I’ll be honest, over the last two and a half years of living in London I’ve made little to no effort to see the popular tourist sights of London. I normally find them frustrating, crowded and overrated, plus I like to think that I ticked off most of the tourist checklist on my first backpacking trip through London. However, there has been one place that I’ve been wanting to visit since I moved but the opportunity never came along until this weekend.
My boyfriend, a closet romantic, surprised me on Valentine’s Day morning with freshly cooked Paleo pancakes (banana, blueberry and eggs – delish!) and tickets to finally go on a Tower of London tour.
Located on the Thames river and right alongside the beautiful Tower Bridge, the Tower of London is a castle which dates back to 1066. It was used as both a prison and a royal residence, home to King Henry VIII and his many wives, amongst others.
We chose quite a gloomy day to go on a tour, the clouds were threatening to open up at any point but we were lucky enough to avoid the rain. Arriving at 11:30am, we had to queue to get in and our tour group was quite large, so I’d definitely recommend arriving first thing to avoid the crowds.
We had a Beefeater take us on a 45 minute group tour of the palace, with plenty of animated and interesting stories along the way. The Beefeaters, formally known as Yeomen Warders, are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels. They all live inside the Tower of London with their families, making theirs some of the shortest work commutes in London, but interestingly they still have to pay rent, taxes and all bills like the rest of us.
Our Beefeater had some amazing personal stories to share with us, telling us about some of the high-profile prisoners he’s had to guard over his career and giving us an insight into his time serving the British Army and working within the Tower.
To go on a Tower of London tour you simply have to show up and wait for the next one to begin. Tours leave regularly from the main entrance and are included as a part of your entry ticket.
I think the highlight of the day was seeing the Crown Jewels, a unique collection of royal regalia which are still regularly used by the Queen in important national ceremonies. The amazing collection includes the biggest cut diamond in the world! Almost equally impressive were the entry doors, or should I say vaults, which are made of some type of heavy duty, nuclear-proof steel that you only see in Hollywood films. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take any photos but here are some official pictures to give you an idea of the beauty that awaits inside.
Funnily enough, the resident ravens have become one of the most famous sights within the Tower. Legend has it that if there are no ravens, the Tower and the Kingdom will fall, so under Royal Decree there must always be at least 6 ravens on site (and to be safe, they have another 2 in reserve).
The Tower of London has always been known as a dark, grim fortress and when you walk down the stone stairs into the infamous torture chambers, it’s easy to see why this reputation has come about. The underground space is filled with different torture devices that were used on prisoners over the years, including stretching machines, hanging devices and tight enclosures.
So while this probably won’t go down as one of the most romantic Valentine’s Days I’ve ever had, it’s definitely one of the most educational and interesting. I loved the Tower of London tour and exploring the grounds, and I’ll definitely be happy to come back again to see some of the rooms that I missed out on. Next time I’ll get in early to avoid those queues!
The Tower of London is open all year ’round and tickets start at £20.90 per person online, or £22 at the gate. For updated prices, see their website.
Token English guard selfie, couldn’t help ourselves 🙂