We recently visited The Tower of London and had a fantastic time exploring the historic castle. William the Conqueror built The White Tower, the original part of the castle, in 1078. There have been various stages of expansion at The Tower of London, with the majority completed during the 12th and 13th centuries. Today The Tower is a major tourist attraction, but it has had many roles during its history. Read our review of The Tower of London to learn more about the castle and whether it is worth visiting.
A brief history of the Tower of London
Today, The Tower of London is one of the world’s most popular tourist spots and a world heritage site. However, it has a history dating back to William the Conquerer. William built the impressive fortress to maintain order and proclaim his royal power. It is thought the building of the White Tower started around 1078 and was completed by 1100. William the Conqueror died in 1087.
Henry III and Edward I created the castle structure we see today. During this time, several additional towers were added, and a more extensive moat was built. Not only did the enlarged fortress provide kings and queens with luxurious accommodation, but it was also England’s strongest fortress.
In addition to being a royal residence throughout its history, The Tower has had several additional purposes, including being the home of The Royal Mint, The Royal Armory, and a menagerie. Today it continues to be the home of the Crown Jewels.
However, it is perhaps serving as a prison, and the site of some famous executions The Tower of London is best known. For over 800 years, The Tower of London was used as a prison. Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Raleigh, Rudolf Hess, Guy Fawkes, and even the Kray Twins are just some of the famous former inmates.
However, not all of these inmates lived to see outside the castle. Despite, this the Tower of London was rarely used for executions, with these usually carried out on the nearby Tower Hill. Being executed onsite was considered a privilege and included Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. Only 22 executions are known to have occurred inside the Tower, and over half of these were during the twentieth century! The German Spy, Josef Jakobs, was the last to be executed by firing squad on August 14, 1941.
Today the Tower is still the home to the Yeomen Warders and their families, the Resident Governor, and a garrison of soldiers. However, it is perhaps it which the resident Ravens which are the most famous residents. Rumor has it the kingdom and the Tower of London will fall if they should ever leave.
How much time do you need when visiting The Tower of London?
The Tower of London isn’t a short experience. Many websites we read before we visited suggested the experience takes between 3-4 hours. It doesn’t! This is not a half-day attraction. Also, during peak periods, the line to enter the Crown Jewels can be several hours.
There is so much to see at The Tower of London, and you could easily spend six hours without seeing everything. Expect to spend the majority of your day at the Tower. Currently, The Tower of London operates a timed admission process, and we recommend booking an early admission time.
What can you see at the Tower of London?
The majority of the Tower of London is now open and welcoming guests. However, a few buildings remain closed due to social distancing. Your entry ticket includes:
- The Crown Jewels
- The White Tower
- Battlements, Medieval Palace, Bloody Tower, Torture at the Tower exhibition, Fusiliers Museum and Royal Mint exhibition
Included in your ticket are Yeoman Warder tours, but White Tower tours are currently not available.
There are also seasonal activists available. We visited on Halloween weekend, and there was special entertainment and games available. Throughout December, there will be Christmas celebrations.
Accessibility at the Tower of London
The Tower of London tries to cater to guests with disabilities and includes free entry for a registered carer. However, there are limits to what adaptions can be provided in a medieval castle. Some areas can not be accessed by guests using wheelchairs, and guests using strollers for small children may face similar problems.
Do children like the Tower of London?
All young children seem to love history! If your child loves Horrible Histories, they are bound to love the Tower of London. So many of the most popular primary school history lessons are focused on events at The Tower. What child wouldn’t like to visit the site where two of Henry VIII’s wives were executed.
Should you visit the Tower of London?
Yes! It is one of the best places we have visited in London. Just don’t believe it can be done in only 3 hours!