The Tower of London has been a fixture on London’s landscape for over a thousand years.
This castle that now protects the Crown Jewels has a rich – and often gory – history. It is a must-see attraction for Londoners and visitors alike.
But how can you make the most of your visit?
This is where I can help you. Drawing on first-hand experiences and the knowledge of my friend Lisa who is a volunteer at the Tower, I am sharing top insider tips for visiting the Tower of London.
It is also packed with practical information you will need to ensure an unforgettable visit to one of London’s most iconic landmarks, including how to buy tickets.
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A Short History of the Tower of London
The long and colourful history of the Tower of London begins with William the Conqueror (r 1066 – 87), who was responsible for the construction of the White Tower.
Although it was built as a fortress and a royal palace – it is one of the greatest European palaces – the Tower of London had a number of other roles. It was the site of a royal menagerie, the Royal Mint and armouries, and was used to store records of government.
However, the Tower gained infamy as a prison. Between 1100 and 1952, 8,000 people were incarcerated within its walls for crimes ranging from treason and conspiracy, to murder and sorcery.
It was from here that Anne Boleyn was led to her grisly fate. Guy Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London after he was caught red-handed with the 36 barrels of gunpowder intended to reduce the House of Lords to rubble.
Today, the Tower of London is home to the Crown Jewels and the world-famous Yeoman Warders, also known as ‘Beefeaters.’
Tips for Visiting the Tower of London
1. Buy your ticket in advance
Don’t be a hostage to fortune.
Pre-pandemic, the Tower of London attracted close to 3 million annual visitors. Visitor numbers are rapidly recovering.
The Tower of London carefully manages visitor numbers and ticket availability is limited at busier times. Pre-book your ticket in advance to guarantee entry.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKET FOR THE TOWER OF LONDON
2. Get there early to avoid the crowds
Looking for the best way to visit the Tower of London? Get a head start on the tour groups and the gaggles of schoolchildren looking like mini construction workers in their hi-vis jackets.
Aim to arrive at the Tower of London as they open their gates to visitors. This will give you precious time there before it fills up and will secure your place in line for the Crown Jewels.
3. Consider booking an early access tour
It is also possible to visit the Tower before the official opening time by booking an early-access tour with a Beefeater. Perfect if you want to experience the magic of the Tower of London with far fewer people.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR EARLY ACCESS TOUR
Alternatively, why not join a before-hours Tower of London tour with the opening ceremony? It’s slightly more expensive but it does allow you to see an age-old ritual.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUREARLY ACCESS TOUR + OPENING CEREMONY
4. Pick up a free map at the entrance
This clear and super useful map is colour-coded according to the Tower’s main functions over the last millennium: fortress, palace and prison
5. Consider an audio guide
There is a lot to see at the Tower of London and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. One way of making it easier on yourself is to pick up an audio guide, which costs £5 (concessions £4).
As well as revealing the stories and secrets of the Tower of London, the guide also has useful information about what to see, where to eat and shop and how to plan your day.
6. Avoid visiting at the weekend
Inevitably, the Tower of London is busier at the weekend with locals making the most of their days off and those visiting London on a city break. If possible, visit the Tower of London on a weekday.
7. Don’t underestimate the time it will take to visit the Tower of London
This is one of my top tips for visiting the Tower of London. Don’t be tempted to just give the site a cursory tick on your checklist of things to do in London.
The Tower of London is a big site with many historical buildings to explore, each with its own stories to tell. You also have to factor in queueing to see the Crown Jewels.
How long you spend at the Tower of London will depend on how busy it is, which determines access to the Crown Jewels, and how much of a history fan-girl or fan-boy you are.
On my last two visits, I spent half a day there. For me, this was the perfect length of time.
8. Make the Crown Jewels your first stop
With good reason, the Crown Jewels display is one of the most popular things to do at the Tower of London. This world-famous collection of gold and gem-encrusted ceremonial items worn by British kings and queens attracts visitors in their droves.
The queues to see the Crown Jewels can be epic. According to one of the Yeoman Warders, people have been known to wait in line for up to 90 minutes to see this sparkling collection.
Ignore everything else when you enter the Tower of London. Instead, follow the signs for the Crown Jewels, which are displayed in the Jewel House, located behind the White Tower.
For security reasons, photography is not allowed in the exhibit.
9. Join a Yeoman Warder tour
One of the best ways to see the Tower of London is to join a tour led by a Yeoman Warder. Educational and entertaining in equal measure, tales of pain and passion, treachery and torture are delivered with style.
These 45-minute walking tours start from the moat at the Tower’s entrance and are included in the price of your admission ticket. The times of the tours are posted on a board at the entrance.
Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, need to have at least 22 years of military service, to have achieved the rank of Warrant Officer, to have been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct and be between 50 and 55 years old on appointment. They live at the Tower in subsidised accommodation.
10. Check the opening times of the Tower’s parish church
The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula is a must-see sight at the Tower of London.
A site of worship since before the Tower was built, it became the final resting place for many of the Tower’s executed prisoners under Henry VIII. These include Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
However, as the church is a popular venue for private events, opening hours can be unpredictable. Services are held there each Sunday and it’s not unusual for it to be used for weddings and christenings on Saturdays.
Aim to visit the Chapel Royal in the morning. Better still, check with a Yeoman Warder or volunteer at the start of your visit.
11. Make friends with the Yeoman Warders and volunteers
The Yeoman Warders and volunteers are rich wells of information. Don’t be shy. Approach them if you have questions.
And the Beefeaters are well practised in posing for photographs.
12. Try to see the Changing of the Guards
Did you know that Buckingham Palace isn’t the only place in London where you can witness the Changing of the Guard?
The Tower of London is protected by 22 guards, provided by different units on rotation. The sentries are changed every two hours and you can check times with one of the Yeoman Warders or a volunteer.
At 3 pm, a ceremony called The Word takes place. The Officer of The Guard and escort march to the Byward Tower to collect the Word, which is the password for after-hours entry to the Tower of London.
13. Walk along the battlements
A visit to the Tower of London isn’t complete without a walk along its battlements. This is an excellent way to discover the Tower’s different functions as a palace, fortress and prison.
Starting at the Salt Tower, explore the nine towers of Henry VII’s massive wall that was used to defend the fortress from attack. Some of these towers were once used as prison cells and you still see prisoner graffiti carved into the walls.
14. Watch out for those ravens
After the Beefeaters and Crown Jewels, the Tower of London’s most famous occupants are its ravens. Legend has it that the kingdom and the tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress (in fact there is one spare, just in case).
Although they are well fed by the Ravenmaster, the ravens are partial to sandwiches and crisps. My volunteer friend tells me that she spends a good chunk of her time shooing them away from visitors’ picnics.
15. Try to get tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys
‘Halt! Who comes there?’
These words have echoed down Water Lane for over 700 years. They are part of the ancient Ceremony of the Keys, during which the outer gates of the Tower of London are locked for the night and the keys passed to the Resident Governor.
I was lucky to attend this ceremony five years ago. The historical verve was almost tangible and I felt privileged to be in the deserted lanes of the Tower of London at night.
16. Consider timing your visit with the lifting of Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is clearly visible from the Tower of London.
Unlike the other bridges across the Thames, Tower Bridge is a drawbridge, meaning that the middle section of the bridge can be raised to allow river traffic to pass through. Tower Bridge lifts around 880 times a year and you can check the schedule here.
Highlights of the Tower of London
Known collectively as the Coronation Regalia, these are the fabulous gold and gem-encrusted pieces used at the coronation of a sovereign.
These items in the Jewel House include trumpets and ceremonial maces, swords of state and coronation robes. But the most famous are the crowns, some of which are in use at state events today.
Completed in 1100 AD, the imposing White Tower is one of the best preserved secular buildings from early medieval times. It is the oldest part of the Tower of London.
These impressive stone battlements that form the Tower’s walls have protected kings and queens since the mid-13th century.
Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula
Dating from the reign of Henry VIII, the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula is the final resting place of two of his wives – Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard – as well as Sir Thomas More, John Fisher and Thomas Cromwell.
This 13th Century notorious water gate was where those accused of treason entered the Tower. These included Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas Moore.
This pretty space was where several British nobles were beheaded, away from the curious eyes of spectators. Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey were among those that were executed here.
Where is the Tower of London?
The Tower of London is located on the north bank of the River Thames on the eastern border of the City of London. Its address is London, EC3N 4AB. An area map is here.
It covers a vast area but you’ll find the entrance and ticket office on the western side of the complex.
How to Get to the Tower of London
It’s easy to get to The Tower of London by London Underground (Tube), Dockland Light Railway (DLR), mainline stations, bus or boat.
The closest Tube station is Tower Hill, a 5-minute walk. District and Circle Line trains stop here.
Other London Underground or DLR stations that are within a 15-minute walk are Aldgate, Aldgate East, Tower Gateway, Monument, Bank, London Bridge and Fenchurch Street.
By mainline train
The Tower is located within walking distance of the following mainline stations:
- London Bridge Station (10 -15 minutes)
- Liverpool Street Station (20 minutes)
- London Charing Cross Station (25 minutes)
By public bus
London bus routes 15, 42, 78, 100 and RV1 stop close to the Tower of London.
By hop-on-hop-off bus
All of the major London hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) buses include the Tower on their routes.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR LONDON HOHO BUS TICKET
A very special way to arrive at the Tower of London is by boat. A river pass allows you to hop on and hop off for 24 hours at any of London’s main destination piers, including Westminster, Greenwich, London Eye and the Tower.
This is something that I have done as a local and is a wonderful way to explore London’s main attractions.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR LONDON HOHO CRUISE TICKET
A black cab or minicab will get you to the Tower of London in comfort. Uber and Bolt operate in London.
If you are looking for a black cab after visiting the Tower of London, there are usually some waiting for a fare outside Starbucks, close to the Tower’s entrance. Turn right out of the exit close to Traitors Gate, which brings you out onto the riverbank.
Don’t rule out walking to the Tower of London. It may be closer than you think.
For example; it’s a scenic and easy 20-minute stroll from The Shard on the opposite side of the river. St.Paul’s Cathedral is a similar distance to the west.
READ THIS NEXT: Visiting The Shard, London: Tips from a Local
Opening Times of the Tower of London
The Tower of London opens between 9 am and 10 am and closes between 4.30 pm and 5.30 pm. The last admission is one hour before closing time.
Opening hours are seasonal and are subject to change, especially during the school holidays. It is closed from 24th until 26th December.
Check opening hours here.
Is the Tower of London free?
Visiting the Tower of London is not free. It is cared for by Historic Royal Palaces, a self-funding charity.
Tower of London Tickets
How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Tower of London in 2023?
As of August 2023, it costs an adult £33.60 to visit the Tower of London.
The following ticket types are also available:
– Child (age 5-15) – £16.80
– Concession (age 65+ or 16-17, full-time student, disabled visitor) – £26.80
Children under the age of five go free.
Consider buying a membership for Historic Royal Palaces. For £65 for an individual membership, you get free and unlimited entry to five historic royal palaces, including exhibitions.
With the exception of Hillsborough, all of these palaces are in or near London. Additionally, you get a 10% discount on admission to the wonderful Kew Gardens.
With just two visits, you will make your money back on your membership. If there are two of you and you buy a joint membership, the savings are deeper still.
I bought an annual membership in 2021 and did not regret it in the slightest, revisiting the Tower of London (twice), Hampton Court, Kensington Palace and Kew Gardens.
What does your Tower of London Ticket include?
Your Tower of London ticket includes entry to the following:
- The Crown Jewels
- The White Tower
- Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula
- Medieval Palace
- Bloody Tower
- Torture at the Tower exhibition
- Fusiliers Museum
- Royal Mint exhibition
That’s a lot of bang for your buck.
The tour of the Tower of London with a Beefeater is also thrown in for good measure.
An audio guide is not included with your Tower of London ticket. This can be purchased separately, either with your ticket or on arrival. It costs £5 for an adult; £4 for concessions.
You can collect your audio guide from the Acoustiguide desk in the Water Lane shop, just inside the main entrance.
Are Tower of London Tickets timed?
Tower of London tickets are not timed. Your ticket is valid for the whole day.
Where to Buy Tickets for the Tower of London
Here are your main options for buying tickets for the Tower of London:
- In person at the ticket office at the Tower of London
- From the Historic Royal Palace’s website here
- From the GetYourGuide website here
It can pay to compare both the price of tickets and the refund policies of the official website and GetYourGuide. For example; with GetYourGuide you usually get the benefit of free cancellation within 24 hours of your scheduled visit.
Can you buy tickets for the Tower of London on the day?
Yes. Subject to availability, you can buy your ticket on the day, but I don’t recommend leaving it to chance.
How to save money on Tower of London tickets
Lucky you if you are a Tower Hamlets resident. Thanks to an agreement between the Tower of London and this London borough, you can visit the Tower of London for only £1.
More information is here.
For most people, a London City Pass is a good way to save money on admission to the Tower of London. Entry to the Tower of London is included in both the London Pass and the London Explorer Pass.
To determine if these sightseeing passes will be good value for you, check my review of the London Explorer Pass or this lowdown on the London Pass.
Are skip-the-line tickets available for the Tower of London?
Fast-track tickets for the Tower of London aren’t available as such. That said, there are two ways that you can reduce your waiting time
2. Visit at a quieter time– or book an early access tour here or here – to cut down the amount of time waiting in line at the security check. While you can’t avoid the queue at security, you can make it easier for yourself.
What to do if Tower of London tickets are sold out
As the Tower of London caps visitor numbers at busier times of the year by operating timed entry slots, you could find that the official website shows no availability (or you rock up at the ticket office to be given the same message).
If this happens, check if there are tickets available through GetYour Guide here.
Failing that, see if there is a group tour that includes entry to the Tower. As a separate allocation of tickets is available for group tours, you may have more luck.
Here are a few options to consider:
Beat the crowds with an early-access tour with a Beefeater.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR EARLY ACCESS TOUR
A before-hours Tower of London tour with opening ceremony.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUREARLY ACCESS TOUR + OPENING CEREMONY
Early access to the Tower of London Tour plus a Thames River Cruise
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TOUR
Visiting the Tower of London: Practical Information
Facilities at the Tower of London
The Tower of London has toilets across the site, including those for disabled visitors. There are also baby-changing facilities.
There is a buggy park outside the White Tower and at the Middle Drawbridge (those ancient cobbles don’t exactly lend themselves to pushchairs),
Free WiFi is available throughout the Tower Of London.
Luggage storage is not available and large bags are not permitted in the Tower.
Accessibility at the Tower of London
HRP are committed to providing access and facilities for visitors with disabilities. There are a number of measures in place to assist those with disabilities and limited mobility and there is a full guide here.
That said, this is a historic building with steps, cobbled passageways and low doorways, and wheelchair access is limited.
Visitors with disabilities can bring an accompanying carer free of charge. These adult carer tickets can be obtained on the day of the visit upon presentation of proof of registered disability.
Eating & drinking at The Tower of London
Eating and drinking facilities at the Tower of London are limited.
Your best bet is the reasonably priced New Armouries Café, which serves hot meals, sandwiches, soup, salads, cakes and pastries, hot and cold drinks and a children’s menu. They also do a great plate of fish and chips, one of the foods that you must try in London.
A smaller range of snacks and drinks are available from a few kiosks dotted around the complex but they may not be open, especially during the week.
Bringing a picnic lunch into the Tower of London may be a better bet. There is a good selection of places to stock up on sandwiches near the main entrance, including Pret A Manger, Paul’s and Starbucks.
Photography at the Tower of London
Photography is allowed at the Tower of London with two notable exceptions:
- The Jewel House
- The Chapel of St. John (in the White Tower)
The Yeoman Warders will happily pose for a photo, but it’s only polite to ask before pointing your camera lens towards them.
Use of tripods and selfie sticks is subject to prior arrangement with the Tower’s conservation team.
Why You Should Visit the Tower of London in 2023
Visiting the Tower of London is well worth £30 or so of your hard-earned cash. As a historic site, it is hard to beat.
The Tower was the setting for some of the most famous moments in English history. It was from this UNESCO World Heritage site that kings and queens wielded their power, shaping society and influencing our world.
Plus, it’s huge fun.