and in some cases enormous, jewels is well worth any wait.
A “Beefeater” Guard on his rounds
The Tower also has an immense display of historical armour on display. Even if you are not a fan or very knowledgeable about historical weaponry, it is still fascinating to see.
The White Tower
Not interested in armour? Maybe coins are your interest. The Tower has an interactive and educational display of the time when the Tower was also the Mint ( from the 1200’s to 1812).
The Tower is easy to imagine as a prison but was also home to exotic animals too at one time.
Interested in ghostly tales? You will see where Anne Boleyn lost her head, and where she purportedly haunts “with her head underneath her arm”. Does superstition turned tradition fascinate you? You’ll see the ravens in the courtyard. Legend has it when these ravens leave the Tower of London, the tower (hence England in the old days) will fall.
One of the half dozen resident ravens of the Tower. Beheading block and axe.
You will depart from the Tower with little snippets of history impressed in your memory that will stay with you over the years – probably longer than anything you will see on a documentary or television production. This could be observing names scratched into the stone walls by prisoners now centuries in the grave (and usually not from a natural death), or hearing a tour guide’s remark about the chapel floor sitting on a sea of bones ( St. Peter and Vinicula). Overall, this is a fascinating adventure into England’s history not to be missed.
If you are sailing to or from Southampton on a cruise, be sure to have your travel professional add on a few days exploration time in London. The Tower is just one of many fascinating places to see, and then there is the theatre, shopping, dining and the night life!
Article written by D. MacIntyre of compassmedia.solutions who thoroughly enjoyed her tour of the Tower. Photos courtesy of Bigstock and Pixabay.