Situated on the banks of the River Thames, the Tower of London is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city because of the mixture of intrigue and dread inspired by its history and all the events that took place here.
There is no doubt that it is one of the essential places to see in London during your trip. It has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.
If you want to know everything you can see in the Tower of London, I recommend you to read this post and check the prices of the tickets to the Tower of London to buy them online as soon as possible, since the demand is very high and they sell out very quickly. Also, be sure to check out this post on where to eat near the Tower of London, if the horrors of the visit don't take away your hunger...
1. The Crown Jewels
During your visit to the Tower of London you'll have the opportunity to see the Crown Jewels of the British monarchy, magnificent pieces of silverware that you've probably seen in magazines countless times, but here you'll have the chance to see them in person as part of a spectacular collection that symbolises the power and culture of an entire nation.
In addition to the jewellery that Queen Elizabeth II of England usually wears in her public appearances, you can also see insignia, crowns, swords, sceptres and other objects of great value that are used in different events and ceremonial acts.
Some of the most amazing pieces that stand out among all the Crown Jewels are:
- St Edward's Crown: This is the most important piece in the royal collection and the one used to crown monarchs in Westminster Abbey.
- The Imperial Crown of State: This was made for the coronation of Queen Victoria and is used for the opening ceremony of the British Parliament.
- The Sceptre of the Dove and the Sceptre of the Cross: Held by the monarch at the moment of her coronation.
- The jewelled sword of the Offering: Created for the coronation of George IV, it is also used in the coronation ceremony of kings.
An interesting thing about the Crown Jewels exhibition is that you can learn about the symbolism of each one and how they are used in the different ceremonies attended by the royals. Look closely because you will see little signs indicating which ones are still in use!
All these pieces are heavily guarded in the Jewel House by the royal guard but on one occasion Colonel Thomas Blood tried to steal them! You'll only find out the end of this unusual story if you buy your tickets to the Tower of London.
2. The White Tower
The White Tower is an iconic London landmark that has stood for almost a millennium, which is saying a lot! It is located in the centre of the Inner Ward and has served as a royal residence, prison and armoury over the years. It is so called because of the white stone used in its construction, which gives it its beautiful gleaming appearance.
Inside the White Tower you can see two very interesting places:
- Line of Kings: one of the first exhibits in the world. It dates back to the 17th century and King Charles II presented this collection of weaponry to the public in order to promote his newly established monarchy after the English Revolution.
- St John's Chapel Located on the first floor of the White Tower. It was built in the late 11th century for the use of the royal family while they lived in the fortress. It is a beautiful example of Norman church architecture.
3. The Fortress
The Tower of London was built by King William the Conqueror in the 10th century to protect London and to watch over shipping traffic on the River Thames. Its reputation as a fortress remains unchanged as it was besieged several times but never taken.
During a visit to the Tower of London you can learn about its fortress side, explore its impregnable defences and imagine what it was like to be a soldier in those days with the task of defending this all-important stronghold.
In fact, I'd almost say you won't need to imagine it at all, as the Tower of London is still a working fortress with a large military presence to protect it.
Don't be surprised if you see soldiers guarding the Queen 's House or Jewel House. You may even come across the famous Beefeaters who have guarded this place with great zeal since Tudor times.
4. The Medieval Palace
During your visit to the Tower of London you will be able to enter the chambers of two English kings, Henry III and Edward I, who in the 13th century expanded the defences of the fortress and also built a luxurious new palace inside.
This medieval palace consists of Wakefield Tower, St Thomas Tower and Lanthorn Tower. Inside you can see fantastic recreations of the rooms inhabited by the monarchs during their visits.
For example, in St Thomas's Tower you can see a recreation of the bedroom of King Edward I with a small chapel. But where I advise you to open your eyes wide is in the Lanthorn Tower, where there is a very curious collection of rare objects dating from medieval times.
5. The Green Tower
As well as a royal residence and fortress, the Tower of London was also used as a prison and scaffold for the execution of those convicted of treason or other crimes.
This is one of the most chilling parts of the visit because during the tour you can follow in the footsteps of those condemned to death there.
Death in the Green Tower (located to the west of the White Tower) was a "privilege" reserved for those of high rank or those who had great popular support and could not be executed in front of the crowds.
Some of the people who perished here were Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (both wives of King Henry VIII of England) or Queen Jane Grey who occupied the throne for only 9 days. Today, there is a sculpture on Tower Green in remembrance of those who were condemned to death by order of the state.
6. The Queen's House
On one side of Tower Green you will find The Queen's House, a half-timbered cottage known for being the place where Queen Anne Boleyn spent her last days before being executed.
However, you may also be surprised to learn that this is where the trial of Guy Fawkes took place. A Catholic revolutionary who took part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 to kill King James I, who refused to grant some religious toleration to Catholics in the kingdom.
7. The Bloody Tower
Its name will give you a clue that this was one of the least recommendable places to be in the Tower of London.
It is called the Bloody Tower because it is associated with the disappearance and presumed death of the infant King Edward V and his younger brother Richard in 1483. Both were confined here on the orders of their uncle, the future King Richard III, and some time later mysteriously disappeared, leaving him with a clear path to the throne.
Another of the most famous prisoners imprisoned in the Bloody Tower was Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth I of England's favourite privateer to attack the Spanish Empire before her fall from grace. You can see his cell as it was during his multiple imprisonments here before his execution for treason.
8. Tower of London Torture Exhibition
Another of the most sinister parts of the visit to the Tower of London along with the Bloody Tower or the Green Tower is the exhibition on torture in Lower Wakefield Tower.
The period between the 16th and 17th century was a time of extreme religious and political turmoil in England, which resulted in a multitude of executions and torture for its inhabitants.
There is evidence that almost 50 people were physically and mentally tormented in the Tower of London for practising the Catholic religion, to force them to confess to acts or inform on others before they were taken to the scaffold.
In this exhibition you can see some of the elements of torture that were used in the Tower such as handcuffs, the rack or a grisly compression method called "the scavenger's daughter".
Isabel's Traveler Tip
This exhibition is hair-raising, so if you visit the Tower of London with children or if you are a sensitive person, it is best to avoid it so you don't have nightmares.
9. The Crows in the Tower of London
The Tower of London's most famous inhabitants are its beautiful black crows. Did you know that a legend has been circulating since the time of King Charles II that if these crows were to disappear from the Tower of London, it would collapse and the whole kingdom with it?
The English take this superstition very seriously and make sure that there are at least seven ravens roaming the Tower of London gardens at all times. However, they also take some extra precautions by clipping the birds' wings so that they cannot wander off.
In any case, the crows at the Tower of London are very well cared for and fed by a Ravenmaster, and in recent times there have even been several crow chicks born here as part of the breeding programme at the Tower of London.
10. The Beast House of the Tower of London
Did you know that the Tower of London once housed a menagerie? They were there from the 13th century until the 19th century when they were moved to Regent's Park Zoo.
The function of the menagerie was not only to entertain the royal family and their guests by watching exotic animals (there was even a polar bear!) but also to guard the Tower of London itself. The animals were therefore placed in strategic locations near the middle tower and the moat.
Today you can still see some sculptures depicting those wild animals (of which the famous "Beefeaters" were in charge) and the spaces they occupied.