Tower of London Review
The building of the Tower of London was started by William the Conqueror in 1066ad as a fortification to protect the city of London. In the almost thousand years since, it has been used as a royal palace, an armoury, a treasury, the Royal Mint and infamously, as a prison. Having played such a pivotal part in the history of Great Britain and located in central London, it is a must do attraction for any tourist.
Easy access is provided to the Tower from Tower Hill tube station, located less than 100 yards from the Tower entrance.
We visited on a summer Tuesday and we were on the tube system a little before 8am and successfully beat the Tuesday morning commuters. We arrived at Tower Hill station and being too early for the official 9am opening, we stopped for breakfast at a local pub that was conveniently located between the tube stop and the Tower of London itself. After breakfast we made our way across the road to the ticket booth where we joined a short line to get our Tower tickets just before opening.
With tickets purchased, a sign indicated that the first tour conducted by The Beefeaters (the famous guards of the Tower) wasn't until 10am, so we decided to walk down the river a little and walk across Tower Bridge.
The area leading from the river to the bridge was cobblestoned, which looked wonderful but was a killer on the old feet! It is a short walk across the famous drawbridge and in less than half an hour we were back at the Tower of London entrance ready to go. We entered the tower at 9:30 to discover that the first tour of the day was already underway. So much for the sign saying 10am. We tagged onto the end of this tour, which covered part of the history of the tour, including the "new" section (built in the 1600â€²s) and finished off showing the little village built inside, which was the former home to the Queens and is now the official home of The Beefeaters and their families. The tour highlights where a couple of King Henry VIII wives lost their heads, though I have a feeling they the glass pillow that commemorates the spot isn't authentic.
This tour ends at the hall housing the crown jewels. Unfortunately they don't allow photos and not surprisingly you had to enter something akin to a bank vault, but the fact that they were on display at all was pretty cool. The main crown has the world's largest diamond in it, weighing over 50 carats, which impressed my wife greatly and made the Hope diamond that we saw in Washington D.C. look a little ordinary. The most novel thing though was that in the room where they had all of the crowns laid out in display cases, they had a travelator that carried visitors past them, stopping people from standing in front of them for hours stopping everyone else from having a look. It was a really great idea that worked perfectly and we could think of several other places we had previously been that could have really benefited from copying this set up.
After the obligatory trip through the Crown Jewels souvenir store, we were able to do the 10am tour. Our guide was fantastic, displaying more of that wonderfully dry British wit, including that while Newton was living in the tower, working for the Royal Mint, he invented gravity. It was impressive learning the history behind the tower and seeing fortifications and towers that had stood undefeated for 900 years.
We left the tour when it got to the part where we joined the previous tour and headed to the White Tower, which is the central fortification of The Tower and was used as the main palace during Henry VIII's reign.
Within the White Tower was a history of arms and armory that was very impressive, though it did involve the climbing of around the same amount of steps that it took to get to the top of the Statue of Liberty. There was also a receipt book that covered all transactions made by The Tower for 4 years in the 1600's which with the thick parchment was enormous and not something I would want to have been in charge of filling out. It was all very interesting, though at least one person in our party was complaining about the amount of stairs by the end. We finished by venturing to an exhibit on torture and prisoners in the tower. This proved to be rather disappointing as it was only 1 small room with a pair of manacles, a rack and one other device.
We spent approximately 3 hours at the Tower on a day where not too many people were in attendance and we found it an amazing and fascinating place. Hearing the history and seeing the fortifications, as well as the crown jewels and the village inside the walls is a London must see and I highly recommend to anyone travelling to London.