When you live in London, or any big city really, you can walk by the major tourist attractions without ever visiting them. This is true for me with many attractions in New York City and rang true with the Tower of London in London. Living a mere 20-minute walk from the Tower of London, I walked by it several times a month. The closest I got to going inside was when I volunteered at the poppy de-installation, where I got to go into the moat. One day, however, I decided it was finally time to visit this significant piece of London’s history.
Visiting the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London
We got there about 30 minutes after it opened and I am so glad we did because it was practically empty. We started off at the Crown Jewels, which we basically got to enjoy alone. Pictures weren’t allowed inside unfortunately because everything was so gorgeous. I’ve never seen so many jewels in my life. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, gold. You name it, it was in the crowns and scepters and diadems and dining ware. Absolutely incredible. And the way they glimmered in the light as we moved past them was magical.
Visiting the Bloody Tower: the Tower of London’s dark past
After we left the crown jewels, we headed up to the Bloody Tower, where Richard III imprisoned the two rightful heirs to the throne, Edward V and Richard Duke of York in 1483. Shortly after their imprisonment, Richard III had them killed so he could claim the throne.
In 1674, while workmen were refurbishing the staircase leading to the White Tower, the remains of two young boys were discovered. Their remains were reburied in Westminster but the tower is said to remain haunted. In the Bloody Tower we came across a really haunting small room with an animated video depicting what supposedly happened. It just felt really weird standing in there.
We then headed over to Beauchamp Tower, where all the prisoners were kept. It was built between 1275 and 1281 and was used as a defensive tower before it became a prison. In the tower, you can see several instances of “graffiti” by the prisoners. I love ancient graffiti so it was really cool to see the different drawings by the prisoners—some of them were truly works of art. Side note: a lot of prisoners were named Thomas, which I found amusing.
While we were there, about half of the room was cut off from visitors. While they were refurbishing the room, they came across a painting over the fireplace which they believe is from the time of the building of the tower. It was hidden underneath layers of plaster and they were working to conserve, document, and restore it.
The White Tower
The White Tower, our next stop, is the largest part of the exhibition. We saw dozens of suits of armor and myriad artifacts. I also learned that the Tower of London was used as a royal mint until the early 19th century, a menagerie until 1835, a records office, an armory, barracks for troops, and even a royal residence (until the 17th century).
The Tower of London has also been open to visitors for centuries, and in the early 19th century, alterations were made specifically for visitors, including some falsifying of certain artifacts.
Despite the ax and chopping block below, this part of the Tower of London was much more kid-oriented, with hands-on exhibitions and activities geared toward the large numbers of school trips that coincided with our visit.
The Fusilier Museum
We thought we were finished after that but discovered there were so many more places we could explore. After making friends with a Beefeater (see below) who said he would be happy if a benign Hitler came into power (upon learning that I study government at LSE), we entered the Fusilier Museum. The Fusilier Museum is home to the history of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, formed in 1685 by King James, and existing to this day.
Medieval Palace and Wall Walks
We then went into the medieval palace and wall walks, mostly just exploring and admiring the different vantage points of the Tower of London. Did you know that people in medieval times liked to sleep sitting up?
Ravens at the Tower of London
I might mention that the ravens at the Tower of London are absolutely giant. According to legend, Charles II ordered the ravens to be destroyed because they were bothering his astronomer, but then he heard a prophecy that stated that, in their absence, the Tower and his kingdom would fall. So he changed his mind. Today the ravens still reside at the Tower and are handled by Yeoman Ravenmaster.
Tips for visiting the Tower of London:
- Arrive as close to opening time as possible (and perhaps earlier if you’re here during the summer) so you beat the crowds and school groups.
- Purchase your tickets online beforehand so you can head straight to the group ticket counter and pick up the tickets! All you’ll need is your credit card and the booking number. Booking online also saves you 15%.
- Once you enter the Tower of London, head to the Crown Jewels first so you can see them without the crowds.
- We spent about 3 hours there and probably could have stayed longer were we not exhausted and starving.