Tower of London guide
This Beefeater-guarded London landmark didn’t start out as a prison, but doomed nobles often ended on the wrong side of its portcullis. Samuel Pepys, Sir Walter Raleigh, a royal flush of queens and more did time here. It saw escapes, tragic ends, torture and treachery until 1952, when the mobster Kray brothers were some of the last prisoners to stay here. Visit for a look at centuries-old graffiti, the Crown Jewels, and the ravens who keep London from falling down...
The Jewel House
The royals’ jewellery box is worth an estimated £5bn; notably the famed Imperial State Crown. Orbs, maces, and gilded trinkets date from the 17th century, but many gems are older, and storied. The fittingly named Colonel Blood made the sole attempt to steal the jewels, and in wartime they were hidden from the Nazis in biscuit tins.
The Bloody Tower
The Tower earned its macabre nickname when child Princes Edward and Richard were sent here by their uncle, King Richard III, and vanished. Years later, two skeletons were found within, but weren’t identified – a head-scratcher for historians. Walter Raleigh lived here too, family and servants in tow, for 13 years. You can tour his rather fancy digs.
Tower of London Menagerie
Exotic animals (gifts from faraway monarchs) lived at the Tower from the 1200s to 1835. King Henry III started with three lions and added an elephant and a polar bear (neither did well in the cramped conditions). Aside from a few accidents, it was a popular attraction and became the inception of London Zoo. Now sculptures mark where the animals once lived.
For the kids
Sure – torture, executions and gothic birds may not seem family-friendly, but they do bring history to life for little ones. The Tower’s free Family Trails use engaging quizzes and activities to tell the site’s stories, with a PG rating. Learn the legends of the Crown Jewels, see Edward I’s as-they-were chambers and find the fun side of the Tower.
Take a break
Emilia’s Crafted PastaIvory House, St Katharine Docks, E1W 1AT
This chic, carb-loading stop is just a ten-minute walk from the Tower. Hand-rolled and shaped pastas, like the owner’s nonna used to make, are slathered in regional toppings from Italy’s cuff to toe.
Savage Garden7 Pepys Street, EC3N 4AF
This atmospheric cocktail bar sits 12 floors up, atop the DoubleTree Hilton hotel, so you’re guaranteed a raven’s eye view of the city’s skyline. Order coconut beef short-ribs and the Bourbon-laced Wild Poison to take out onto the terrace.
Afternoon tea at the Four Seasons10 Trinity Square, EC3N 4AJ
Don’t be daunted by the Rotunda’s neoclassical stylings – littles ones are well catered for here and given placemats they can scribble on. With-a-twist sandwiches (truffled egg or minted cucumber, anyone?) are crowd-pleasers, and the tea list is second to none.
Make time for
The Chapel Royal
Tour the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula with a warder. The Tower’s regal jailbirds (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey) are buried here. And, Sir Thomas More’s remains are in the crypt – ask the warder nicely to show you.
The Ceremony of the Keys
When you look after the Queen’s bobby dazzlers, locking the door is a big deal. Each night, the Yeoman Warders carry out the Ceremony of the Keys with much pomp, at 9.30pm. Book well in advance, it often sells out months ahead.
The six ravens
The legend goes that if the six ravens who live on the South Lawn leave the Tower, Britain will fall. Some have escaped, so there’s always a spare. Watch, but don’t get too close – the Ravenmaster’s military experience helps with their flighty natures.
9.30am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday. From 10am, Sunday and Monday.
How to get there
Tower Hill is the closest Tube station, on the Circle and District lines. Bus routes 15, 42, 78,100 and RV1 stop close by.
£25 an adult, £11.90 a child (aged 5–15), under-5s visit for free. It’s £22.70 an adult and £10.75 for 5–15 year olds if you book online. Group discounts are available for families
Skip the line
Arrive early in the morning on a weekday and make a beeline for the Crown Jewels – the busiest attraction. Avoid school holidays and visit off-season. A Historic Royal Palaces membership gives you free entry and shorter queue times. Book for late-night talks and events, when the Tower is attractively lit and much more peaceful.
Image credits: © Getty; © Getty; © Alamy; © Alamy; © Alamy; © Alamy; © Emilia’s Crafted Pasta; © Savage Garden; © Four Seasons; © Getty; © Getty; © Getty