The Tower of London is one of the world’s most famous fortresses and one of four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London. Over the course of its 1,000-year history, the Tower of London has served as an arsenal, prison, execution site, zoo and home of the Crown Jewels. Here you can learn everything you need to know about the Tower of London – including its fascinating history and recommended tours.
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The Tower of London today
The Tower of London is one of four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London and one of the city’s most popular attractions. This building has been making history for 900 years. It houses a whole host of fascinating exhibitions: Royal Armouries (the British museum for weapons and armor), the British Crown Jewels, the Museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (exhibition consisting primarily of old uniforms, insignia, flags and medals), and many more.
Home of the Crown Jewels
Where would the Brits and their monarchy be without the famous Crown Jewels? This collection of diamonds and other gemstones is said to be the most valuable in the world and includes the legendary crown worn by British kings and queens at their coronations. Since the late 1960s, the collection has been kept at the Jewel House of Waterloo Barracks within the walls of the Tower of London. When visiting the Tower, it’s definitely worth stopping off at the Jewel House to see these precious jewels for yourself.
Royal Armouries Exhibition
Among the other attractions open to the public at the Tower of London is the Royal Armouries Exhibition. If you’re interested in the history of weapons and armory, this place will suit you down to the ground. The exhibition includes armory worn by Henry VIII and Charles I alongside medieval revolvers and canons.
Ceremony of the Keys
If you’ve already seen the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and enjoyed it, you may also like to watch the Ceremony of the Keys. Every evening without exception for over 700 years, a gate-closing ritual has been performed at the Tower of London. If you choose to witness this ceremony, you’ll hear the calls of the Warders echoing through the night:
“Halt, who comes there?” – “The keys.” – “Whose keys?” – “Queen Elizabeth’s keys.” – “Pass then, all’s well.”
Entry to the daily ceremony at 11:53 p.m. is free of charge. However, owing to the high demand, you’ll have to apply for tickets on the Tower of London website.
Ice-skating on the Tower of London ice rink
In the winter months, you can even ice-skate within the grounds of the Tower of London. From November 17 through January 7, the Tower of London ice rink is open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. This is an opportunity to skate in very special surroundings. For further information, see our article about ice rinks in London.
The Ravens at the Tower of London
Legend has it that at least 6 ravens have to be kept behind the walls of the Tower of London at all times. In the 17th century, a prophecy was made to King Charles II that the White Tower would collapse and the kingdom with it if the ravens ever deserted the Tower. Since that time, the Tower has been home to 6 ravens. You’re sure to see them when you visit the Tower of London.
Tickets for the Tower of London
Entry tickets for the Tower of London start at 28 € for adults and around 13 € for children. Senior citizens are eligible for discounted tickets costing only about 22 €. The Tower of London is one of the world’s most famous fortresses. You can therefore expect long waiting times.
It’s worth purchasing tickets online in advance if you don’t want to spend more time waiting in line than exploring the Tower.
Tip: If you want to include several attractions in your itinerary, such as the London Eye, the Tower Bridge Exhibition or a Thames river cruise, for example, I would recommend the London Pass! With this pass, which can be booked for one or more days and persons, you can save a considerable amount of money on admission charges. Another great advantage of this card is that it offers so-called “fast track” admission to numerous attractions, enabling you to skip the long lines at the entrance gates!
Tower of London Tours
These are some of the tours that include access to the Tower of London in addition to some extras. Combined tours often provide the user with the best value for money.
Best value for money
Admission fees included?
The history of the Tower of London
The Tower of London is a fortress covering an area of around 17 acres on the banks of the River Thames. The first fortress on this spot was made of wood and built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, over 900 years ago. One of his main aims in doing so was to protect himself from hostile Londoners. Only a few years later, his son, William II, had the wooden fortress replaced by a stone structure, later to become known as the White Tower. This is the main tower at the Tower of London and also the tallest one. Over the centuries that followed, this famous fortress underwent numerous extensions and conversions.
During the course of its history, the Tower of London has served various purposes. The most important ones are listed below:
1. The Tower of London as an arsenal
From the late Middle Ages until the 20th century, the Tower served as an arsenal for armory and weapons. During the Hundred Years’ War, weapons from all over England were stored here and distributed directly to the troops. This provided the English with easy access to the weapons via the Thames and enabled them to conquer their enemies. In the Second World War, the Tower was mainly used for hosting seminars and training officers.
2. Tower of London Prison
From 1101 to 1941, the Tower served as a jail for criminals from London’s underworld and the surrounding area. Prisoners of war were also held captive here by the reigning king at the time before being distributed to other jails. In 1941, the German Nazi Rudolf Hess was one of the last people to be imprisoned at the Tower. The prison walls still feature around 300 carvings and items of graffiti made by former inmates. Most of them immortalized themselves by inscribing the walls with their initials, which can still be seen today.
3. The Tower of London as a place of execution
Prisons condemned to death were executed at the gates of the fortress on Tower Hill. Henry VIII even had some of his ex-wives executed at the Tower of London, though not in public. His daughters also had their rivals or lovers beheaded at the Tower.
4. Tower of London Zoo
In the Middle Ages, animals were brought to the Tower of London. The royal menagerie mainly included wild animals such as predatory cats and bears. Towards the end of the 18th century, however, interest in the animals belonging to the Tower menagerie waned. The animals were rehoused at London Zoo when it opened in 1847. Today, sculptures of those animals are a reminder of the time when the Tower of London was used as a royal zoo.
5. The Crown Jewels at the Tower of London
In 1303, the Crown Jewels were taken to the Martin Tower at the Tower of London, having previously been stolen from Westminster Abbey. Ever since then, the jewels have been kept behind the mighty walls of the Tower. It was not until years later that the public was allowed to view the Crown Jewels at the Tower. Permission to do so was only granted for a fee and under the supervision of the so-called Master of the Jewel House. The door was always locked behind visitors, and the Master of the Jewel House then removed the precious jewels from the cupboard and presented them to the guests.
Unfortunately, since the attempted robbery by Thomas Blood, visitors are no longer allowed to view the Crown Jewels at such close quarters, but only from behind a pane of glass. Since 1967, the Jewel House has been located at Waterloo Barracks at the Tower of London. Over 23,500 jewels are kept in safe custody in the vaulted cellar of the Tower – a truly sparkling display. One particularly impressive item in the collection is the Imperial State Crown, which is adorned with 2,868 diamonds and 273 pearls. This crown is worn by the Queen at the annual State Opening of Parliament.
Would you like to see the Crown Jewels for yourself? If so, order an entry ticket for the Tower of London: