Off with their heads!
Touring the Tower of London
You best come early to beat the long lines at London’s best medieval attraction, a site of intrigue, murder, and executions galore. The hour-long tours guided by Beefeater guards are highly entertaining and informative.
The tours are free, once you pay the dizzyingly high admission itself, which in 2010 was £16 ($32). You'll also want to explore more on your own, too, so count on at least another full hour to investigate the Crown Jewels, explore the White Tower, see the Armory, and such.
The Beefeaters take you past the Bloody Tower where Sir Walter Raleigh awaited execution for 13 years and where King Edward IV’s two young sons were murdered. You walk through the 900-year-old White Tower, still housing an armory of swords and plate mail, as well as a gruesome collection of torture instruments, and into Tower Green, where Thomas Moore, Lady Jane Grey, and two of Henry VIII’s wives (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) were beheaded.
All the gore should be enough trade-off for the kids when you have to wait in line to be whisked past the Crown Jewels on a moving sidewalk. As you’re whisked by the jewels, be sure to drool over the world’s largest cut diamond, the 530-carat Star of Africa (set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre), and to stare aghast at Queen Victoria’s Imperial State Crown (still worn on occasion), studded with over 3,000 jewels.
Be sure to say hello to the Tower's resident ravens hopping around the green lawns. The giant black birds are actually quite pampered pets round here because legend holds that the Tower will stand as long as they remain.
Tower Hill Road
Tube: Tower Hill
- Planning your time: Expect to spend at least two hours here—one hour for the tour, a second hour to explore the parts not covered by it (including those famous Crown Jewels). You might stay even longer. Also factor in a good 20–30 minutes to wait in line, especially in summer (though you can skip the line if you have the London Pass; see below). ( on London Itineraries.)
- Get in free: The Tower of London is covered by the London Pass—which also gets you an audio guide at a reduced rate, and pick up two adult and two children's box lunches at the Tower's New Armories Café for £25.
- The Ceremony of the Keys: You can visit in the evening to see this odd bit of pomp and ceremony that officially locks up the tower for the night. There are lots of folks marching about and guards in various roles calling out ancient questions and set answers (after which armed soldiers still patrol the grounds—stealing the Crown Jewels is something of a Holy Grail heist to the cat-burglar community, and they uncover new plots almost every year, so the armed guard really is necessary). Best of all, it's totally free (not bad, since Tower admission is normally a ridiculously steep £12, or $19). However, slots are limited, and you should write at least two months in advance for summer visits to ensure you get a spot. You can find out more, and how to go about booking a visit, by following this link: http://www.hrp.org.uk/webcode/content.asp?ID=704
- Take a tour of the Tower of London with our partners:
- Skip the Line: Tower of London Tickets
- Tower of London
- Viator VIP: Exclusive-Access Tour to The Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and The View from The Shard
- Full Day in London
- Thames River Cruise, Tower of London and City of London Tour
- Private Tour: London Walking Tour of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge
- Tower of London and Thames River Sightseeing Cruise
- Royal Palaces Pass: Kensington Palace, Hampton Court and Tower of London
- London in One Day Sightseeing Tour
- London Full-Day Sightseeing Tour
- The Original London Sightseeing Tour: Hop-on Hop-off (no site entry)