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Everything you need to know about the Tower of London

Whether you’re planning a visit, researching, or just curious about the history of this amazing Royal Palace, we have everything you need to know about the Tower of London.

Check out the list of questions we hear most frequently on our London tours and then you can amaze your friends and family with your encyclopaedic knowledge!

If you enjoy reading about this famous Royal fort, we’re sure you’d love one of our Tower of London private tours, led by a professional Blue Badge Tour Guide.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about visiting on a guided tour

First, what is the Tower of London?

The Tower of London is a medieval castle in central London. What started as a solitary Tower, became a fortress which has served as a Royal Palace, Mint, Zoo and Prison. It currently houses the Crown Jewels, is a popular London Tourist attraction and Unesco World Heritage site.

Why is it called the Tower of London?

The Tower of London was built in the 11th century, at this point it was just one Tower, surrounded by a moat. Over the next few centuries, the complex expanded and many more towers were added, however, the original description stuck and is used to this day. 

The White Tower at the Tower of London

Why is the Tower of London famous?

If for nothing else, then its gorgeous architecture and all the historical events which are tied to it! The Tower is a medieval castle located in the city centre of London, a pretty uncommon occurrence,

It has served many purposes from Royal Palace, jail to significant political prisoners and royal menagerie. In the present day though, the Tower is famously the most secure vault and home to the priceless Crown Jewels. 

Info for Planning a Visit to the Tower of London

Tower of London. Opening hours

The attraction has both winter and summer opening hours, with the winter times being one hour shorter.

  • Tuesday – Saturday 9am – 5:30pm. (Winter 4:30pm)
  • Sunday – Monday 10am – 5:30pm (Winter 4:30pm)

Last admission is always one hour before closing time.

Where is the Tower of London?

The Tower of London is located centrally, just outside the boundaries of the City of London. It’s on the edge of the River Thames, next to Tower Bridge. It’s very accessible and close to many other London attractions such as Tower Bridge, The Shard, HMS Belfast and Monument. 

The Tower of London, London, England, EC3N 4AB

How do you get to the Tower of London?

The Tower of London is located in the city centre and as such, is very easy to get to. 

Tower Hill Tube station (district and circle line) – a few minutes walk to the entrance

Taxi rank – next to the entrance

Tower Pier on the River Thames – next to the Tower shop

London Bridge train/tube station (jubilee and northern line) – 15 minute walk to the entrance.

Can you go inside the Tower of London?

Absolutely, from your starting point next to the River Thames you can purchase tickets and make your way through the main entrance. Once you pass through the first two gates guarding the complex (with either the portcullis or murder holes) you arrive in this vast area just waiting to be explored.

Can you skip the lines at the Tower of London?

London’s most popular attractions all get very busy during peak holiday season. If you take part in a private tour led by a Blue Badge Guide, your guide will use their local knowledge to ensure any queuing time is kept to the bare minimum!

Where can I buy Tower of London tickets?

It’s recommended to pre-purchase your tickets on the official website. During peak periods, like school holidays, you might even have to pick a time slot when visiting. However, there should be tickets available on the day, if you decide to make a last-minute visit.

Is the Tower of London included in the London City pass?

Entrance to the Tower of London is included in the London City Pass.  If you are considering whether the pass is good value for money, check out our guide on the London City pass – is it worth it? 

Are there any discounts on Tower of London tickets?

The Tower of London is included in the London “2 for 1 tickets days out” train discount scheme. Simply fill out the voucher and show your qualifying train ticket to receive your discount. 

Also, residents of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets can enter for £1 by showing an Idea Store or Local Library Card. Check the terms and conditions of discount tickets on the Tickets and Prices page.

General Queries

What to see and do at the Tower of London

We have actually written an entire article about What you can see and do at the Tower so if you’re looking for a more in-depth guide, be sure to have a look. If you don’t fancy reading, why not have a listen to our Tower podcast episode, or here’s a hit-list of our favourite things to see and do.

  • Meet the Ravens
  • Learn about the prisoners
  • Marvel at the Crown jewels
  • Visit the White Tower
  • Grab a picture with the Kings Guard
  • Don’t forget about Tower Bridge!
  • Enjoy the elevated view of London on wall walks inside the castle
  • Ceremony of the keys (check out or guide to Tower of London Ceremonies)
  • New armouries café for a sit down meal or just a snack

What are Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters?

The Yeoman Warders are guardians of the Tower, they are also known as Beefeaters. Yeoman Warder of the guard were personal guards of the monarch ensuring his/her safety. In Tudor times, Henry VIII decided that the tower required personal guards and the role of Yeoman Warder/Beefeater was born.

You will doubtless recognise the Guards ceremonial uniform, bright red in colour with gold embroidery, topped with a black hat. However, when you visit you may see them dressed in a more simple uniform for day to day use. It is still impressive, but the colours are more subtle, dark blue with red embroidery. 

How do you become a Yeoman Warder/Beefeater?

The position is only open to retired armed forces personnel and has some very specific and restrictive entry requirements:

  • At least 22 years service in the armed forces
  • Awarded medals for both good conduct and long service
  • Have achieved at least the rank of Warrant Officer

There is no set number of Beefeaters, but currently (September 2023) there are 30 men and 5 women, not including the Chief Yeoman Warder. They work on shifts, 5 days on and two days off,

Why are Yeoman Warders called Beefeaters?

One explanation suggests that in the past, Yeoman Warder were paid not with coins, but with Beef.  The other option suggests that because of their importance, they were allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted, a real treat in times when good meat was scarce. Nobody knows for sure, but it is safe to say, that they are not named after the famous gin brand. Rather, the gin is named after the guards!

Where do Yeoman Warders live?

There isn’t one particular area of the tower, their houses are scattered around the complex but obviously aren’t accessible to the public. The complex works like a small village providing the beefeaters with accommodation, the Tower Green, the Chapel and even a pub so they can relax after a long day guarding the Royal Fort.

Yes, the Beefeaters can call the Tower their home. Beefeaters are allocated a home within the wall of the castle. Family members and pets can also live with the Beefeater. So if you see somebody walking a dog inside the walls, it’s likely they are a resident. 

Are Ravens caged at the Tower of London?

The Tower was once a Royal zoo full of exotic creatures. Today the only animals left, are the famous ravens of the Tower. They have their own cages for sleeping, but you will probably see them hopping around. Some ravens have their favourite spots, where they like to hang out during the day. They are friendly enough for a photo, but don’t get too close if you want to keep all your fingers!

Why do the ravens not leave the Tower of London?

Well, the raven’s wings are clipped. This procedure is easy and painless for the birds, however, it stops them from flying very high or far. They can still comfortably reach the top of the walls and towers. 

The fact that they are well fed here, might also have something to do with them hanging around. Often they are seen munching on mice, rats and assorted raw meat. If you aren’t careful they might share your snack too!


A raven at the Tower of London

Why are ravens associated with the Tower of London?

Legend has it that there should be at least six ravens on site. If the ravens leave, the monarchy falls and the Tower crumbles to the ground! This legend was reinforced during the 17th century by Charles II. He saw the fall of the Monarchy and the execution of his father. He didn’t want to take any chances and made sure the ravens were very well looked after ever since, lest we tempt fate. 

What are the names of the ravens at the Tower of London?

Some of the names are Jubilee, Poppy, Georgie, Bronwyn. Each raven has a different coloured tag around its foot, that’s how we tell who’s who. When visiting the Tower pay attention to their feet and see if you can tell which Raven you’re looking at. 

Who is the Raven master?

The Raven Master is one of the Beefeaters, they are chosen specifically to look after the ravens. The current Ravenmaster has a special bond with the birds, he has published a book about the birds and frequently gives talks about his position and the Ravens. You can even follow him on social media.

Crown Jewels

The Tower of London is home to the Crown Jewels, these Jewels are still in use today by members of the Royal Family for special events and ceremonies. The Jewels you can see are the actual items, not replicas or models. Unfortunately during the Civil War in the 17th Century, the original Jewels were taken and melted down by Oliver Cromwell who despised all aspects of Royalty. When the Monarchy was re-introduced, new Jewels were designed and built. More pieces were added to the collection over time and the Jewel house became home to the most magnificent Royal regalia. 

How many crowns does King Charles own?

There are two crowns that His Majesty has used during his reign. The first one is the Coronation Crown, called St Edward’s Crown. This crown was during the act of the coronation only on the 6th May 2023. The second crown is the State Imperial Crown “the everyday crown”. This crown is worn by His Majesty for the annual State Opening of the Parliament, which takes place in May.

Where is Kohinoor diamond now?

The Kohinoor diamond is part of the collection and it is set in a crown that belonged to the Queen Mother (Mother of Elizabeth II). The diamond has a very interesting history and is still the topic of great controversy. It first appeared in London during the Great Exhibition in 1851. When people first saw this massive gem, it was hard to believe it was a diamond and not just a large piece of glass. After the exhibition, it was set in the crown of Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII, who also carried the title “Emperor of India”. The Controversy revolves around ownership and where the diamond should reside, we recommend you view it in London whilst it is on display.  

Who guards the Jewel House at the Tower of London?

The Tower of London is a fortress constantly guarded by the King’s guard. The Crown Jewels are housed inside the jewel house which is in the centre of the tower complex, behind several curtain walls and many gates. When entering the exhibition, visitors actually enter a vault that has an impressive steel door on either side. 

About the History of the Tower of London

It was once home to a variety of exotic animals

The Tower of London has served many roles over time, for many hundreds of years, it was a Royal Menagerie. In fact, for a time the Tower served as the original London Zoo before it moved to the current location in Regents Park. All kinds of exotic animals were kept, from a Polar Bear, an elephant, to monkeys, lions and tigers. Many of the animals were gifts from different kingdoms, some survived in the environment quite nicely, others didn’t fare so well.

Who built the Tower of London and why?

The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the 1080s. After defeating the ruling King, Harold, at the battle of Hastings 1066, William marched into London where he was crowned King William I. As King, he wanted a display of his royal power and wealth, the structure (now known as the White Tower) would have towered over the local wooden huts, quite the status symbol!

Did Henry the 8th live in the Tower of London?

Henry is a famous king belonging to the Tudor dynasty. He was not just king he was also incredibly wealthy, despite his spending habits. He owned around 55 houses and palaces, the Tower being one of them. As he owned so many homes the tower wasn’t used as a primary residence, Henry preferred other houses such as Greenwich Palace or Hampton Court for that purpose. 

Which Kings and Queens lived in the Tower of London?

The last King and Queen who actually used the Tower as their day to day home were Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in the late 1400s. During medieval times, Kings William I, Henry III and Edward I, all used the Tower as a place of safety where the Royal family could shelter themselves and their belongings in troubled times. Edward I, for example, spent 35 years on the throne, yet he was only in London for about 53 days.

View of the Tower of London from across the River Thames

Did the Queen ever visit the Tower of London?

The Tower of London is now predominantly a visitor attraction, open to tourists most of the days of the year. Elizabeth II visited the Tower in 2014, to mark the anniversary of the start of WWI, Her Majesty came to pay respect to all the fallen soldiers during the tragic conflict. The moat of the Tower was decorated with ceramic red poppies for this special occasion which you can see below.

Does the Tower of London have a Chapel?

There is a beautiful Chapel Royal within the walls of the Tower, called St Peter ad Vincula. It is a living and working chapel, used for services and other religious events, such as weddings and christenings. The chapel is also one of the Royal Peculiars (like Westminster Abbey), meaning that it is not under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop but His Majesty. 

The chapel is also a final resting place of many people closely associated with the Tower. Beheaded queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard are buried inside in simple graves that were only re-discovered in Victorian times. Visitors can see their approximate position inside the chapel

Why is there a Chapel in the White Tower?

The White Tower was the first section of the Tower, built in the 1070s during the reign of William the Conqueror. As a Royal Palace, it needed a chapel for the monarch to use for private worship. Located on the second floor of the tower, it’s one of the oldest chapels in London. The interior is magnificent, it’s a real treat to find such an architectural gem nestled inside this historic part of the Tower.

Is the Tower of London a fort?

The official name is “His Majesty’s Royal Palace and fortress of the Tower of London”. So the word fort is even used in its official title, testament really to the strength and security that the Tower has offered since its inception. What began as one large Tower surrounded by the moat, was developed into a fortress with many towers and specific sections.

First, there is the innermost ward, which is the centre part of the complex.  The inner ward is surrounded by two concentric walls which were built in several phases. These thick walls form a barrier with the inner wall being higher than the outer. The outer ward and the whole complex is surrounded by a moat, which was drained many hundreds of years ago because of a foul stench. Drawbridges would have spanned the moat at various points and to this day we can still admire the portcullis, the murder holes or the arrow slits. All these features were designed with the specific intention of keeping the castle safe and secure and entirely fortified. 

How many towers are in the Tower of London?

There are in fact 21 towers in the whole complex. Some are standing on their own but most are connected with the curtain walls. They have served many purposes over time from records office through to personal quarters.

  • Bell Tower – The bell was used to warn prisoners of the approaching curfew
  • Wardrobe Tower – used in past for storing precious possessions 
  • Salt Tower – used for salt storage (salt was a very precious resource and was heavily guarded)
  • Beauchamp Tower – close to the execution site, this is where the important prisoners would await their sentencing
  • Wakefield Tower – built by Henry III, used as his private rooms including a small chapel and a chamber to receive private audiences’.
  • St Thomas’s Tower – built by Edward I, consisting of an area for entertainment, a bed-chamber, a study and a small chapel.
  • Other famous Towers include Lanthorn Tower, Byward Tower and Broad Arrow

Don’t miss the wall walk on your visit as it offers some fantastic views of the River, Tower Bridge and much more.

When was the Tower of London a Royal Mint?

During the reign of Edward I, a mint was built inside the walls of the Tower. During this period most of the coins used in the kingdom were made here. The area was known as mint street and the workers faced dangerous conditions whilst minting coins. The loss of fingers and eyes was common as a worker would place metal between stamps before it was struck with a hammer by their colleague. One wrong move meant that you lost a finger rather than a coin being pressed!

When was Traitors Gate bricked up?

The gate, originally a watergate on the south side of the complex, was built under the order of Edward I and was designed so visitors could arrive by boat. The Title of “Traitors Gate” came about in the 16th and 17th Centuries when Tudors used this specific entrance to the site extensively for imprisonment, torture and execution. The slightly less barbaric Victorians caused the gate to be bricked up when their work on the embankment caused the river levels to rise and the gate to be effectively flooded.

traitors gate, possibly taken in victorian times!

What happened at the tower during the world wars?

Prior to WWI the Tower was a successful tourist attraction, but the arrival of war forced it to revert to its previous role as both a garrison for troops and a prison/execution site. Carl Hans Lody was perhaps the most famous prisoner during this period. Lody was captured in Edinburgh shortly after the start of the war, he was by his own admission ‘not fit for the job” having received no formal training. He was held prisoner and executed on-site on the 6th of November 1914.

In the inter-war years, the tower returned to its role of tourist attraction, but the second world war again forced the return of status, as a prison and execution site. Find out more about the famous prisoners in the next section of our guide below.

World War II saw heavy aerial bombardment of London, despite barrage balloons flying above the complex it was unfortunately damaged by bombing. A large section of the mint was destroyed and a Yeoman Warder was tragically killed in the explosion. More positively, the moat of the Tower was used to grow vegetables, as the government encouraged everyone to do their bit as food rationing was enforced. When the war ended the tower once again welcomed visitors and continues to do so.

Has anyone ever tried to steal the crown jewels?

Almost unbelievably given their location, yes! Colonel Blood attempted in 1671 to steal the orb crown and sceptre, but the robbery was bungled. The sceptre was too long to hide in the bag Blood had brought. Blood was captured, but when arrested he demanded to answer only to the King. King Charles II was impressed by his audacity and pardoned Blood. No one so far has been brazen enough to make another attempt

Famous prisoners and torture

Why did Queen Mary put Elizabeth in the Tower?

Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned at the tower by her half-sister Mary I, as it was feared she was plotting against the Queen. She was actually held in what was her mother’s former apartments, until her release after 2 months due to a lack of evidence.

Who was imprisoned in the Tower of London?

Many people, in fact far too many to go into detail here, but perhaps we’ll explore in a future article. Some of the most famous names you may recognise are

  • Anne Boleyn (resident twice, as a queen in waiting and as a prisoner)
  • Lady Jane Grey
  • Guy Fawkes (held in the King’s house prior to his execution)
  • Sir Walter Raleigh (held multiple times due to secret marriage and changes of monarchy)
  • Edward V (read more about him and his brother below)
  • Ronald Kray
  • Thomas Cromwell

Who was the last person imprisoned in the Tower of London?

One of the last prisoners to be held was Rudolph Hess. Hess was a very high profile member of the nazi party and worked closely with Hitler before escaping to Scotland in a small aeroplane. While the purpose of his trip is still not fully understood (it is thought he may have hoped to broker a peace deal), Hess was captured and held for a time as one of the last prisoners in the Tower. He left the tower alive was transferred to Nuremberg for post-war trials, where after being sentenced to life, he died in Spandau prison in 1987.

Who was tortured in the Tower of London?

This is a case where myth and legend has grown over time to give the idea that thousands of people were tortured. The truth is that torture in the Tower took place over a fairly short period and to only a small proportion of prisoners, the most famous of whom was Guy Fawkes.

The Tudor era of the 16th and 17th centuries was a time of great political upheaval, torture was used not as punishment but to extract information. That doesn’t mean that the torture wasn’t painful, quite the opposite in fact, but the threat of torture was often enough to loosen a prisoner’s tongue.

However, if prisoners did not talk there were a variety of terrible machines in the bloody tower to change their mind

  • The Rack – designed to slowly stretch the victim
  • The Scavengers Daughter – designed to slowly squash the victim
  • Manacles – iron handcuffs from which the victim would be suspended

These excruciating methods were often successful in extracting information, whether that information was true or not was largely irrelevant at the time. Fortunately, as time moved on these methods were consigned to history. You can still see a replica of the rack in the white tower built to give you some idea of the pain it would cause. If you wish to read more, there is a historic account about the torture of John Gerard.

Who was executed on tower hill?

Tower hill was home to the execution site for those prisoners who weren’t deemed important enough to be executed within the walls of the tower itself. It is the site of many public executions, you can find the names of those who met their end here on a plaque to this day.

Some people you may recognise are George Boleyn (bother of Anne Boleyn), Thomas More (Lord Chancellor) and Thomas Cromwell (former right-hand man to Henry the 8th). Here you can see again how many people died in the turbulent Tudor times.

Who was killed at the Tower of London?

As we discussed earlier, very few prisoners were actually executed inside the tower itself. Henry VIII’s wives, unfortunately, make up a high percentage. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were both executed inside the fortress.

In 1483, two young princes, Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York the only children of Edward IV, are believed to have been murdered in the Tower. The rumoured suspect? Their uncle Richard III, who was trying to improve his access to the throne. Bones, which are believed to belong to the princes, were discovered during renovations in 1674. Just another example of the grizzly history of the bloody tower.

We hope this answered all of your questions so now you have everything you need to know about the history of the Tower of London! When you are visiting London, we would love to show you around. Feel free to peruse our London Tours to plan your journey in the city.

If you have any more questions about the Abbey, feel free to contact us.

About the author

Denisa holds the highest UK qualification for tourist guiding, the Blue Badge. She also holds a Management in Tourism degree and a National Tour guiding certificate for the Czech Republic. Denisa’s employment history has covered many roles within the tourism sector, she couples this with the ability to speak several languages. Denisa runs our customer-facing business, she frequently enjoys days spent guiding clients and authors our blogs.

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