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Exploring the Top 10 Attractions of the Tower of London

The Tower of London is not only the most important building in Britain, it's the most visited of the city's many tourist attractions. This remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site served as a stronghold (many times besieged, never taken) as well as a royal palace, a prison and place of execution, a royal mint and treasure vault, an observatory and, for five centuries, a private zoo.

Built by William the Conqueror to protect London and to keep an eye on the city's citizens, as well as boat traffic on the River Thames, the original Tower - the White Tower - was built about 1078. Covering some 18 acres, the Tower complex today consists of the Outer Ward surrounded by a wall with six towers and two bastions, and the Inner Ward with its 13 towers.

The Tower was long a place of confinement, among its many prisoners King David II of Scotland, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), Sir Walter Raleigh and William Penn. Many famous people were also executed or murdered within its walls, including Henry VI, as well as two of Henry VIII's wives. The last executions carried out in the Tower took place during WWII when a number of spies were shot here.

1 The White Tower and the Line of Kings

The White Tower and the Line of Kings
The White Tower and the Line of Kings
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Located in the center of the Inner Ward, the White Tower - so named due to the white stone it was built from - was begun in 1078 and completed about 1100. Four stories tall with walls up to 15 ft thick, the structure has small cupolas on the corner turrets. There were added in the 17th century and the exterior was later restored by Christopher Wren.

A highlight is Line of Kings with its remarkable displays of royal armor. Acknowledged as the world's oldest tourist attraction - it was established in 1652 - this collection of weaponry includes hunting and sporting weapons from medieval times to the end of the 19th century, arms and armor used in tournaments, as well as some that belonged to Henry VIII. Afterwards, take a peek into St John's Chapel, a well-preserved example of Norman church architecture dating from 1080.

2 The Jewel House: Home of the Crown Jewels

The Jewel House: Home of the Crown Jewels
The Jewel House: Home of the Crown Jewels
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The Jewel House has been home to the Crown Jewels since 1968. This unique collection includes St Edward's Crown, made of pure gold and still used in the crowning of British sovereigns, as well as the Imperial State Crown set with over 2,800 diamonds and other precious stones. Made for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, it's worn at the state opening of Parliament and on other special occasions. Other interesting items include the Golden Anointing Bowl and Spoon, the only relics of the original regalia to survive the Civil War.

3 Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint

Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint
Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint [Duncan]
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The Royal Mint - located here from 1279 to 1812 - is the focus of the excellent Coins and Kings exhibit. Portraying the lives of the workers and the stories behind the coins they minted, the exhibit is located on the site of the original Mint and includes interactive displays and rare objects from the Royal Mint Museum.

4 The Medieval Palace

The Medieval Palace
The Medieval Palace
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With its re-creations of the quarters used by England's kings and queens during their frequent visits, the Medieval Palace was constructed by Henry III and his son Edward I while expanding the Tower's defenses, and is famous for its opulence. Prime examples include the remarkable St Thomas's Tower Fireplace, Edward I's Bedchamber, the Chantry and the Lanthorn Tower with its collection of rare objects dating back to the 13th century.

5 The Bloody Tower

The Bloody Tower
The Bloody Tower Loren Sztajer
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It was in the aptly named Bloody Tower that many of the darkest of the Tower's secrets were kept - and some of the country's dirtiest deeds done. Amongst its famous prisoners was Sir Walter Raleigh, whose cell remains as it was during his three imprisonments here (including one 13 year stretch). The tower received its name after the "Princes in the Tower", Edward and Richard, were murdered by their uncle King Richard III.

6 The Other Towers

Tower of London Ravens
Tower of London Ravens
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Middle Tower, built in the reign of Edward I (1307), was once accessible only by two drawbridges is one of the finest looking of the site's many towers. Beyond it stands Byward Tower containing guard rooms and the machinery for the portcullis, which can still be seen in the upper rooms. Also of interest is the Bell Tower, built by Richard I in 1190, where you'll find Princess Elizabeth's Walk, the rampart leading to Beauchamp Tower on which the future queen strolled during her confinement.

Also of note is massive Wakefield Tower where the famous Ravens are kept. The Tower of London was also once famous for its Royal Menagerie, and a fascinating exhibition about these royal beasts is located in the Brick Tower.

7 Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula

The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula takes its name from the day on which it was consecrated, the festival of St Peter in Chains. Built around 1100, it was altered in the 13th century, rebuilt after a fire in 1512 and renovated and restored several times since. It's also notable as the place where many of those executed in the Tower or on Tower Hill are buried.

8 Terror on Tower Green

Terror on Tower Green
Terror on Tower Green
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Tower Green is where many of the Tower of London's executions took place and is home to a moving memorial marking the site of the execution block on which condemned prisoners were beheaded. Execution inside the Tower, away from the crowds, was a privilege reserved for those of high rank or for those who had strong popular support. The best-known of those executed on or near the site are the three Queens of England: Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife, and Lady Jane Grey who was just 16. Anne Boleyn was executed by the clean stroke of an expert swordsman specially imported from France, while another victim, Margaret Pole, was less lucky - a blundering executioner hacked her head and shoulders to pieces.

On one side of Tower Green sits Queen's House, an attractive half-timbered Tudor house in which Anne Boleyn spent her last days before execution. It was also where the trial of Guy Fawkes took place.

9 The Beefeaters and the Ceremony of the Keys

The Beefeaters and the Ceremony of the Keys
The Beefeaters and the Ceremony of the Keys Paulo Ordoveza
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Among the duties of the famous Beefeaters is the ceremonial closing of the gates each evening. Known as the Ceremony of the Keys, this 700-year-old tradition sees the Chief Warder present the keys of the Tower to the Resident Governor. Special passes are required to view the ceremony and must be obtained in advance in writing (a stamped addressed envelope is required, and include two dates you could attend). The ceremony begins nightly at 9:40pm.

10 The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Museum

This excellent museum portrays the history of the famous Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, formed in 1685 by King James II from within the ranks of the Tower of London Garrison. The regiment's first Commanding Officer was given the title Constable of the Tower (a position that lives on to this day), with his men barracked in the Waterloo Block. The museum is housed in what were once the Officers' Quarters, a building that houses the Regimental Headquarters and Officers' Mess, and which is still used on ceremonial occasions. Highlights include a collection of 12 Victoria Crosses, King George V's uniform (he was former Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment), and relics from the Napoleonic Wars.

Touring the Tower

One of the best ways to learn about the Tower of London is to participate in a guided tour (included with the cost of admission). Conducted by the Tower's expert Yeoman Warders (aka, the Beefeaters), these fascinating tours offer the scoop on everything from Henry VIII's wives, executions and ceremonies (daily, every 30 minutes). The last tour is 2:30pm (winter), 3:30pm (summer). Excellent audio tours are also available and cover topics such as the Medieval Palace, to imprisonment and executions (adults, £4; children, £3; families £12).

Tips and Tactics: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to the Tower of London

The following Tips and Tactics will help ensure you get the most out of your Tower adventure:

  • Closures: Parts of the Tower are often used for ceremonies and events, including the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. To ensure closures don't affect your visit, check here in advance of your trip.
  • Timing: Allow at least three hours to see everything and, if possible, avoid busy times such as school holidays as line-ups can be long.
  • Footwear: Many parts of the Tower are very old with uneven surfaces, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • Food: On-site dining options are available, including snack kiosks, cafés and a restaurant. A particular treat is the terrace of the riverside café (accessible without Tower admission). Picnic items can be purchased onsite.
  • Shopping: Six shops are located at the Tower selling everything from mass-market souvenirs to unique handmade gifts and toys, including the ever-popular Beefeater Teddy Bear.
  • Events: For details of special events, including spectacular 62-round military salutes in the Gun Park marking occasions such as the Queen's birthday, check here. (While admission isn't required, the best views are from the Tower grounds.)
  • Services: Sunday services at Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula include Holy Communion (9:15am) and Matins (sung, 11am).

Getting To the Tower of London

  • By Bus: The Tower is served by the following bus routes: 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1, as well as all major sightseeing tours.
  • By Train: The nearest train stations are Fenchurch Street (5 minutes walk) and London Bridge (15 minutes walk) - for details, visit www.nationalrail.co.uk.
  • By Tube: Tower Hill station is served by the District and Circle lines and is just 5 minutes walk from the Tower.
  • Docklands Light Railway (DLR): Tower Gateway Station is located next to Tower Hill station and is just a few minutes walk from the Tower.
  • By Boat: Riverboats for Tower Pier depart from Charing Cross, Greenwich and Westminster, while Thames Clippers' catamarans depart every 20 minutes from London Bridge Pier and Tower Pier.
  • By Bicycle: Bike stands are located at the Tower next to the main shop, and a number of well-marked cycle routes traverse the area. For details, visit www.tfl.gov.uk/cycles.
  • By Road: As the Tower is located smack-bang in the middle of London, it's highly recommended that visitors use public transport. This area of London is also subject to "Congestion Charges".
  • Parking: There's no onsite parking. Ever.

Hours

  • Summer - Tues-Sat, 9am-5:30pm; Sun-Mon, 10am-5:30pm (Last admission, 5pm)
  • Winter - Tues-Sat, 9am-4:30pm; Sun-Mon, 10am-4:30pm (Last admission, 4pm)

Admission

  • Admission: Adults, £21.45; Children, £10.75
  • Online and group discounts available

Address

  • Tower of London, London
  • www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon

What's Nearby?

The Tower of London is situated in an area known as the Pool of London that stretches from London Bridge to Tower Bridge and includes both sides of the River Thames. It's an excellent area to stroll around before or after your Tower visit and offers a variety of sightseeing attractions including HMS Belfast and the Tower Bridge Exhibition.

You're also close to such London landmarks as St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster, Buckingham Palace and the South Bank.

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