Inside the Tower of London – an extraordinary history

Visiting and getting inside the Tower of London is on every tourist’s bucket list when they come to London. The Tower of London’s lurid terrible history is a major part of my obsession with British history and I couldn’t wait to get inside the Tower of London. Yeah I know that sounds so dramatic but please this place has seen more tears and drama than any other in London so go with it.

Funnily enough, some visiting tourists find the Tower of London, “boring, misogynistic, traumatic for children and terribly violent and upsetting for kids”.  Guess they didn’t learn any history anywhere lol.

We were very lucky to have received complimentary passes to the Tower of London from the Historic Royal Palaces they bring the six historic Palaces and their stories to life.

Visiting the Tower of London skating rink in front of the Tower with hundreds of skaters on the ice.
Tower of London skating rink

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Tower of London Facts

Is the Tower of London worth visiting?

Yes if you love history and understanding where London began you must visit the Tower. William the Conqueror built the Tower and since that time it has been a critical part of London’s history.

Is it free to visit the Tower of London?

No the Tower of London is not free to visit currently Adult tickets cost £29.90 and Child (age 5-15)  £14.90

How long does it take to go around the Tower of London?

I would plan for at least 3 hours to see the Tower of London. The lineup for the Crown Jewels alone could take up to an hour as it can get quite extensive.

When is the Tower of London open?

During the summer months – Daily: Mondays and Sundays: 10.00-17.30. Last admission: 16.30. Tuesday – Saturday: 09.00-17.30. Last admission: 16.30.

What’s the best way to see the Tower of London?

I suggest taking your time and doing a self-guided tour of the Tower, however, you can also take some great guided tours you can read about below.

What is the Tower of London famous for?

Murder, mayhem, beheadings, and torture the Tower of London is history personified.

How long does it take to walk through the Tower of London?

You will need around 3-4 hours to see everything the Tower of London has to offer, sometimes in full tourist season the lineups to see the Crown Jewels will take around 2 hours

Getting to the Tower of London

Grab some Tube tickets and head towards the Tower Hill tube stop. There’s a fabulous view over the Tower from the platform next to the Underground sign.  From there you cross the road and can walk along the castle or take the tunnel to the entrance area to the Tower. The ticket booths are here if you haven’t booked a ticket online.

Tower Hamlets tube stop and view of the inside the tower of London Visiting the Tower of London - an extraordinary history

Tours of the Tower of London

Tips for visiting the Tower of London

1) It’s an expensive tour that’s for sure so my top tip is to use the London Pass. For a two day stay in London for the London Pass you are looking at 99 Euros but it includes entry to over 80 attractions and includes the Hop on Hop Off bus, The Tower (which is 30 alone), the Shard’s brilliant views and much more.

Map of Tower of London

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

2) Keep in mind that it is incredibly busy in the summer months and you may get really annoyed with the crowds and crowds of people. So a great tip is to visit the Tower in the winter months where there are still hordes but considerably fewer. 

3) The only way to see the Opening ceremony inside the Tower of London is to take an “early bird” tour. These tours cost a lot more than just the entry fee however they allow you to see the ceremony and explore areas without being crushed to death by other tourists. Get your Guide has an awesome early bird tour. This is a skip the line and the crowds access for around € 64.63 per adult.

A Yeoman at the Tower of London

4) Book your tickets online if not taking a tour it’s the easiest way Buying your tickets online is the cheapest and most convenient way to visit the Tower.

5) You are not allowed to take photos of the Crown Jewels and of the displays within the White Tower so keep that in mind.

6) The inside of the Tower of London is accessible to the mobility impaired and wheelchair users and you can download a guide here. There are wheelchairs for hire and carers do get in free. It is a LOT of walking and steps up and down into the various Towers so be prepared if you have mobility or walking problems.

7) if you can’t afford the early bird tours then go as early as the place opens so Tuesday-Saturday: 09:00-17:30 and Sunday-Monday: 10:00-17:30. So get there right a 9 am or 10 am depending on the day. Now the last admission is  17:00, they reckon it takes around 2 hours to see the whole site so if you get there around 15:00 the crowds will be thinning a little.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

Tower of London tickets price

Currently, it is advised to book your tower of London tickets online and book a timeslot. You can also purchase tickets on the day from the ticket office on Tower Hill. Audio guide tours in a choice of languages are available to purchase with your ticket.

An Adult Ticket costs £29.90 and a children’s ticket is $14.90. You can get Tower of London tickets 2 for 1 when you buy a London City Pass.

An admission ticket includes entry to The Crown Jewels, The White Tower, Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Battlements, Medieval Palace, Bloody Tower, Torture at the Tower exhibition, Fusiliers Museum and Royal Mint exhibition.

Inside the Tower of London and its history

The Tower of London is officially speaking Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. It is located on the north bank of the Thames in Central London and is pretty hard to miss. It was founded in around 1066 as part of the Norman conquest.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

When was the Tower of London built? The oldest building inside the Tower of London is called the White Tower, which essentially gave the Tower of London its name. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and the people of London just hated it. It became a prison in 1100. That was not its purpose though in its early days it did serve as a royal residence and had two rings of defensive walls and a moat.

The White Tower

The White Tower was the scene of one of the most infamous murder mysteries in British history. That of the Princes of the Tower and of course Shakespeare wrote about in Richard III. There is a beautifully preserved 11th-century chapel located in the tower.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

These days though it seems that historians are turning up the truth about the murders and noticing that this story may have just been what we call today a spin put on the disappearance of the two Princes to discredit Richard.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

Historians are turning up new evidence every day and are still awaiting the possibility of DNA evidence on the two young sets of bones discovered in the 1600s to see if the truth will out as Shakespeare would say.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

The White Tower also includes some incredible displays of suits of armour and arms that have been on display for over 300 years. You can even get a close-up of Henry VIII’s jousting armour and codpiece. The White Tower also includes masks of all the medieval monarchs carved out of wood.

inside the tower of London photo of the tower from the shard
Tower of London from the shard ©Duncan CC BY 2.0,

The White Tower at the Tower of London is a fascinating recreation of the 13th-century palace and you can see how Henry VIII would have lived in the ultimate of luxury for the times. There is also an exhibit of artefacts from the Kings who lived here.

Mint Street

Is an exhibition that details the history of the Royal Mint which used to be based inside the Tower of London before being moved to Wales. This exhibit has displayed many of the actual artefacts produced in Mint Street and lots of tales of robberies and infamous thefts.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

Tower Green

The absolute most famous execution site in the world this site was used for executions for Henry VIII wives, Anne Boleyn and Jane Grey right up to those convicted of spying during WWII.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

The Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula 

The Chapel is fascinating but you will only get to see inside it as part of a Yeoman Warder led tour. A Chapel Royal, in existence since the 12th century, St. Peter ad Vincula is the final resting place of those executed within the walls of the Tower.

View of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. The chapel was first built within the Tower of London's walls during the reign of King Henry III, but since then it has been rebuilt at least twice. It assumed its present structural form during the reign of Henry VIII, although many interior alterations have been made thereafter. The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, which is still a place of worship for the Tower's community, houses many commemorative monuments and tombs
©HRP Royal Palaces

It is the designated place of worship for all of those who work (and live!) inside the Tower. With memorials and statues designated to famous faces of the church’s history, buried inside are two of Henry VIIIs wives, as well as two saints: Sir Thomas Moore and Bishop John Fisher.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history
By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Inside the Tower of London – Visitor Tips

To get inside the Chapel, one can only enter as part of a Yeomen Warder led tour, and you can find these tours which are signposted throughout the Tower of London. The Beefeaters or Yeoman will fascinate you and regale you with tales of intrigue, murder, ghosts and the legends of the Tower of London’s ravens. This is a free tour when you are inside the Tower of London.

Towers within The Tower

There are in fact 9 towers within the Tower of London that have held prisoners including Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth, Lady Jane Grey and many more not so well known.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

The Salt Tower, The Bloody Tower, and The Beauchamp Tower tours give you a chance to see some of those prisoners’ final words. Scratched into the stone walls these words are graffiti left by prisoners in their final hours.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

One of those tortured at the Tower was Guy Fawkes, who was responsible for the Gunpowder Plot to blow us the Houses of Parliament. He was brought to The Tower on the 8th of November and tortured to sign a full confession of the Plot.

Traitors’ Gate

Traitors’ Gate faces the Thames River and is believed to be the entrance through which many prisoners of the Tudors, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I arrived. The gate was built by Edward 1st to provide a water entrance to The Tower.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

There is a pool behind Traitors’ Gate where an engine sat that worked by the force of the Thames tide and assisted in raising water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. When the tides weren’t great enough horsepower was used and then that changed to steam. In the 1700s the engine was used to drive the machiner to bore gun barrels but is was removed in the 1860s.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

Prisoners were brought by barge along the Thames, passing under London Bridge, mainly to intimidate them as they could see the heads of the executed displayed on pikes along the river. Sir Thomas More entered The Tower by Traitors’ Gate but Anne Boleyn did not.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

It is often told that Anne Boleyn entered The Tower from the Gate but she was actually brought in through the Court Gate which stands in the Byward Tower.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

Ghosts in the Tower of London

There are said to be 13 ghosts in the Tower of London including:

  • Guy Fawkes – Guy Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London after his part in a plot to assassinate James I at parliament in 1605. Imprisoned in the Queen’s House, Guy Fawkes was subjected to intense torture, likely on the rack in the White Tower dungeons.
  • Henry VI.  – Imprisoned in the Wakefield Tower of the Tower of London, Henry VI was murdered at the altar in the King’s Private Chapel in 1471 close to midnight. Henry’s ghost is believed to haunt the Wakefield Tower, appearing on the stroke of midnight.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh. – Sent to the Tower no less than three times, explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned by both Elizabeth I and James I, spending over 13 years in the Bloody Tower during one confinement, and attempting suicide. Sir Walter Raleigh’s last imprisonment at the Tower of London, in the Beauchamp Tower, took place in 1603, before he was beheaded outside the Palace of Westminster.
  • The faceless young woman.  – In 1957, Welsh Guardsman Johns was on sentry duty at the Salt Tower when he encountered a shapeless form with the face of a young woman, perhaps one of the many women who suffered a terrible fate at the Tower of London.
  • Margaret Pole – Like Anne Boleyn, the beheading of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury took place on Tower Green, which lies to the west of the White Tower. Brought to the scaffold by Henry VIII for the crime of being the mother of Cardinal Pole who opposed Henry’s self-created position as Supreme Head of the Church of England, Margaret Pole was 67 at the time of her death. Eyewitnesses say the executioner on a fateful day in 1541 was a “wretched and blundering youth” who, unable to perform a clean execution with his axe, instead hacked at Margaret Pole’s head and shoulders. That eternal scream echoes through the towers today.
  • The white figure. – The Tower of London is protected by the Yeoman Warders, nicknamed Beefeaters. In 1864, Captain J.D Dundas observed a Yeoman attempting to charge a ‘whitish, female figure’ with his bayonet. Chillingly, this apparition appeared in the courtyard where Anne Boleyn was beheaded.
  • Lady Jane Grey.  – Known as the English queen with the shortest reign, protestant Lady Jane Grey became Queen after the death of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII. Edward named Lady Jane Grey as his heir in his last will, over his half-sister Mary. On Edward’s death on 6th July 1553, Lady Jane Grey became Queen, a title she was to hold for just 9 days before the council decreed that Catholic Mary was the true ruler of England. Lady Jane Grey, and her husband Dudley, were executed on the infamous Tower Green in 1554. The white figure of Jane is said to haunt the battlements of the Tower of London to this day.
  • The monk’s footsteps. – If you visit the Tower of London, listen out for the sound of sandals slapping against the stone floors, reported to be from the steps of a ghostly monk.
  • Arbella Stuart – An oft-repeated ghost sighting at the Tower of London is that of Arbella Stuart, cousin to Elizabeth I. Arbella was imprisoned by James I for marrying William Seymour, nephew of Lady Jane Grey, without Royal consent. Seeing this match as a possible threat to his throne, James placed Arbella under arrest at the Tower, where she either refused to eat or was purposefully starved. Arbella’s ghost is thought to stalk the Queen’s House.
  • The lost princes. – On the death of Edward IV, Edward’s young son, 12-year-old Edward became King Edward V, under the protection of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. Wanting to take the crown for his own, the Duke of Gloucester imprisoned Edward and his young brother Richard in the Tower of London. Their mother, Elizabeth Woodville took sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. After declaring young Edward illegitimate, the Duke of Gloucester became King Richard III and Edward and Richard were never seen again, believed to be murdered at the order of their uncle. The bones of two children were later found beneath a staircase in the Tower of London.
  • The nameless thing. – The ‘nameless thing’, a petrifying spirit which follows the guards of the Tower as they walk their beat from the river’s Sally Portal entrance. In 1817 a glowing apparition was seen by the Keeper of the Crown Jewels. He claimed to have seen a glowing ghost over the shoulder of his wife which led her to scream “Oh, Christ! It has seized me!”
  • Anne Boleyn – Anne was beheaded in 1536 and her ghost is said to haunt the Church of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower, where she is buried. The legend says that she has been seen walking around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm.  
  • The Bear – There have been several ghost stories told by the night staff of The Tower over the years. In 1816 a sentry claimed to have witnessed a bear coming toward him, it is said he died of fright several days later.
Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

The Crown Jewels

The line ups to see the Crown Jewels will be large at any time of year. We went in December and it still took 30 minutes to pass through the exterior and interior lines.

Once you go through the internal corridors and see a few sceptres and orbs you are ushered into the Jewel Room where you hop on an escalator that literally whisks you in front of the Crowns and you barely get a moment to see the various crowns. That, to be honest, is very disappointing. There is the final crown before the exit which you can study however with such crowds it is almost impossible to see. 

Crown Copyright Reserved the Crown Jewels inside the Tower of London
Crown Copyright Reserved

The Ravens at the Tower of London

You may get to see one or more of the six ravens that are kept at The Tower. These ravens are believed to be a good luck charm of sorts and if they leave The Tower the Kingdom will fall. There is a Ravenmaster who is one of the Yeoman Warders who tends to the Ravens.

These birds are so much bigger than you expect and there are warning signs all around to be careful they may not fly since their wings are clipped but they do bite.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history
©Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The Ravens are very well cared for by the Yeoman who lives on the premises of the Tower. These Yeomen do allow women into the ranks, although these days there is only one. 

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history
©by Ingo Zwank (iz) CC BY-SA 3.0

You have to have served for 22 years in the Armed Forces before you can apply to become a Yeoman and Amanda Clark, from Lancashire, became a Yeoman in 2017. The Yeoman even have their own pub.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

At least six ravens are kept at the Tower at all times, in accordance with the belief that if they are absent, the kingdom will fall. In 2019 the first baby ravens were born at the Tower.

Muninn and dad Huginn are the new babies’ parents and they live with seven other ravens at the Tower, including females Erin, Poppy and Merlina, and males Jubilee, Harris, Gripp and Rocky. The birds have all been bred in captivity. Muninn and Huginn arrived at the Tower at the end of 2018, and babies were not expected so quickly.

Chris Skaife is the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London and he has written a fabulous book called The Ravenmaster: My Life with the ravens which is a great read.

a Beefeater inside the Tower of London

The Animals of the Tower of London

Henry I, the fourth son of William the Conqueror, founded Britain’s first “Zoo” at Oxford’s Woodstock Park in 1100. It wasn’t to enjoy the looks of them, oh no, but simply an easy way for him to contain them before hunting them down. 

King John brought the animals to London from the remains of Henry 1 zoo at Oxford. Over the years the zoo would contain zebras, tigers, polar bears, lions and elephants. Sadly many of the animals died due to unsuitable diets and disease.

Scattered throughout the Tower are statues of the types of animals kept there. Keep an eye out for the monkey on the roof.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

The Tower will keep you busy for a minimum of 2 hours, probably a lot more considering the crowds.  You can grab a snack or lunch at one of the 4 cafes around the Tower. There is the Wharf Kiosk where you can grab a snack by the river, the New Armouries Cafe which does hot meals, tea and coffee and light snacks, or how about the Raven Cafe which serves a variety of gourmet sausages and last but not least have a great meal in the Sargeant’s Mess which serves locally sourced British classics with absolutely stunning views.

I have to admit I found these cafes a tad pricey and was pretty glad I brought my own snacks and water with me.

Inside the Tower of London - its extraordinary history

England has so many castles, in fact apparently between 600 and 700 depending on what you would call a castle. I am planning to visit Warwick Castle, Blenheim Palace, Buckingham Palace and a few others in the near future. If you want to explore Britain’s 17 most amazing castles this is an article you should read if you are planning a trip to the UK it has lots of great information on castles from N. Ireland to the south of England and even a note on buying one – if you have deep pockets.

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So have you managed to get inside the Tower of London? What did you think?

Love to see more places to visit in the UK?

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