On our last full day in London, we had one place we all wanted to tour…the Tower of London. We jumped on and off the Underground to arrive at this well known landmark just before it opened. The plan was to tour the Tower and then finish the day with a hop on/hop off bus tour.
My first surprise was that lots of other people arrived early and the line to purchase tickets was already long. No problem. Although it felt like the line barely moved, 40 minutes later we had tickets.
The real surprise, however, was the Tower itself. Somehow, my education about what the tower actually is, was lacking.
Being an avid reader and movie watcher with an interest in British lit and history, I thought I knew the Tower of London well. However, when I caught my first glimpse of the Tower, I realized my perceptions were skewed.
I expected the Tower to look like this:
Instead, the Tower looks like this!
The Tower isn’t a singular tower…it’s multiple towers, it’s a fortress, it’s a complex! How did I not know this? We spent several hours exploring this fascinating place, rich in history.
Here are the highlights:
My first look at the Tower of London, which was a big surprise, in the early morning sunlight.
William the Conqueror built the White Tower that is now in the center of the complex, in 1078. That tower was considered a symbol of oppression against London by the Norman ruler, and it was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. However, that was not the primary purpose of the complex. It was a royal residence, a grand palace, early in its history.
I had a lot to learn about the Tower, it seemed, beginning with discovering that the official name of this castle is Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. No wonder the name has been shortened to simply, the Tower of London.
Set up as a community within thick castle walls, there are streets with buildings and living quarters and battlements that circle the fortress, linking multiple towers together. This brick building is the mint shop, where coins were minted.
Inside the fortress. This is a fortified castle.
We climbed up into the battlements, and visited the Medieval Palace first. These rooms were built by and used by King Henry III and King Edward between 1216 and 1307.
The Tower Bridge, as seen from the battlements.
The Raven’s Lodgings and two of the seven ravens who reside within the tower grounds. Legend says that as long as six ravens live at the tower, it will not fall. The ravens are well cared for and quite friendly.
The White Tower.
Part of the original ruins.
Guards are stationed around the grounds. This one was outside the building housing the Crown Jewels.
Some of the people who work in the Tower complex live within it as well.
Inside the Bloody Tower, so named after the young sons of King Edward V were sent to the tower by their uncle, after their father died. The princes were never seen again. Two hundred years after their disappearance, skeletal remains of two children were found beneath a staircase. They are thought to be the young princes, murdered by their ambitious uncle, who then became king.
The Traitor’s Gate, off of the Thames River, through which prisoners could enter by ship.
We enjoyed the many exhibits, buildings and towers within the castle, walking the battlements first, and then exploring from the ground.
I learned about the history of London’s monarchy and the many people who spent time as prisoners in the tower or who were executed there. I discovered Royal Beasts were kept on site until the London zoo opened in 1828.
The only area we didn’t get to see was the Torture Exhibit, which was closed for maintenance. Overall, this tour was a delightful surprise that we all enjoyed.
Because of the time we spent at the Tower of London, we chose not to do the hop on/hop off bus. With stops at King’s Crossing Station, and the Harry Potter store there, and Piccadilly Square, by way of the Underground, we felt we had seen all we hoped to in London.
It is packing time. Tomorrow we fly out of London, homeward bound. What an amazing trip with my mom, sisters and niece. We will be discussing this adventure for months to come. I am so grateful for this trip and for the trip to Italy with my grandson and daughter earlier in the year. Traveling is rapidly becoming a passion for me.
Where will I wander next?