Tower of London
The Tower of London is a palace-fortress that is the best-preserved example of a royal Norman castle.
It was founded by William The Conqueror in 1078. After taking the English crown in 1066, he established this huge fortress as his stronghold near the Thames river. It was both a defensive work and a royal residence. The centerpiece of the complex is the 11th-century stone White Tower - “white” for its massive whitewashed walls. It stands 36m high on the ground except for the four turrets.
Other parts include:
- Inner ward from the time of Richard Lionheart (12th century), with a moat and a curtain wall. In the 13th century, 13 towers were added. The 19th-century Waterloo Barracks houses the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
- Outer ward built by Edward I (13th century), with its Traitor’s Gate (water gate entrance for prisoners), buildings for the Royal Mint, several towers and a new moat.
Map of Tower of LondonLoad map
I visited the Tower on my 27th birthday at the start of a mission to visit all 27 of the UK's World Heritage sites within the year. It was a different visit to many people's I suppose as I was joined by 35 children on a day trip from the English language summer school I'd been working at, but still I was able to walk around the Tower and peruse the Crown Jewels all while trying to keep the kids in check.
The Tower is best approached by river cruise along the Thames. Approaching the tower from the water, you can sense the fear that the tower would have inspired as you glide past the famous ‘Entry to the traitor’s gate’ inscription on the wall. This is the second gate to the Tower and certainly the one through which no one hoped to pass. Those who had committed treason were taken by barge along the river, passing under London Bridge on which the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on spikes, and entering the complex through this gate.These ill-fated prisoners included Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Thomas More, amongst many others who were accused of treason during the reigns of England’s unforgiving kings. Thankfully it's now a fairly stress-free way to get to the Tower, unless you've been bad-mouthing the royals!
Once inside there's a plethora of things to see, but the Crown Jewels exhibition is the highlight and therefore the longest queue. I think we waited around 45 minutes in a queue that snaked around the White Tower in the middle of the complex. Once inside, the exhibition was short but sweet. The Crown Jewels consist of 140 items. Of those 140 items, there are 13 crowns (seven sovereign, six consort), six swords and five sceptres, all adorned with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other treasures possessed as a result of bloody wars and colonialism. All necessary items of regalia, though the one spoon and the one walking stick in the collection, as well as the 16 trumpets, are a tad surprising. You can't take photos inside and they are pretty strict on this with big signs by the door and wardens reminding you as you walk in. It's also a bags on fronts situation, I guess to avoid people turning and bashing into others.
It gets pretty packed inside and you have to be patient. It’s fair to say that you don’t walk through a room full of gold and diamonds every day so in that respect the Crown Jewels are rather special and unique. You have some of the most objectively beautiful stones in the world displayed here. The Koh-i-noor diamond, for example, is one of the largest cut diamonds in the world (3.6cm by 3.2cm) and has had a fascinating history since it was mined in Golconda, India. It was ceded to Queen Victoria in 1849 after years of swapping between factions in India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan; the governments of which have all claimed rightful ownership and demanded its return, claims of which have been rejected by the British. Due to its checkered history of being fought over by men, only female members of the British Royal Family have worn it so as to avoid bringing bad luck to any man who wears it. Walking through, you don't get a great deal of time to admire the jewels or read the information boards about them, but there are, of course, books on the jewels for sale in the five souvenir shops around the complex.
Overall, it's understandably a very popular site and therefore very busy, but the Tower is interesting in so many different aspects that it's a must-see when in London. Worth spending a day to get your money's worth as entry isn't cheap. I'd advise also against taking 35 kids with you when you visit! Still, it made for an interesting visit!
Read more from 27for27 here.
I visited the Tower of London with my wife on a grey London day in May 2017. The entry fee of 22 pounds is quite steep, but you can comfortably spend 5-6 hours here so it's overall reasonable value. More than numbers and dates, I love hearing about the human side of history, the little stories that colour in the world, and the Tower is absolutely chock-full of them.
The story of Anne Boleyn, who arrived through the dock gate to high praise from Henry VIII, to being executed in almost the same spot not long later. The royal zoo, which housed a polar bear (!!) that would hunt fish in the Thames. The first prisoner, who escaped after getting his guards drunk, the last prisoner: high ranking Nazi Rudolph Hess. The two nephews of Richard III who were murdered in the bloody tower. Even Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned here briefly.
I would 100% recommend the Yeoman Warder tour, and waiting around for when the Coldstream Guards (large fluffy hat guys) do their marching. The royal menagerie was great, as was the Crown Jewels, though the large display of medieval horse armour got tiring eventually.
Overall it's a fantastic place and strongly recommended. Just pick your moment to go: summer, school holidays, weekends and sunny days are all crowded. Thankfully we managed to avoid the worst of it and had no queues.
See link below for my full video review.
Read more from Joel Baldwin here.
The first thing to note about the Tower of London is that it’s pretty steep to get into, at £25 for an adult! This is up from £22 when I last went, in October 2013.
One of the sights that was of limited interest to me at the time was the supposed spot where Henry VI was murdered. Having since then enjoyed watching Benedict Cumberbatch's Henry being murdered in the fabulous 'Hollow Crown' adaptation of Shakespeare's trilogy, I now appreciate it all the more.
As others have mentioned, the Martin Tower is an unexpected pleasure – within an unprepossessing corner tower unconnected to the main Crown Jewels building you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with a selection of glinting crowns.
Today, the Yeoman warders are as much a tourist attraction as the Crown Jewels which they protect. There are 36 of them in the castle and all have been chosen from the military (they must have had at least 22 years of service). They live in accommodations in the castle with their families.
The Tower of London may have been built for the royal family but it seems these days there’s a new family inhabiting the ancient citadel. The warders, their wives and their children live here with the doctor, the cooks, and the other staff. Their ravens are looked after and loved like family pets. And there’s an unconcealed pleasure in showing their home and its history to the thousands of visitors who pass over the drawbridge every day.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
The Tower is London; that's what the advertisements on the Underground proclaimed when I first went to London in the late 1990's. I certainly wouldn't distill the city of London down to just one site, but I did enjoy my visit to the Tower. I don't remember much about the tour, but I remember seeing the historic White Tower, the walls of the fortress, a water-gate entrance from the Thames, the Yeoman Warders, and, of course, the Crown Jewels. Also of note were the ravens whose wings are clipped lest they escape and cause the British crown to fall. I remember a discussion about the imprisonment and death of Anne Boleyn from the tour, and since I've recently read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, I'd like to go back and take a tour again to see the Tower with fresher eyes. For that matter, I'd like to go back to get a better picture of the Tower.
Logistics: Easily accessible in London by Underground, bus, taxi, or foot. I like bus Route 15, myself.
As is so often the case with WHS in one’s home country, we hadn’t visited the Tower of London as “tourists” for many years. And it isn’t situated in a location which we pass through when visiting London for non tourist purposes. This year however we called in to see the “Bloodswept Lands and Seas of Red” WWI memorial “artwork”. Whilst I was there I was able to take note of the high rise developments which have taken place across the last 10 years or so around the site. I attach 2 photos of these taken specifically to highlight their “impact” in relation to the Tower. They were taken on a grey November day and I have declined to Photoshop in some South Pacific sunny skies! Photo 1 looks NW across the entire building from Tower Bridge showing the “Walkie-talkie”, the “Cheesegrater”, the “Gherkin” and several other buildings – as well as cranes building yet more!. Photo 2 looks SW over the White Tower to the new “Shard” at 87 stories
UNESCO has been concerned about the number of high rise buildings appearing around the Tower of London (and other London WHS) since at least 2003. The proposal which originally stimulated the concern (The 53 story “Minerva Building”) was cancelled, largely it seems, for financial reasons and replaced by a nondescript mid-rise development. But the issue has rumbled on with other proposals and completed structures. UNESCO has carried out several “Reactive Monitoring” missions (2006 and 2011) interspersed with “State of Conservation” reports (2006, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 14). All the Reports and discussion/conclusions are on the UNESCO Web site. UK seems determined not to put in place a formal buffer zone restricting such developments and wants to rely instead on “existing procedures and guidance” – which, whilst in theory giving UNESCO what they want, allow a degree of flexibility which they don’t! The latest (2014) WHC concluded inter alia that it
“• Takes note of the State Party’s efforts to strengthen the planning framework through guidance documents and enhanced coordination of the relevant planning authorities;
• Requests the State Party to ensure that, in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, any planned larger-scale projects in the immediate and wider setting of the World Heritage property be submitted to the World Heritage Centre as soon as possible, and that adequate time be allowed for thorough review of each project by the Advisory Bodies before any decision is taken;”
In effect a “score draw” result with neither side really giving in!!
The reason for this review is not to describe a visit to the Tower – there is plenty of information on the Web about this and all you need to know is that it is expensive and crowded but nevertheless one of those “must do” things (at least once)! Rather it is to show to those who haven’t been to London either ever or for a while, what has happened regarding nearby construction and to raise the question as to whether UNESCO’s concern about high rise in the vicinity of WHS (and there are plenty of other sites where this issue has arisen) is reasonable as currently interpreted and implemented. Can a “living” major “World city” really be expected to curtail commercial developments on highly valuable land which just happen to lie on one of the “sight lines” to or from an inscribed area? Whilst control of construction “in the shadow” of an inscribed site might be reasonable is the “sight line” concept too restricting? Do developments of the type shown really detract significantly from the site’s OUV or could they even be construed as contributing “life” to a site rather than “freezing” it in time? In any case, how much, if any, of the Tower of London’s OUV relates to views of and from it compared with the essential “fabric” of the buildings?
I visited the Tower of London in June 2013. Contrary to all the other WHS in London during my visit, the Tower of London was packed with tourists and very long queues to enter (even on rainy days). I really liked the contrast of old and new (with the Gerkin behind and the Shard in front). The crown jewels were the main attraction on the inside but other than that I thought the hefty entrance fee could be avoided. I enjoyed spectacular panorama views of the White Tower and the Tower of London in general from The View on the Shard.
There is no doubt that the Tower is worthy to be on the WH list because of its historical significance. However, every time when I visited London, I've viewed the Tower from the outside only. The high entrance fee and the queues at the ticket office have deterred me. Moreover, I'm not very interested in the crown jewels and the collection of arms and armour. Anyway, in 2006 I visited the interior, simply because I thought that otherwise I could not tick off this WHS. It was very busy and the Beefeater tours were too crowded to really enjoy them. I visited the White Tower and had a nice walk around the walls, but I spent not too much time there. I would not say that I was disappointed because I did not expect too much.
But during my last visit in London in summer 2010, I've partially changed my opinion. I attended the Ceremony of the Keys, a ceremonial that takes place each night since the 14th Century. It begins exactly at 9:53 pm. The main gates of the Tower are locked up following a centuries-old ceremony. The Chief Warder and the guards speak always the same words. During the ceremony, it is not allowed to walk around, to talk, and to take pictures. Visitors can attend for free, but a ticket is required. This ticket must be ordered by regular mail several weeks before the requested date (Information on the website of the Tower). The ceremony is one of these typical English traditions and it is much more worthwhile as for example the Changing of the Guard at the Buckingham Palace.
Just visited the Tower for the second time since 2004. I suggest you to be there about 15 minutes before it opens. Like this, everything can be seen without crowds and thus without queuing. I bought a London Pass for one day which (properly used) cuts the effective costs of many attractions (including Kew Gardens)to 50%. Some kind of discount is really needed, as the price has now risen to 17! pounds. Even for a Swiss guy this is a shocking price.
I visited the Tower of London in January 2009 and was amazed by it. The tower, being close to 1000 years old is in much greater shape than the Angkorwatt temples that I had visited around the same age. The tower affords some wonderful views of the Thames River and also some skyscrapers in the surroundings. I got in for only 8 pounds because I have a coupon that gives 50% reduction in admission fees.
Yes it is expensive, but at least you get the feeling you get something worth your money. We were 2 adults & 1 child and wanted also to see St. Pauls before the tower. Seeing the excredible entry fee for that we simply skipped St. Pauls. It's a church : even though it is impressive and I remember the whisper gallery from an earlier visit, it is really not worth the price. The tower is, you visit the most important historical buildings in the city with vastly recorded history. It's worth it.
Tip : close by the undergound exit there is a souvenir shop that also sells tickets, forget the official ticket booth with the long queues, this is faster with no extra charge.
I went to the Tower with my family in the holidays - and it was well worth the entrance fee! There's lots of things to do. My favourite bit was probably seeing the Crown Jewels and seeing the guards change over. It's very interesting, and I would reccomend it to anyone, especially English people, as it is interesting to know what went on in our past.
As far as I can remember this was the first WHS I ever visited when I was about five, so that would be four decades ago!
It impressed then and it still does. Although the presentation has improved dramtically over the years. On my first visit, I remember the Beefeaters were silent custodians, perhaps even a touch intimidating. Now they are the ultimate history teachers. Last year I stood on the green with my nephew listening to one colourfully telling the stories of various executions. My nephew was entranced.
Despite the steep entrance fee, it is still a great day out and you can easily make a full day of this WHS. It is also unlike some WHSs very child friendly.
Verdict expensive but worth the Money.
Hundreds of years of British history and intrigue wrapped up in a medley of ancient towers, forts and embattlements. Plus, the Queen had a pretty nice jewelery collection. For some fantastic insight on the Tower Complex, I recommend a computer game called Traitor's Gate, where as a secret agent you must infiltrate the tower's defenses by exploring its various compenents while piecing together several clues related to the tower's history. I don't recommend attempting this in real life, but the role-playing game does this WH List justice.
It's certainly true that the entrance fee for the Tower is out of this planet (same for other London attractions like Buckingham Palace) and the lines are about a kilometer long, but this is worth it. The Tower of London is one of Britain's most interesting attractions, not the least because of its traditions - the ravens, the beefeaters, the stories about the executions. And then of course its highlight - the crown jewels. High security, and you wouldn't want to get caught taking a picture - they will rip the film out of your camera. But still a very exciting visit, also in terms of historical aspects (William the Conqueror, the Normans) and architecture (the White Tower, also the nearby Tower Bridge).
The tower is one of the best-preserved medieval palaces/ fortifications in the world, and it is made even more incredible as it is in the centre of one of Europe’s largest cities. It has a wealth of history that puts it a central place in several centuries of one of the major European powers. And it has an incredible collection of jewels and armour, the equal of nearly anywhere else in the world.
This should all make for a rewarding visit, but for me it really does not. There are several issues, first there is the incredible entry fee £16.50 (€21/ $33 almost twice the controversial foreign visitors rate at the Taj Mahal) I am struggling to think of another cultural site on the World Heritage list that charges so much for entry. The tower can at times seem lost among the larger buildings that surround it, many of these buildings really add to the character of London, such as Tower Bridge or the modern City Hall, however the incredibly ugly concrete hotel at St Katherine’s dock really does detract from the site as a whole. This makes the Tower feel small and doesn’t really illustrate its significance.
The Tower is always busy; there are queues even on dull weekdays in winter, this is to be expected and I always give the benefit of the doubt to busy places as I, like everyone else, am a tourist as well. The tours offered by the Yeoman Warders/ Beefeaters can range from very informative to a cartoon style pastiche of the history that is on display. Also on a personal note I am not particularly interested in jewels and armour so being shuffled past on a conveyor belt is not something that greatly improves the experience for me, but everyone is different.
All in all I am always left feeling that my time and money could have been better spent elsewhere in London, especially in the wealth of free world class museums and galleries, which make this exceptionally expensive city a manageable experience. I would never tell anyone not to visit the Tower, because it is a very important place and worthy of its inscription on the world heritage list, but I just feel that it will only ever disappoint me.
Despite the high cost of entry (London is the world's 2nd most expensive city), the Tower of London is an excellent experience. It will take you at least half a day to explore the whole site and the incredible history just grabs you from old sides.
I just wish it cost less!
I visited this site in mid October 2002 on a visit from the USA. Even though the 11.50 UK pounds seemed a little steep for entry into the tower, I decided to go in and explore the various towers. Very soon I realised that I have realised the value of my money. The British crown jewels display from centuries ago was very impressive! A chill went up my spine while standing at the scaffolding site where some royal families were 'put' to death!
I took a cruise on river Thames to get back to Westminster.
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