The Tower of London, officially known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a UNSECO World Heritage Site, one of the Historic Royal Palaces, and my all-time favourite city of London attraction for kids – you could spend a whole day there, walking along crenelated battlements with views out over Tower Bridge and the River Thames. It boasts cafes and shops and bench-fringed grassy areas in this surprisingly large complex.
As a tourist in London, you probably do not have time to spend an entire day at the Tower of London. With a little planning, however, you can hit the best attractions over the course of a few hours. Here are answers to the most asked questions about the Tower of London followed by my top 5 favorite attractions.
Quick facts about the Tower of London
Who built the Tower of London?
After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror built the first fortifications around the city to fortify his positions. In 1078 he built the White Tower, which gives the Tower of London its name.
Where is the Tower of London located?
The Tower of London is located in Whitechapel district and can be accessed via the District and Circle lines at Tower Hill station, or via the Northern and Jubilee lines to the London Bridge station. The district line, in particular, has a number of great attractions.
Is the Tower of London free?
No. Ticket prices are available on the Tower of London website where a 10% discount applies if you purchase online, which also allows you to skip the queue.
What is the Voluntary Donation?
If you’re a UK taxpayer and make the voluntary donation, and complete a Gift Aid certification, the attraction can register the entire entry fee including the original fee and the voluntary donation as a charitable contribution and get 25% of the entire ticket plus donation back from the government. If you are not a UK citizen or you don’t fill out the Gift Aid certification, it’s just a voluntary donation.
Is the Tower of London a castle?
Yes, apparently. According to AncientFortresses.org, the Tower of London was first built as a fortress with a central keep. The Tower of London assumed its form as a ‘Concentric Castle’ with successive lines of fortification
Top 5 things to do with kids at the Tower of London
Follow a Beefeater
Beefeaters have been at the tower for over 500 years. Beneath the traditional costumes are highly decorated soldiers. They are irreverent, entertaining and mines of information. Follow them on one of the free tours of the site that run regularly throughout the day, for tales of royalty and botched executions on Tower Hill.
Did you know Beefeaters are officially known as Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, Member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary? Nobody knows exactly why they are called ‘beefeaters’, but it is likely to have originated from the time when the Yeoman Warders were paid part of their salary in chunks of beef.
In any case, the Yeoman Warder Tour is an excellent way to learn more about the tower and the only way to get admission into St Peter ad Vincula, which is the only church in the tower. Tours begin every 30 minutes and meet near the main entrance to the Tower of London.
See the sparkling Crown jewels
Stop by the Crown jewels early to avoid the biggest crowds. You enter a darkened room, for maximum sparkliness, and conveyor belt past the array of crowns, swords, spoons, and scepters belonging to (and sometimes smuggled abroad) by the Kings and Queens of England. Some of them even survived the big melting down by Cromwell in the 1600s.
Access to see the Crown Jewels is included with your ticket to the Tower of London. Additionally, one of the tourist passes, either the iVenture Card or the London Pass will allow you to skip the queue and see the Jewels straight away.
Prisoners and executions
See the site of the beheading of 3 of the nation’s queens – 2 of Henry VIII’s wives and Lady Jane Grey, who only reigned for 9 days. Visit the tower where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for 13 years and where the 2 boy princes were reputedly murdered by their Uncle, Richard III.
One of the most fascinating stories is that of Anne Boleyn, the most famous of Henry VIII’s was beheaded here. She was executed on charges of incest, witchcraft, adultery, and conspiracy against the king. Talk about laying it on thick! Within days of her execution, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, one of his maids. The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boyeln, Elizabeth I, would become one of England’s most revered queens.
The White Tower
Built by William the Conqueror, when he invaded England over 900 years ago, as a home and military stronghold, it is now an iconic London landmark.
Briefly used as an infamous prison, inside you can find an original executioner’s block, the dungeon where Guy Fawkes was tortured and row upon row of suits of armor and weaponry.
My children particularly enjoy the stories of the wild animals which lived at the Tower of London for 600 years. It has been home to lions, elephants, bears, kangaroos, camels, wolves, zebras, alligators and monkeys and there are some pretty jaw-dropping tales of them occasionally mauling the visiting public.
In the 1830’s they finally noticed that the Tower was perhaps not the best place for these creatures, and shipped them off to London Zoo, and you would be wise to follow in their footsteps.