One of the sites that requires the purchase of a ticket is the Tower of London. However, it is one that is well worth the price of admission!

Founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror and located beside the River Thames, the Tower of London has played a role in the monarchy and the military ever since.

In reality there are 21 towers that make up the Tower of London.  The most well-known is the Bloody Tower infamous for the Princes in the Tower and the mysterious murder of the young Edward V and his brother, Richard Duke of York, which is traditionally believed to have taken place there on the orders of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, whose remains were discovered in 2012 under a parking lot and have been re-interred in the Leicester Cathedral.

We tend to only think of the Tower of London as a prison and the location of executions; primarily beheading.  However, did you know that in addition to being a prison, it has been a zoo, the royal mint and the royal armory.  It still is the vault for the Crown Jewels and a royal residence with Tower of London Guards standing guard every day.

Only seven people were beheaded inside the walls of the Tower of London.  Most notably; Catherine Howard Queen of England, Queen Anne Boleyn, Jane Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for nine days.  The location of these executions on Tower Green is now marked with a sculpture and the seven people are commemorated with their names written on it.

Beheading was usually performed with an axe which could often require 2 to 3 strokes, but in the case of Queen Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII granted some clemency and a swordsman was called from France to do the job.  Apparently she was comforted by the fact that she “only had a little neck.”!  Anne Boleyn is buried in the Church of St Peter ad Vincula inside the walls which is about 20 feet away from where she was executed.

Despite its gruesome history, the Tower of London is a gorgeous medieval place to visit filled with beautiful art, jewels, gardens, and many interesting buildings to walk through.  You can even traverse the top of the wall and get an amazing view of the city and Tower Bridge.

A gate had been left open to the grassy area that had once been the moat, so I took a chance and walked onto it.  The tower walls are very impressive and I was able to take one photo before security shouted to me to get out!  Very proud of that one photo!

Every night since the 14th century there has been the Ceremony of the Keys. Only 40-50 visitors are admitted to watch the Ceremony of the Keys.  Tickets are free but you have to book online several months in advance.

  • Every night, at exactly 21:52, the Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower comes out of the Byward Tower, dressed in red, carrying a candle lantern in one hand and the Queen’s Keys in the other hand.
  • He walks to Traitor’s Gate to meet two/four members of the duty regiment Foot Guards who escort him throughout the ceremony.  One soldier takes the lantern and they walk in step to the outer gate.
  • All guards and sentries on duty salute the Queen’s Keys as they pass.
  • The Warder locks the outer gate and they walk back to lock the oak gates of the Middle and Byward Towers.
  • All three then return towards Traitor’s Gate where a sentry awaits them.
    • Sentry: “Halt, who comes there?”
    • Chief Yeoman Warder: “The Keys!”
    • Sentry: “Whose Keys?”
    • Warder: “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys.”
    • Sentry: “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys and all’s well.”
    • The Chief Yeoman Warder moves two paces forward, raises his Tudor bonnet high in the air and calls “God preserve Queen Elizabeth.”
    • The guard answers “Amen” exactly as the clock chimes 22:00.
  • ‘The Duty Drummer’ sounds The Last Post on his bugle.The Chief Yeoman Warder takes the keys back to the Queen’s House and the Guard is dismissed.

Imagine! This ceremony has taken place every night for 700 years!  Only in England!