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, and is a must-see attraction for Londoners and visitors alike. But how can you make the most of your visit?
Drawing on the knowledge of my friend Lisa who is part of the team of volunteers 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.
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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, armouries and 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.
At the time of writing (January 2022), the Tower of London is carefully managing visitor numbers as part of its COVID-19 safety measures. To guarantee entry pre-book your ticket in advance.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKET FOR THE TOWER OF LONDON
2. Get there early to avoid the crowds
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 YOUR EARLY 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. 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 with those visiting London on a city break. If possible, visit the Tower of London on a weekday.
Off-peak tickets to the Tower of London are also cheaper.
6. 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. Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, it was eerily quiet and there was no queueing involved during either visit.
7. 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 attract visitors in their droves.
The queues to see the Crown Jewels can be epic. According to the Yeoman Warder I spoke with, in pre-pandemic times people waited 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.
Did you know that you can visit the Tower of London from the comfort of your own armchair? This is one of the best virtual tours of London on offer!
8. Join a Yeoman Warder tour
One of the best things that you can do at 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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
Planning Your Visit to the Tower of London
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.
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. Other London Underground or DLR stations that are within a 15-minute walk are Aldgate, Aldgate East, Tower Gateway, Monument, Bank, London Bridge, Fenchurch Street.
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)
Bus routes 15, 42, 78, 100 and RV1 stop close the Tower of London.
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
If you are looking for a 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.
If you want to visit one of the best viewpoints in London after your visit, cross the river to The Shard. It’s an easy and scenic 20-minute walk via London Bridge.
READ THIS NEXT: Visiting The Shard, London: Tips from a Local
The Tower of London opening times
As of January 2022, the opening hours for the Tower of London are from 10 am to 4.30 pm (last admission at 3.30 pm). Check online for updates to these times and for closures
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.
How much does it cost to visit the Tower of London
As of January 2022, it costs an adult £28.90 to visit the Tower of London (£29.90 for a peak ticket). In March, these ticket prices will increase to £29.90 and £32.90 respectively.
Even if you don’t live in London, consider buying a membership for Historic Royal Palaces. For £59 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.
With just two visits, you will make your money back on your membership. Additionally, you get a 10% discount on admission to the wonderful Kew Gardens. 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 have not regretted it in the slightest, revisiting the Tower of London (twice), Hampton Court and Kew Gardens.
Where can you buy tickets for the Tower of London?
Although you can buy tickets directly from Historic Royal Palace’s website. I don’t recommend this. Instead, buy your ticket from GetYourGuide, my ticket reseller of choice.
Buying your ticket for the Tower of London via this platform won’t cost you any more money, and you get the benefit of free cancellation within 24 hours of your scheduled visit.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKET FOR THE TOWER OF LONDON
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.
Are Tower of London tickets timed?
Tower of London tickets are not timed. Your ticket is valid for the whole day.
Once you’re in, you’re in. Readmission to the Tower of London is not permitted.
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.
Why You Should Visit the Tower of London in 2022
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.
Now is the perfect time to visit the Tower of London.
Under normal circumstances, it receives up to 17,000 people a day during the summer months. But these are not normal times.
This is your chance to explore this iconic site without the usual crowds.
On the last two times that I visited (in 2021 and 2022), there were very few visitors. On the 2021 visit, we had the Crown Jewels to ourselves.
There is a final compelling reason to visit the Tower of London now.
Like many businesses and organisations, the coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on Historic Royal Palaces. Now, more than ever, they need the support of visitors to preserve historic sites such as the Tower of London for generations to come.