Like anyone who's lived in London for a few years I have my own list of things you Must Do if you're visiting. You should do a walking tour, visit a museum and a park, take a boat trip down the Thames, check out the views from on high at the Shard or London Eye, enjoy afternoon tea, see a show in the West End, visit a market and walk the South Bank.
Also on that list is the number 1 tourist attraction in London. Many people will suggest that you avoid the tourist spots and focus on seeing the "real" London. But, tourist spots are tourist spots for a reason and the Tower of London is the epicenter of London and British history, it is real London.
It's not actually just a tower but a castle with a series of buildings surrounded by a wall and a moat. The White Tower is the original castle and was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror. Its thousand years of history includes names like Richard the Lionheart, Queen Elizabeth I, Richard II, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Guy Fawkes, Anne Boleyn, Walter Raleigh, Lady Jane Grey. So much incredible history in this castle sitting majestically alongside the Thames next to Tower Bridge.
Tip 1. Because it's such an amazing place it's always full of visitors. Make sure that you prepare for your time at the Tower. Do some research so you'll know everything that is on offer and the timetables. If there is something that you just can't miss, make that your priority and be prepared to miss some of the other attractions. You can't see it all in one visit.
Tip 2. A tour by one of the Yeoman Warders is a great place to start. They've formed the Royal Bodyguard since the 1500's and know all there is to know about the Tower. The tours start every 30 minutes and run for about an hour. They can draw large crowds so if you miss one of the tours, you always have the Audio Guide option which is about 4 pounds and offers 5 different tours.
Tip 3. Research the history of the Tower of London. It's fascinating and vast. You'll appreciate the place more if you know a bit going in. My most recent visit was on Remembrance Day and the grounds were full of historical actors. I followed them from scene to scene and was completely sucked into the drama and the stories of WWI in London.
Soldiers, politicians, reporters and suffragettes were all telling their stories. It brought the history to life. There are often special events at the Tower so check their events calendar.
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its primary role is now tourism, but it still remains a military installation and is home to a ceremonial regiment. The Yeoman warders and their families live at the Tower of London in Tudor style homes.
"If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it." There are six ravens (plus 1 spare) on the grounds of the Tower. Their wings are clipped but they live quite the pampered life.
Tip 4. Be prepared to wait in lines at the Tower especially for some of the more popular exhibits like the White Tower and the Crown Jewels.
On a side note, for those of you with a bit of claustrophobia or anxiety. The White Tower was unfortunately the scene of a minor meltdown during my first visit to London. We started at ground level and went up from floor to floor, each floor more interesting than the last. However, once we reached the top the only way was down... an enclosed stone spiral staircase. With lots of people in front and behind with exits. We spiraled down from the fourth floor into the basement gift shop. By this time I needed to get out into the fresh air so ran for the exit. There might have been some tears. I'll blame it on jetlag but you know it's pretty bad when I skip the gift shop.
Back to the lines. I visited on one of the busiest days of the year so it's not usually this bad, but you might have to wait. If your priority is seeing the Crown Jewels, hit that line first and then be flexible from there on what you see. You could visit the Tower a dozen times and not see everything.
Tip 5. Be sure that everyone in your group is well-rested and up for the challenge. Consider comfort and hunger levels. I tried to take my dad and brother when they were here but we were all tired and the crowds just getting to the ticket booth were overwhelming. We decided to save it for another time.
My first view of the Tower of London was from a boat on the Thames. Along the water line you'll find the words Traitor's Gate which stirs up all kinds of stories, doesn't it? I love this picture of the gate from inside the Tower with the red poppies in the water beyond.
I was lucky enough to see the Poppie Exhibition at the Tower. The installation was called "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" and included 88,246 ceramic poppies filling the moat. It took them months to install and each flower represented a British fatality during WWI. It was a sight to behold and another reason for the large crowds during my last visit.
I've visited the Tower of London three times now and I still feel like I need to go back and see more. It's one of my favorite spots in London even with the crowds. My last trip was courtesy of AttrractionTix and I will definitely use them to book any future visits.
Tip 6. Book through AttractionTix. You not only save about 24% on the ticket price, but you get a flexible ticket that you can use when you want and also fast-track entry to help you avoid some of the waiting time to get in.
What are your tips for visiting the Tower of London?