There’s so many attractions to choose from in London, but you’ll find one site at the top of almost every visitor’s buckelist—the Tower of London. This impressive structure is both a UNESCO Heritage Site and the most complete example of an 11th century fortress palace remaining in all of Europe. There’s a LOT to see and do in the Tower, from admiring the legendary Crown Jewels to learning about the Tower’s more sordid past as a prison and execution site. So if you want to make the most of your limited time, here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Tower of London.
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What is the Tower of London?
The Tower of London is often touted as one of the best tourist attractions in the city. But, in a town packed with cool things to see and do, it’s kind of important to actually understand what the heck the Tower of London is before deciding if it’s worth your precious time there.
So, as a super brief history, in 1066, William the Conqueror, a Norman, successfully invaded Britain and ended the previous rule of the Anglo-Saxons. He built the Tower of London in 1066 along the Thames River, as a sign of strength and to act as a fortress and gateway to Britain’s capital city.
The original Tower was actually all wood, which turns out not to be the best for a fortress, so shortly after its construction, it was swiftly replaced with a stone structure. This building is called the White Tower, which still stands as the nucleus of the Tower of London today.
Over the next several centuries, the Tower of London served a variety of functions, including a royal residence, menagerie, and prison. Its structures changed to complement these changing roles, with features like thicker walls, a moat, defense towers, and prison cells being added over the years.
By the 16th century, the Tower had largely stopped being used as Britain’s royal residence and instead, earned the reputation it has today as a grim prison and execution site. For example, Edward V and his younger brother were imprisoned and 112 people, including the queens– Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey – were famously executed at the Tower or the nearby Tower Hill.
Today, it still plays a small role in the British monarchy, including being the fortress where the Crown Jewels are kept, the regimental headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and the home of 150 permanent residents, including some of the Yeoman Warders and their families, a doctor, chaplain, and the Tower’s Governor.
Since the 18th century, though, the Tower of London has primarily held another role—being a tourist attraction! Now, a whopping three million visitors flock here every year to gawk at the Crown Jewels and meet its famous mythical guardians, the Beefeaters and the ravens (more on that below!).
Does Visiting the Tower of London Cost?
Yes, unless you just want to admire the Tower from outside its fortress walls, it’s unfortunately a paid attraction, like most of the other top sites in London.
Tickets include access to the site and a free tour, offered by the Beefeaters, who are ceremonial guards who once protected the Tower and Crown Jewels and now mostly act as feisty tour guides (but more on that below).
Tickets do not include audio guides, which can generally be purchased with your ticket online or onsite for £5.00 for adults or £4.00 for children. It also does not include any of the premium experiences that you can purchase for the Tower—like this tour, which allows you to see the opening Ceremony of the Keys, enter the Tower before the general public, and have a private meeting with the chief Beefeater.
As of this post’s last update (Summer of 2023), you’ll pay the following to visit the Tower of London:
- £33.60 for adults
- £1 for Tower Hamlet residents (adults and kids)
- £27.70 for groups of 15 or more
- £26.80 for disabled visitors (and free for their carer or companion)
- £26.80 for full-time students or kids, aged 16-17
- £16.80 for kids, aged 5-15
- Free for kids 4 and under
I’d personally suggest booking your ticket ahead of time through Get Your Guide, given that it’s not unusual for tickets to sell out for a particular date, and, unlike purchasing through the official website or any other third party sites that I could find, you’ll receive a refund if you need to cancel your ticket for any reason with at least 24 hours notice (please be sure to double check this before you book, as they can change this policy at any time!).
It can also help to shop around with other third party sites, like Viator or Tiquets, given their ticket prices may fluctuate (and sometimes save you a bit of money as compared to the official website), depending on other visitor demand.
Once you purchase tickets online, you’ll receive an email with your PDF ticket attached. The ticket taker will scan this at the entrance, so you won’t need to wait in the often very long ticket line!
If you’re short on time in the city or just want to know more about the history and cultural impact of the places you’re seeing, visiting the Tower of London on a small group tour can be an incredible option. You’ll usually get to skip the line to buy tickets, and guides are adept at not only sharing interesting information about the city’s incredible history, but also pointing out good photo spots and sharing their unique perspectives as an actual Londonite.
- This awesome option includes a tour of the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, a stop at Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards, and a cruise down the Thames River. Additionally, this company’s guides are not only knowledgeable, but it’s clear that they seriously love their jobs.
- If you’re keen to learn more about British royalty, this tour is led by a guide with encyclopedic knowledge of the country’s history, first stopping at the Tower of London and then going on an epic walking tour of Westminster, including Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace.
- For a tour jam-packed with as many sites as you can possibly squeeze into a day, this option includes a walking tour around Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben; seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace; a river cruise down the Thames; AND a guided tour around St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. Phew!
I’m going to be real with you—I was a bit shocked at how expensive so many of the attractions in London are, including the Tower of London. With most of the attractions costing anywhere between £15-45 a pop, it’s a manageable cost if you’re just visiting one of them but it adds up REAL quick if you want to explore multiple places.
An awesome solution to this can be to get a city pass, which allows you to see a number of attractions, including the Tower of London, for one fixed cost and potentially save you a TON of money (like, up to 50% per attraction).
There are several companies that provide different city passes, for different lengths of time and for different attractions. Be sure to shop around to make sure that the pass includes the attractions you want to visit and that the amount you pay will actually be cheaper than if you just purchased the tickets separately. Consider:
- The London Pass for a set number of days, where you’ll have unlimited access to over 80 attractions and is the only one that includes Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge.
- Instead of a pass with unlimited access to attractions for a certain number of days, the London Go City Explorer Pass allows you to select anywhere between two to seven attractions from over 70 different experiences.
- The London City Pass includes tickets to the Tower of London, London Eye, a 24-hour hop-on, hop-off boat, and city audio guide.
How to Get to the Tower of London
The Tower of London is located in the Tower Hamlets neighborhood of London, right along the Thames River.
It’s conveniently located right next to the Tower Bridge and is within walking distance to other popular stops in London, like the Shard, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
However, if you’re coming from the sites around Westminster, like Big Ben, Parliamentary Square, or Buckingham Palace, it’s almost three miles away—but, luckily, there’s TONS of ways to get here!
- Public Buses: There’s plenty of bus routes (15, 42, 78, 100, 343 and RV1, to be exact) that stop nearby
- Tube: The Tower of London is within walking distance of the Tower Hill, Monument, Bank, Aldgate, or Aldgate East tube stations. Because you don’t have to deal with London’s horrific traffic when you use the Tube, this is going to be the quickest option for many travelers to get to the Tower and is great if you need to cover a lot of distance.
- Train: The London Bridge and Fenchurch Street stations are about a 10-15 minute walk from the Tower, whereas the Liverpool Street Station is a 20 minute walk.
Hop-on, Hop Off Options
- Hop-on, hop-off bus: Almost any of the available bus operators will stop at the Tower, including City Sightseeing UK or Vox City International Ltd (which also happens to include a two hour Harry Potter tour and a cruise down the Thames—sign me up!).
- Hop-on, hop-off boats: Alternatively, the Tower Pier is just steps away from the Tower’s ticket office and is a stop for all of the 24-hour hop-on, hop-off boat options, like this one (which I personally think is a bit more fun than a bus).
Of course, London is an incredibly walkable city and it’s possible to take a nice stroll to the Tower from most of the major attractions here. For example, it’s a 20 minute walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral or a 50 minute walk from Big Ben (including crossing over the London Bridge!). If you’re going to walk 50 minutes anywhere, along the banks of the Thames in London is definitely not a bad place to be!
When is the Tower of London open?
The Tower of London is open every day of the year, with the exception of December 24th, 25th, and 26th and January 1st.
In the summertime (March 1st through October 21st), the Tower is open on Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM and Sundays through Mondays, from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM.
During the winter (November 1st through February 28th), it’s open on Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM and Sundays through Mondays, from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM.
Last admission is at 3:30 PM year round.
The Tower of London does occasionally close or have limited hours on random days, due to special events, so, just to be on the safe side, I’d recommend checking the official schedule before your visit.
The Best Things to Do When Visiting the Tower of London
There’s a ton to see and do when visiting the Tower of London and, unless you’re devoting a whole day here, there’s no way that you’re going to see everything. In fact, I had read online that you should alot three hours for the Tower, so my husband, Justin, and I showed up about three hours and 45 minutes before closing, assuming that would be plenty of time… and it definitely wasn’t!
So below, I’m highlighting some of the most popular (and, in my opinion, best!) things to do in the Tower of London:
Alright, if you do one thing while visiting the Tower of London, I’d recommend that you do the free tour of the grounds, with the Yeomen Warders or “Beefeaters”. The tours are provided every half hour (check the official schedule here) and start near the entrance in the moat. Just be aware that the Beefeater tours will generally be canceled when it’s rainy!
As mentioned above, the Yeomen Warders were essentially the royal bodyguards and prison wardens at the Tower, instituted by Henry VIII. Today, while they still protect the Tower and the crown jewels, their role is largely ceremonial and they instead have been acting as tour guides for the millions of visitors who flock here each year.
Their tours usually kick off with a brief history of the Tower and then walk around to certain points of interest around the rest of the complex. The Beefeaters seem to index towards the more gruesome aspects of the Tower, like murder, betrayal, imprisonment, torture, and execution—probably because it makes a more interesting tour!
When Justin and I visited, our Beefeater tour guide was SO entertaining—cracking jokes and really getting into his role as a Yeomen Warder in the 16th century—all while sharing a ton of interesting information about the Tower.
As a word of warning, I visited on a VERY busy day and my tour group was HUGE—if you’re on the outskirts of the crowd, it can be pretty hard (read—impossible) to hear what they’re saying. So if you want a more personalized experience or a tour that’s longer than half an hour, I’d suggest booking a separate tour, like this three hour private tour of the Tower or this three hour tour, where your guide, for part of the time, will be an actual Beefeater!
Wondering why exactly they’re called a “Beefeater”? Well, that’s a great question because no one really knows. However, it’s generally suspected that the name comes from the fact that these guardians were paid through the 1800s, in part, with hunks of meat.
Okay, so I’m not sure this is really a must-see (or, really, for the most part, something that you can really even control seeing or not), but the Tower of London has another kind of ceremonial guard other than beefeaters—six ravens.
Let me explain.
“If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” It’s not clear who exactly said these words or when or why, but the local legend loosely holds that Charles II was told by a witch (or, in a less fun version of the story, an advisor) that basically the fate of the kingdom hung on whether or not six ravens consistently lived on the grounds of the Tower of London.
Since then (with some brief gaps due to World War II), the Tower has had a rotating set of six ravens at any given time, who, due to their clipped wings, live full-time within the Tower walls. They’re fed a special diet of mice, chicks, rats, raw meats, and biscuits soaked in blood by a ravenmaster and are still revered as kind of a mythical protector of the Tower.
The ravens have free reign within the Tower, so there’s no guarantees you’ll get a glimpse of the birds while you’re here. Typically, the best place to spot them, though, is the grass in front of the residences at Wakefield Tower.
Okay, so probably the most famous attraction at the Tower of London are the Crown Jewels, which are the most complete set of royal regalia on the planet and have been held at the Tower since Charles II’s reign in the 1660s.
The collection itself is jaw-dropping, with over 140 objects and over 23 THOUSAND gemstones. In addition to just showcasing the dazzling (quite literally!) gemstones, the exhibit explains how the various items, from scepters and punch bowls to capes and crowns, are used in royal ceremonies, including coronations. I visited about six months after King Charles’ coronation and it was pretty neat to see the various bedazzled items that were used in the ceremony.
The centerpiece of the collection—and what I was most excited to see—was the Cullinan I Diamond, which is the largest clear cut diamond on the planet, weighing in at 530.4 carats (fun fact– the diamond that it came from was the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found and weighed 3,106 carats!). The Cullinan I is currently mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, which, as mentioned above, was used in King Charles III’s coronation.
When we visited the Tower, the entire complex was busy, but the Crown Jewels’ were full-on Disneyland-at-spring-break level crowded. Did I mention it was just a random Monday too? In fact, there’s literally stanchions, like the kind you’d see at an amusement park or the airport, because the line here can get so long. While it moved quickly, I’d still budget at least 45 minutes to an hour, just for waiting in line here. And that doesn’t include time to actually navigate the exhibit.
It’s also important to note that it’s one of the few places in the Tower where photography and videography are prohibited, for security purposes.
The White Tower is the oldest building within the Tower complex, dating all the way back to 1080. That also makes this one of the oldest buildings in the entire city.
Over the years, the White Tower has served a variety of functions, including a royal residence, prison, and even a storage unit for over 2,000 barrels of gunpowder in the late 16th century (not sure whose bright idea that was…), but, as early as the 17th century, it’s largely functioned as an attraction for public visitors.
In this old keep, you can see the Line of Kings, which is a centuries-old exhibit that displays the armor of Henry VIII, Charles I, and James II, in addition to a variety of noblemen, on intricately carved horses.
In addition to the armor, the White Tower has an impressive collection of weaponry and a peaceful 11th-century chapel, the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist (while photography is generally allowed in the White Tower, it’s not in the chapel).
While many people associate the Tower with gory activities, like murder or execution, it was actually fairly uncommon for folks to be killed within its walls. Instead, it was more common for the Tower to serve as a prison for royalty or noblemen.
One of the Tower’s battlements, built in the 13th century, has been used pretty much the entire duration of its existence as a prison and actually gets its name from one of its prisoners, Thomas Beauchamp, who lived within its four walls in the 14th century.
Prisoners in the Tower had some similarities, like rarely knowing their fate or how long they would be held in prison, but otherwise, their experience varied wildly based on who they were and what they were imprisoned for. Some lived in extravagantly decorated apartments, while others were tortured and killed. Prison sentences could last for a couple of days or for the rest of their lives.
You can learn more about some of the prisoners and their lives in Beauchamp Tower at the “Imprisonment at the Tower” exhibit. Perhaps the eeriest part of the exhibit is on its second floor–you can see where several prisoners etched their names, dates, and other messages into the stone walls, primarily starting in the 16th century.
The Tower of London is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in the city and you might be able to guess that the Bloody Tower is one of its most storied battlements.
The site, formerly known as the Garden Tower, earned its name when Edward IV died, leaving his 12-year old son and successor, Edward, and his younger brother, Richard, under the care and protection of the Duke of Gloucester. The greedy duke wanted the crown for himself, though, and imprisoned the young boys in the Bloody Tower. After the boys were taken prisoner, they were never seen again and are believed to have been murdered by their uncle—a hypothesis that was bolstered when the bones of two children were found under a staircase in the Tower.
In the Bloody Tower, you can learn a bit more about the princes and get a glimpse of the apartment where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for 13 years.
Lower Wakefield Tower
In yet another battlement, you’ll find an exhibit “Torture at the Tower”, which chronicles some of the torture devices that were used on prisoners in the Tower, primarily in the 16th and 17th century. During this period of time, there was a lot of accusations and persecutions of people for their religious and political beliefs, which, occasionally, resulted in their torture.
The exhibit is on the smaller side, but it’s impactful to see replicas of the horrific torture devices that were used on the prisoners and to learn just a little bit more about the history of torture at the Tower.
Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula
Built in 1520, the Chapel Royal of St. Peter is the parish church of the Tower of London and is still very much in operation today.
While the church still holds services, it’s probably most famously known as the resting place for some of the most famous people executed here—Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and Sir Thomas More. As they were condemned as traitors, their final resting places are unknown or unmarked.
However, there are some rather elaborate tombs for others that are interred here, which include several martyrs who later went on to become saints.
Photography is not allowed in the chapel for religious reasons.
Surrounding the entire complex, there’s an old stone wall, built in the 13th century, that served as a layer of outer defense against possible invaders. Thirteen towers, including some of the ones we discussed above, like the Bloody or Beauchamp Tower, are built into the walls, allowing you to walk from tower to tower (although, today, some of these towers are closed to public access or have their own entrances, like the Bloody Tower). The walls and the towers are now collectively referred to as The Battlements.
You can now walk along the majority of the wall—not only does this provide you an excellent view of the surrounding structures, like Tower Bridge, but it will take you to several of the towers, which have small exhibits in them. My favorite was one on how the Tower was once used as the royal menagerie, but there’s also exhibits on how it functioned in the World Wars, what a Medieval Palace looked like in the 13th century, and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.
Tucked away from most of the other exhibits is the Mint. To get here, you’ll walk from the main entrance past the doorway after the moat and then immediately turn left down Mint Street.
Starting in 1279, Edward I moved the country’s mint to the Tower of London for additional security and almost all of England’s coins were produced within the Tower’s walls until 1810. For centuries, working in the Mint was an extremely hot and dangerous business and, on top of that, the workers were under constant scrutiny and threat of severe punishment to deter stealing or fraud.
Today, you can learn all about the process of making coins from the 13th century on and about the often overlooked people who lived and worked here.
The Fusilier Museum
Founded on June 20, 1685, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was formed to guard the weaponry at the Tower of London. The Regiment later went on to fight in battle for the British army in Belgium, Spain, and the American Revolution.
The Tower of London still serves as the Regimental Headquarters and there’s a nice museum on the ground floor that explains its history through a series of stories and objects, as well as interesting and fun hands-on exhibits to give you a better idea of what serving is like (I learned their backpacks are, like, REALLY heavy and I may not be physically prepared to be a member of the Fusiliers quite yet!).
How Long To Spend While Visiting The Tower of London
I hope that it’s obvious, from the list above, that there’s a LOT to cover at the Tower. If EVERYTHING I described above sounds interesting to you, I’d suggest planning to spend the whole day here (and maybe you’ll have an extra bonus hour or two to wander over to the Tower Bridge!).
Most people, however, pick and choose the exhibits that sound most interesting to them and spend between two and a half to three hours here. If you’re going during the busy summer season, like we did, I’d give yourself a bit more time—maybe four hours—because you will definitely be spending part of that time standing in line to actually see the exhibits.
Tips for Visiting the Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of the most popular attractions in the city, so there’s definitely some tips and tricks that you can follow to make your visit just a little bit smoother and more enjoyable.
- Buy your ticket online. Once you buy your ticket online, you won’t have to stand in the ticket queue at the Tower, which can wind up saving you up to half an hour.
- Be prepared to have your bag searched. While you can skip the ticket line if you purchase it ahead of time, everyone visiting the Tower of London must go through a security line, which includes a search of any bags you have.
The Tower site indicates that “no large bags will be permitted”, so I was a little bit worried about whether they’d have an issue with our Peak Design Travel Backpacks, which we were both wearing at the time and were stuffed with a variety of camera equipment (check out our Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L review if you’re looking for an awesome bag to serve as both your travel backpack and daypack to explore cities). They didn’t have an issue with our bags , but I do suspect you would not be allowed in with large pieces of luggage—and, for security reasons, there’s no place at the Tower where you’re allowed to store them.
Also, be aware that you can’t bring in any weapons, pepper spray, or fireworks (how many times do I have to tell you guys—leave the fireworks at home!).
- Come early. If we have a number one travel rule, it would probably be to get places EARLY to beat the crowds, especially if you care about photography or want to limit the amount you wait in line.
Since we were sight-seeing all day, we wound up coming here in the afternoon and it was SO crowded. I still enjoyed visiting the Tower of London, but next time, I’m definitely going to prioritize getting here as soon as it opens.
- Plan your day in advance. As you can probably tell, the complex is fairly massive, sprawling over a whopping 12 acres. So I’d suggest trying to be strategic and planning out the order of sites you want to hit, based on where they’re at—this will not only help save you time, but save your feet a bit as well!
You can access a map of the complex online ahead of time and you’ll also be given when you’re visiting the Tower of London.
- It’s not very accessible. Like many old facilities, the Tower of London was unfortunately not designed for people with mobility issues in mind. The cobblestone streets are often uneven, there’s lots of stairs and narrow doorways and hallways.
So, if you use a mobility device, I’d recommend evaluating whether dealing with the access issues is worth the ticket price to you.
- Exhibits are often closed. Listen, the Tower of London is pushing a THOUSAND years old, so it requires a pretty substantial amount of upkeep and maintenance. Accordingly, there’s usually at least a couple buildings or exhibits closed at any given time for maintenance (for example, when we went, the Chapel Royal of St. Peter was closed).
- Don’t take photos where they’re not allowed. As mentioned above, you’re not allowed to take photos of the Crown Jewels for security reasons or the two onsite chapels for religious reasons. Don’t be a jerk; please abide by the rules!
- Bring your own food and drink. There’s two snack and drinks stands in the Tower, but, like any tourist attraction, the selection is definitely on the pricier side.
So, if you plan on spending several hours at the Tower, I’d suggest bringing your own food and having a picnic on one of the benches or the beautiful grassy lawns in the complex. Just be aware that you’re not allowed to eat or drink in most of the buildings here.
Where to Stay Near the Tower of London
The Tower of London is centrally located in the city, near some of its best attractions—so why not stay nearby too? Check out:
- citizenM Tower of London: Right near the Tower Hill tube station, this hotel has all kinds of fun features, like controlling your room’s blinds and curtains with an iPad, a cozy rain shower, and a breakfast buffet available every single morning. It also offers killer views of the Tower itself, the Thames River, and the Shard.
- Hotel Indigo London Tower Hill, an IHG Hotel: This new boutique hotel has very funky vibes and, for London, offers ENORMOUS rooms. You can expect comfy beds, a friendly staff, and an incredibly walkable location, right near the Tower.
- Novotel London Tower: Given space constraints, most hotels in London have pretty limited onsite amenities—but Novotel London Tower offers an onsite fitness center, sauna, and bar and restaurant that’s open until midnight! Add in its proximity to public transit and some of the most popular sites in London, attentive staff, and complimentary access to some of the drinks in the mini bar, this funky little hotel is the perfect home base during your time in the city.
Phew, I hope you feel well-prepared for visiting the Tower of London—let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!