One of the city’s most famous attractions, the Tower of London has stood at the heart of England’s capital for nearly a thousand years now. The Tower of London has at one time or another over the centuries served as a fortress, prison, palace, and armory, just to name a few of the roles it has played. Visitors to the Tower of London today can tour this inimitable piece of history and enjoy multiple museum exhibits that highlight the royal family’s battle armor, Crown Jewels, and private chapels.
History of the Tower of London
His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London—better known to most people as the Tower of London—was built by William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England. Having come to power across the island in 1066, William the Conqueror set about constructing the Tower of London in 1078. The first portion of the fortress to be completed was the castle-like White Tower, which is believed to have been finished by around the year 1100. Around that same time William ordered the construction of a wall around the grounds, and the basic footprint of the Tower was set.
As one can imagine, the Tower of London was undergone numerous changes in the intervening centuries, with one monarch after another through the years making changes, enacting expansions, and altering the design of the fortress to suit their own purposes. Henry III and Edward I, ruling for almost the entire thirteenth century, made some of the most significant additions to the Tower of London, adding several towers and walls that cemented the site’s concentric castle layout. The Tower of London was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1988.
Tower of London Highlights
There are a great many things to see and do at the Tower of London. Since the year 1661, the Tower of London is where the royal family’s priceless Crown Jewels collection has been housed under constant armed guard. The Crown Jewels number nearly 25,000 precious gemstones, and have for centuries been used during a variety of royal ceremonies, including most prominently coronation ceremonies crowning a new monarch.
The Tower of London’s primary structure is known as the White Tower. It was built by William the Conqueror during the second half of the eleventh century, and is considered today the oldest remaining medieval building in all of London. Throughout its long history the White Tower has served as a fortress, royal residence, place of government, prison, and more—sometimes all at once! It’s also where you’ll find the Chapel of St. John, which dates to the time of the Tower’s original construction and thus stands as one of the best-preserved examples of a Norman-era church in existence.
For those visitors with an interest in royal history, the Line of Kings exhibit at the Tower of London is not to be missed. The Line of Kings dates back to the seventeenth century and thus comprises one of the oldest museum exhibits in the world. It brings together the engraved armor of King Henry VIII, Charles I, and James II in one space alongside a selection of fascinating objects from the Royal Armories collection.
More to See and Do at the Tower of London
The Tower of London contains a host of other remarkable attractions well worth your time and attention. Here are a few more major things to see and do at the Tower of London.
•Long iconic in popular culture for their elaborate military dress (think bright red coats and large black hats), the Tower of London is where you can actually observe the Tower Guards in action. These military personnel stand sentry at the Tower, guarding the site and its Crown Jewels, performing three ceremonies each day.
•Known today at the “Bloody Tower,” this portion of the Tower’s prison facilities is notorious for being the site where the child-monarch Edward V and his younger brother Richard are said to have been held by their uncle Richard III before their murders. It’s absolutely one of the most famous elements of the Tower of London.
•To the west of the White Tower visitors will encounter Tower Green, where such notable members of the royal family as Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were executed. The scaffold site where they and several others met their ends is today marked by a memorial sculpture.
•If you have the time, you’ll want to be sure and take the Wall Walk. This evocative stroll is a great way to explore the Tower’s many different areas, including its various battlements. As you pass through these historic spaces, keep a sharp eye out for graffiti written on the stone walls by prisoners over the centuries.
•The Medieval Palace segment of the Tower of London is where you can observe the royal quarters of King Henry III and Edward I, as well as an assortment of historic artifacts that shed light on the day-to-day experiences of domestic life at the Tower some 600 years ago.
Why the Tower of London Should Be on Your Must-See List
The Tower of London is one of the most popular attractions in all of London. Not only has it played an indispensable part in the history of England and its royal family, but its holdings are diverse and evocative. Whether you’re interested in stories of palace intrigue, tales of long-ago battles, or you just want to hear more about medieval prison life, the Tower of London has a little bit of something for everyone.