There is so much to see at the Tower of London, which is one of the city’s top attractions and most significant historical sites. With over 1,000 years of history written into the walls of this fortress, you could see and do quite a lot while visiting.
The Tower of London has been used as a royal residence, a prison, an execution site, a royal mint and treasury, a records office, and even a private zoo! Today, the Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the UK’s top attractions. It is also, however, a small community, with full-time residents who live here and even have their own pub!
Throughout it all, the Tower of London has always been a fortress to protect the royal family and their possessions. The last time the Tower was used as an actual royal residence was the early 1500s when Henry VII stayed for a short time. The Tower then became more of a ceremonial place and, famously, it became a prison for prominent members of society who posed a threat to the Crown.
What to See at the Tower of London
First, it’s important to realise that the Tower of London is not just a singular tower. In fact, this complex is vast and comprises 22 towers! You certainly need at least a few hours to explore this historic, iconic attraction.
There are free tours offered by the Yeoman Warders (also called Beefeaters) that will highlight some key places and stories around the site. The Beefeaters live in the Tower of London full-time, with the red-brick buildings being their residences…and they even have their own on-site pub!
But, to truly get the most out of your visit to the Tower of London, a private tour with a Blue Badge Guide is your best option.
With a private tour, your guide will arrange your itinerary to minimize waiting in a queue to see the Crown Jewels; we know the best times to go and the times to avoid! You also won’t need to wait for the next available free tour and jostle for position to hear all the details.
Blue Badge Guides are the only guides allowed to offer tours within famous sites like the Tower of London. You can take a look at our Tower of London tour to learn more.
Meet the Ravens at the Tower of London
There are resident ravens at the Tower of London who have a very special job to do. When visiting, be sure to snap a few photos of Poppy, Jubilee, Grip, and their friends. They might be in their cages or they could be out and about hopping around.
Either way, these ravens have always had an important role at the Tower of London. The old saying goes “If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall.” To protect the monarchy from that ominous saying, there are always at least six ravens in residence.
Learn About the Prisoners at the Tower of London
Perhaps most famously, the Tower of London has imprisoned many prominent Brits over the centuries. Some of the most famous included Queen Elizabeth I (prior to her reign, when she was still a princess, her sister Mary had her imprisoned at the Tower of London), Queen Anne Boleyn (the second wife of King Henry VIII), Sir Walter Raleigh, King David II of Scotland, and William Penn.
The Tower of London was not your average prison, however. When visiting, you’ll see the quarters used and learn how these prisoners were treated during their time at the Tower.
There were not many executions held at the Tower, however. Those that did take place were prominent members of the royal family, including two of Henry VIII’s wives (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard).
The last time the Tower of London was used as an execution site was during World War II, with a number of German spies facing a firing squad. Perhaps the most famous, Rudolf Hess (who served as Deputy Führer of the Nazi Party) was imprisoned and questioned at the Tower of London before eventually being sent back to Germany to stand at the Nuremberg Trials.
Marvel at the Crown Jewels
The Crown Jewels are a major attraction at the Tower Of London. With over 23,000 jewels housed here, there is good reason for the long queue to see them! However, with your Blue Badge Guide during a private Tower of London tour, we will be sure to visit at the best time to minimize waiting to see these beauties.
Don’t miss the Imperial State Crown filled with diamonds, pearls, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. The Crown Jewels also include the largest flawless, colourless diamond in the world, called Cullinan I, which is embedded in the royal sceptre.
Explore the Oldest Part of the Tower of London
William the Conqueror built the White Tower (which is the structure with the flag on top of it) in 1068. This was originally called the Keep and served as a royal residence at the time. It took 20 years to build, which was quite quick given how long it took to build other iconic sites in London, like Westminster Abbey, for example.
Over the centuries, curtain walls were added, as were chapels and other buildings. The White Tower is certainly one of the top things to see at the Tower of London!
Take Photos of the Queen’s Guards
While most visitors attempt to take photos of the Queen’s Guards outside of Buckingham Palace, the best place to take a photo is actually at the Tower of London. At the Tower, the Queen’s Guards serve in their official position as a security presence, in their iconic bright red uniforms and all.
Enjoy Views of the Iconic Tower Bridge
Seeing Tower Bridge is always a favourite — especially if we should be lucky enough to watch it open! As you leave the Tower of London, take time to pause at the edge of the River Thames to appreciate this view.
If you’re ready to see all these things and more at the Tower of London, be sure to book our private Tower of London tour to skip the lines and get all the insider information from your Blue Badge Guide. You can also listen to our podcast episode sharing even more tips for what to see at the Tower of London. If you have any questions at all, feel free to contact us.