The Tower of London is one of the most famous and iconic sights in London. Home to some of the city – and country’s – most exciting, dramatic and colourful historical events, it’s a must on any London itinerary.
Founded by William the Conqueror after his famous victory at Hastings in 1066, the Tower of London was initially constructed using part of the defensive Roman wall (the London Wall).
The first castle to be built was constructed from wood but in 1075 work began on a large stone tower, which was later called the White Tower. This formed the heart of what, from the 12th century onwards, became known as the Tower of London.
Over time the tower was modified and expanded; defensive walls were added, additional towers were built and the moat enlarged. Today, nearly 1,000 years after it was first built, the Tower of London remains standing in central London. Today the tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this incredible place really is a highlight of any London itinerary.
If you are planning to visit the Tower of London with kids then here is everything you need to know.
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Is the Tower of London worth visiting?
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In a word, yes, the Tower of London is well worth visiting. Once upon a time this was the most secure castle in the land but over the years it has played many roles including fortress, royal residence, royal mint and prison (Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned here three times!). It was even a Royal Menagerie at one point when King John began using the castle to house his collection of wild animals, a practice that his son, Henry III, continued.
A visit to the Tower of London is a fascinating step back in time and is a great place for the whole family to visit whether you are visiting or you live in London.
It’s easy to think that the fortress of the Tower of London is something just for tourists but really this is an incredible day out for everyone with something to keep everyone interested from younger children to adults. Today the Tower of London forms part of the Historic Royal Palaces collection.
What I would really recommend, however, is that you visit the Tower of London with a guide. I have visited the tower on my own and with a guide and I got so much more out of the visit when I explored with a qualified, knowledgeable guide. Yes, there are guidebooks and audio guides available but nothing can quite compare to having someone on the ground with you who can tell you everything there is to know about the Tower of London.
Tower of London Tour
If you do decide to visit the Tower of London on a tour then there are two options. The first is that you join one of the regular daily guides given by the Yeoman Warders.
Also known as Beefeaters (although that is a nickname rather than an official title), the Yeoman Warders have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times. Today the Yeoman Warders guard the tower but originally they were part of the Yeoman of the Guard, the monarch’s personal bodyguard who travelled with him everywhere.
Modern day Yeoman Warders act as historians, guides and guardians of the Tower of London. They also live in the tower with their families. Not just anybody can apply to be a Yeoman Warder, however, only candidates who have served a minimum of 22 years in the British Army, the Royal Marines, or the Royal Air Force can apply. They must have achieved the rank of senior noncommissioned officer and have an “unblemished record”. Even then competition is tough!
Today there are 37 Yeoman Warders working at the tower, of these three are female.
Yeomen Warder Tours
The Yeomen Warders give daily tours sharing the history of the Tower of London including tales of Traitor’s Gate, the disappearing princes and Tower Green, the site of 10 executions. The tours start every 30 minutes from near the main entrance to the tower starting at 10am. The final tour departs at 3.30pm. The Yeoman Warder tour take place from Tuesday – Saturday and are included in your admission ticket.
The tours are fun and informative but they can be very busy, particularly during school holidays when up to 100 people can take part. You can’t book places on the tour in advance and while the Yeoman Warders will try an accommodate as many people as possible you may find that the tour is already full or that there are so many people it’s hard to hear what your guide has to say.
Private tour of the Tower of London
An alternative to the Yeoman Warder tours is to hire a private guide. We took a tour with Harry Clayton, a professional Blue Badge Guide and it was brilliant. Harry was a history teacher at an independent school in London for over 20 years before re-training as a Blue Badge Guide. Incidentally, the requirements for becoming a Blue Badge Guide are fairly onerous; the course takes 18 months and you have to complete (and pass!) 12 exams.
We spent three hours with Harry exploring the tower and I can’t recommend him enough. I visited with my 13-year-old and eight-year-old and he really knew how to keep the kids engaged and interested. More importantly, he was interested in what they had to say as well.
Harry is full of fun facts, strange tales, ghost stories and more, and is perfectly able to gauge what level of information the kids will respond to. Having a private guide means that the tour can be catered to your interests as well. After Harry found out that the kids were fascinated by ravens and the many exotic animals that once lived within the tower walls, he spent lots of time telling us fun stories about, for example, the polar bear who used to swim in the River Thames and what they used to feed the resident elephant.
Of course a private tour guide does cost more but if you are looking for a fun way to bring history to life then I would highly recommend a kid-friendly Blue Badge guide such as Harry.
What to see at the Tower of London
There is plenty to see within the tower walls from the famous ravens to the sparkling Imperial State Crown. The following are things you really should not miss.
The Ravens at the Tower of London
Seven ravens live at the Tower of London and are known as the guardians of the tower. Legend has it that the kingdom and the Tower of London will fall if these famous residents ever leave the fortress (it helps that the Ravenmaster occasionally trims some of the raven’s flight feathers so they can’t stray too far!).
The Crown Jewels
Prepare to see some serious sparkles when you enter the Jewel House at the Tower of London. The Crown Jewels have been stored and displayed here since 1661 and include items still used by the monarch for big ceremonies and celebrations, such as the Coronation of King Charles III.
There is usually a line to enter the Jewel House (it’s undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist attractions at the tower!) but the travelator once you step inside ensures that no-one can spend too long gawping at the sparkly crowns and diamonds. The biggest bit of bling on display is the Cullinan I; this is the world’s largest cut diamond and is mounted in the Sovereigns Sceptre with Cross.
The White Tower
The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower of London, built in 1078 after William the Conqueror defeated the English king, Harold.
Today the White Tower is home to the Royal Armouries collection. If you know a thing or two about armoury then you’ll find this exhibition fascinating. If you don’t, then a guide will really help bring this corner of the tower to life.
On our tour with Harry, for example, we learned that Henry VIII really did love for his first wife Catherine of Aragon, at least for a time. His armour is on display embossed with the letters H and K and engraved with pomegranates to represent Spain (where Catherine was from) and roses to represent England.
On the top floor of the White Tower is an original executioner’s block from the 18th century and an axe that is thought to date back to Tudor times. It’s believed that these were used at the last public beheading on Tower Hill in 1747.
The basement is where it’s thought that famous prisoners including Guy Fawkes and the Jesuit Priest John Gerard were interrogated and tortured.
Located on the north bank of the River Thames, the notorious Traitor’s Gate was the entrance for prisoners who arrived at the tower by boat. The gate was built during the reign of King Edward I in the late 13th century and was first called the Water Gate and used as a royal entrance. However, it later became associated with treachery and betrayal and was renamed Traitor’s Gate.
if you’ve read Gangster Granny by David Walliams (a fun book about London for kids) then Traitor’s Gate is where Ben and his granny enter when they try to steal the Crown Jewels!
The Royal Menagerie
Dotted around the Tower of London are animal sculptures representing the many wild animals that lived at the tower from the 1200s to 1835. Over time lions, a polar bear and African elephant and tigers took up residence in the tower. The animals were often gifts among reigning monarchs although they usually did not live long, which is not surprising when you learn that the elephant was fed him wine and beer!
Executions at the Tower of London took place on Tower Green, behind the Tower walls where the general public could not see. Executions within the tower walls were reserved for members of royalty and nobles, away from the baying crowds. Of the ten people executed on Tower Green, three were former queens of England. These included Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife.
Another woman who met her fate here was Lady Jane Grey who reigned as Queen for just nine days. She was a pawn in other’s ambitions and sadly met her fate on Execution Green.
Head into Beuchamp Tower and see the graffiti carved into the Tower walls. Among the ancient carvings on display is an elaborate engraving by Robert Dudley who was imprisoned following his father’s plot to install Lady Jane Grey on the throne.
The Tower Battlements
Don’t leave the tower without walking along the Wall Walk, a one-way route along the enormous stone battlements that form the Tower’s walls. It’s a great way to learn more about the tower and it’s also where you’ll find some of the best photo shoot locations!
Ceremony of the Keys
One of the best free things to do in London with kids takes place at the Tower of London. Held every night from 9.30pm to 10.05pm, the Ceremony of the Keys is an ancient tradition involving the ceremonial locking and unlocking of the gates of the tower. It has taken place for centuries and is one of the oldest and most colourful surviving enactments of its kind.
Tickets are free but most be pre-booked and bookings are usually made 12-18 months in advance! Check the Tower of London website for details.
The Tower of London regularly runs fun family activities during the school holidays when live actors roam the grounds. Past activities have included a highly entertaining Knight School! Check the website for details.
The Gunpowder Plot
One to consider if you are visiting London with teens is the Gunpowder Plot, an immersive experience that invites visitors to journey back in time to unmask the mysterious figures behind the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. You will require an additional ticket for the Gunpowder Plot.
Tower of London with kids – All you need to know
Read on to discover our top tips for getting the most out of your trip to the Tower of London.
Tower of London tickets
It’s a good idea to book tickets in advance, particularly if you are visiting during the school holidays when the tower can get very busy. You can also purchase tickets on the day from the ticket office on Tower Hill.
Tower of London opening times
The Tower of London is open daily from 9am – 5.30pm (Tuesday to Saturday) and 10am – 5:30pm (Sunday and Monday) during summer. In winter the timings change to 9am – 4.30pm (Tuesday to Saturday) and 10am – 4.30pm (Sunday and Monday).
If visiting during busy periods such as school holidays then I highly recommend morning as the best time to visit. There may be a queue to get into the tower when you arrive but the line generally moves very quickly. Head straight for the Crown Jewels once you enter the tower (the Jewel House is the most popular place in the tower) and then once you’ve been bedazzled, explore the rest of the famous fortress.
What is the best age for the Tower of London?
As always, this question depends entirely on your child. I’ve visited the Tower of London with a toddler and while he wasn’t terribly interested in learning anything about English history or the particularities of this famous historic castle, he did love running around the central courtyard!
I think the best age to visit the Tower of London is from 6 upwards. Although some of the tower’s history may still be lost on young children there are enough tales to keep even the most history-averse child engaged. After all, who wouldn’t be intrigued to learn stories about the lions who lived at the tower, the mysterious disappearance of the two young princes and why it’s really important that the seven resident ravens never leave the tower!
If you are visiting the Tower of London with kids then I do really recommend hiring a guide such as Harry as he really does know how to keep kids engaged and entertained.
How long should you spend at the Tower of London?
You can easily spend half a day at the tower but I would plan to stay for at least three hours.
Where to eat near the Tower of London
There are a handful of chain restaurants very close to the Tower of London including Wagamama and Pret A Manger. Head to nearby St Katharine Docks nearby and you’ll find Ping Pong, which serves excellent dim sum, and Cafe Rouge, which is a good option for lunch.
If you have time, however, I highly recommend walking over Tower Bridge and along the South Bank to Borough Market, London’s oldest food market. It’s a wholesale and retail market and is also home to dozens of food stalls making it a great place to grab a bite to eat.
There is also a restaurant and cafe within the tower itself.
Sights near the Tower of London
Make a full day of it and see some of London’s other sights while you’re here. Tower Bridge is next door to the Tower of London and is well worth visiting. You can either walk across the bridge or go inside to see the views from the walkways, walk across the glass floors and admire the machinery in the engine room. Also nearby is the Sky Garden, London’s highest public garden that’s free to enter.
Also nearby is the HMS Belfast, the Tate Modern, the SEA Life London Aquarium and Shrek’s Adventure! London. You may also choose to simply wander along the South Bank that runs alongside the Thames River.
However you choose to spend your time, you can easily spend a whole day exploring this corner of London.
Getting to the Tower of London
The Tower of London is located on the north bank of the River Thames on the border with the central City of London. The nearest London underground stop is Tower Hill Station.
Where to stay near the Tower of London
If you want to base yourself near the Tower of London then try one of the following family-friendly hotels:
The Tower Hotel London: Offers family rooms with one double bed and a sofa bed, some with views of Tower Bridge
Novotel London Tower Bridge: Their Superior Rooms come with a queen size bed and a Sofa Bed
Leonardo Royal Hotel London Tower Bridge: Superior Rooms come with two queen beds. They also offer executive rooms with two queen beds and suites.
This post has more ideas on where to stay in London with kids.