Your guide to The Tower of London: an iconic spot we're raven about
Now that lockdown restrictions are being relaxed a tad (hugs are back, people!), we're turning our mind to all the fabulous places we've been missing when it comes to things to do in London with kids. Top of our list is one of the most iconic spots of all: the Tower of London! Hop into our guide to the Tower of London for tips on how to ace this amazing, historical spot. It's reopening tomorrow, 19th May 2021, so try not to lose your head with excitement!
A quick history of the Tower
We won't give too much away, because half the fun of a visit to the Tower of London with kids is to discover its, frankly, awesome history and hearing about its gory days of old for yourselves. Built as a fortress in the 1070s by William the Conqueror (mostly to show off!), kings and queens have used the Tower in times of peril to not only protect their rather fancy possessions, but also themselves. The Tower of London has also been the scene of many a famous torture and execution, but don't lose your head over that, the gory deets are all displayed and told in a way that makes this castle one of the best days out in London for families for sure.
The unmissable bits
The Crown Jewels
This world-famous, mind-boggling collection of gems and treasures have been kept under lock and key at the Tower since the 14th century (they were previously stowed at Westminster Abbey, but were moved after a series of burglary attempts!), and boasts some of the most dazzling diamonds in the world. The collection is still used by Her Maj, and we're not going to deny being a little bit jel of The Imperial Crown: it has 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls and 4 rubies set into it. We're also rather keen on the Cullinan Diamond: the world's largest white cut diamond.
Not only are the jewels impressive to look at, but you and the fam will also enjoy learning all the history behind them. They might be pretty, but some of those pieces have had a rather gruesome past!
The Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) – The Yeoman Warders – more commonly known as Beefeaters (we'll get to that in a mo) – have been guarding the Tower since the Tudor times. Originally Henry VIII's personal bodyguards (to protect him from all those wives he wronged?), Henry decreed that there would also be a permanent watch to protect the Tower.
And the Beefeater nickname? It's all because Henry allowed them to eat as much beef as they wanted from his table. Just as well it wasn't endless veg they were allowed: Carroteaters or Turnipeaters don't have quite the same edge.
There is still a team of Yeoman Warders – both men and women – today, whose duties include guarding visitors, protecting the Crown Jewels, carrying out ceremonial duties (such as unlocking and locking the Tower every day in the Ceremony of the Keys), and looking after the ravens. They're also a goldmine of Tower knowledge, and are more than happy to have a chat, a selfie and fill you in on any burning questions you might have.
The Ravens – The Royal Ravens all have their own names and are cared for by a dedicated Beefeater, known as the Ravenmaster (how cool a job title is that?). Hang out with the feathery residents next to lodgings on the South Lawn and count and meet all seven of them. There are actually supposed to be six ravens (legend has it that if all six ravens leave the Tower, it and the kingdom will fall). but these days there's a spare.
The Royal Menagerie – For 600 years the Tower was home to a plethora of exotic animals including kangaroos, polar bears and tigers! And while the fantastic beasts are no longer there, The Royal Menagerie still is, and it's packed with cool facts and fun history.
The Royal Mint – Not an actual mint (our kids were expecting one of the Queen's leftover Polos we think), but a money mint where, quite literally, money is made. With its 500 year history there's tons of stories and history to keep the fam busy, as well as its new game 'Mint Master'.
The Fortress – Did you know that in 1381 a rabble of peasants sieged the Tower undeterred by all the weapons: someone left the door open! Visit The Fortress to walk along the walls, learn about its past and find out what weapons are used to protect the Tower today.
The White Tower – Almost 1,000 years old and right at the heart of the Tower of London you'll find The White Tower. This was once the home of infamous prisoners (generally waiting for the axe to fall) such as Guy Fawkes, Anne Boleyn and Sir Raleigh.
Aside from the odd ghost (we didn't see any, but with over 400 people having been executed at the Tower, there are many tales of famous spooks haunting the place), there's also a beautiful 11th-century chapel to see, and the 350-year-old exhibition, Line of Kings, where you'll be suitably impressed by historic armour including that of Henry VIII, Charles I and James II.
Don't forget to...
Go on a Yeoman Warder guided tour – These fun-packed and super informative daily tours run every half hour and are, our fave word, free. Expect plenty of stories of execution, torture, intrigue and imprisonment!
When: Yeoman Warder guided tours last around an hour and start every 30 minutes near the main entrance, until 3.30pm in summer or 2.30pm in winter.
Catch The Ceremony of the Word – Did you know that every day the MOD issues 'The Word', which is a secret word that allows access to the Tower for anyone who needs to leave or return to the Tower after the Ceremony of the Keys has happened in the evening?
When: The Ceremony of the Word takes place daily at 2.45pm outside the Jewel House.
Get picked for The Ceremony of the Keys – Every single night, once the tourists have (mostly) been booted out, as per the last 700 years, The Ceremony of the Keys (locking up the Tower) takes place at 9.53pm. Each day a Yeoman Warder will choose a lucky few ticketed visitors to come back inside to watch this time-honoured tradition. We've not been picked yet, but we live in hope!
Have fun, folks, and do let us know if you spot a spook!
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