The Tower of London is amongst the most popular tourist attractions in London, with almost 3 million visitors in 2019*.
A visit to this iconic landmark is a real treat, with the opportunity to experience and see some fascinating sights, and learn about its history throughout the centuries.
It’s definitely one to put on your sightseeing list for a weekend in London.
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Read on for top tips for visiting the Tower of London: practical issues to consider for your visit and the top things to see here.
Top tips for visiting the Tower of London
Aim to spend at least half a day here
If you only have a weekend in London, you might be short of time. But I’d still recommend spending at least three hours in the Tower of London.
That’s because there’s a lot to explore. The tower may appear small from the outside, but it is packed with historical sights to discover.
The tower has a long and complex history and has served several different purposes throughout its lifetime. It has been a palace, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, and the home of the Crown Jewels.
It has also been used to imprison a number of famous figures, including Elizabeth I before she became queen, Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes, and Sir Walter Raleigh. One of the last prisoners held here was Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Fuhrer.
History lovers will be in their element!
Plan the timing of your Tower of London visit
Another way to ensure you make the most of your trip to the Tower of London, especially if you’re tight on time, is to go during the off-peak season and/ or weekdays when it’ll be quieter.
I’d also avoid school holidays: there’s plenty for children to do here, and it can get quite crowded, particularly walking along the battlements and exploring the towers.
Choosing to visit at a quieter time will be particularly beneficial for anyone who wants to see the famous Crown Jewels, arguably the tower’s main attraction.
You have to queue to see these, and the lines can get quite long. The rooms displaying them can also get quite crowded and, at times, it can be hard to get close to the exhibits.
Buy tickets online
Buying tickets online, in advance, will mean you can go into the Tower as soon as you arrive. There’ll be no need to queue at tickets booths or to get through barriers – a bonus for making the most of your weekend in London.
Save money with the London Pass
The London Pass gives tourists access to over 80 attractions in London, including the Tower of London. It also includes a free hop-on, hop-off bus tour, and a river cruise.
The London Pass is valid for a chosen number of consecutive days, so it’s perfect for those who want to see lots of attractions in a very short space of time.
It is estimated that on the basis of a 3-day pass, you can save up to 43%.
Explore the White Tower and the Royal Armouries
The White Tower is the most famous and well-known tower here, and sits prominently in the middle of the fortress area. It is one of the oldest buildings in London. You must go in here during your visit.
It was constructed by William the Conqueror after he invaded and seized control of England in 1066. It was originally designed to be a royal palace and was used as a residence by English monarchs over the centuries.
Today, the White Tower is home to a range of exhibits, including the Royal Armouries. The Armouries is one of the world’s oldest museums, and contains many interesting artefacts from the history of warfare.
Marvel at the Crown Jewels
The Crown Jewels are a collection of regalia and jewels that the monarch of the United Kingdom uses during coronations and other state ceremonies.
The collection at the Tower of London includes an impressive selection of glamorous items, including the Imperial State Crown (which is adorned with almost 3,000 diamonds) and the Sovereign’s Orb.
You have to queue to see the Crown Jewels, but it’s worth the wait. There’s glitter and glamour everywhere, and it’s mind-blowing to see this amount of gems and jewels crammed into such a small place.
See the spot where Anne Boleyn was executed
Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was executed on charges of adultery, incest, and treason in 1536. She had been held in the Tower of London.
She was beheaded on 19 May on the site of what is now Tower Green. The same site is also where others were executed and there is now a memorial to them here.
Walk around the battlements
The Tower of London is a fortification, and so it has a protective wall with battlements.
You can walk around most of the battlements and some take you through a few of the towers, which themselves have interesting things to see. For example, one tells the story of the Royal Menagerie and the exotic animals that were once held here. This includes a lion, bear, elephant and apes.
A walk around the battlements also gives you a superb vantage point from which to look down on the fortress area and admire the White Tower.
You also get wonderful views of the River Thames and Tower Bridge in the other direction.
See the famous ravens
The Tower of London is well-known for its ravens. These were introduced by Charles II in the 17th century.
It is said that there must be at least six ravens at the tower at all times or bad luck will befall the kingdom. And if the ravens ever leave, it is said that the White Tower will crumble to the ground.
You can see a few ravens when you visit (there are apparently seven now to be on the safe side!). They hop around the green outside the White Tower, just behind their cages.
If they come near you, be careful: they are rather large!
Go on a Yeoman’s tour
Yeomen Warders are responsible for guarding the Tower of London and its prisoners. They have been doing this since 1485.
The Yeoman Warders give guided tours of the tower. These are very popular and a great way to learn more about some of the intriguing stories associated with this famous landmark.
Tours run every 30 minutes, and there is no additional cost for these once you have purchased your entrance ticket. Note, however, that they cannot be booked in advance and are only delivered in English.
If you’re interested, head to the main entrance and join the relevant group.
Visit in 2022, the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
2022 is the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee and the Tower of London is planning events to commemorate her 70 years on the throne. It’s the perfect time to spend a weekend in London.
Of particular note is Superbloom, which will open on 1 June. You’ll be able to visit the tower and experience the moat alive with bright and colourful flowers, the result of 20 million seeds planted during the spring. It’s bound to be an incredible sight.
There will also be a jubilee concert with the Choir of the Chapels Royal in late April.
Visit other places in the area on your weekend in London
A wander around the Tower of London gives you the chance to also visit other sights nearby, including:
- Tower Bridge, a stunning 19th-century bridge that links the City of London on the north side of the river with Southwark on the south side. It has a lifting bridge deck design that is raised to allow tall ships to pass through.
- HMS Belfast, a retired Royal Navy ship, is a few minutes’ walk along the river on the southbank. It is open to the public, and offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the history of the Royal Navy.
- The Monument to the Great Fire of London commemorates the fire which destroyed much of the city in 1666. It is 61 metres high, with a staircase inside leading to a viewing platform at the top.
- The Tate Modern Museum houses modern art on the banks of the River Thames. It is one of the most-visited modern art museums in the world, with just over 6 million visitors in 2019*. It was converted into a gallery from a former power station.
- The Globe Theatre, a replica of William Shakespeare’s original 16th century Globe Theatre, is on the south bank of the River Thames. You can visit the theatre and watch live performances of his plays.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between the late 17th century and early 18th century. It is a major tourist attraction in the city, with an impressive dome that you can see from the river. Combine a visit to the cathedral with a boat trip here.
Tower of London opening times
The tower is open daily until 5.30pm. Between Tuesday and Saturday, it opens in the morning at 9am, and an hour later on Sunday and Monday.
Tickets for the Tower of London
How to get to the Tower of London
The tower is conveniently located in the city of London, so getting here isn’t difficult. There are several mainline stations within a short distance.
Travel by train to London Bridge, Liverpool Street, or Charing Cross stations. After that, take the underground (District or Circle line) to Tower Hill station, which is a 5-minute walk away.
If you’re sightseeing in Westminster area of London, you could also take the boat from here to Tower Pier.
Other ideas for things to do on a weekend in London
If you add a visit to the Tower of London as part of your weekend in London, I hope you enjoy it. For ideas for other things to do on a weekend in London, check out some of my other posts:
- A day out at Hampton Court Palace
- A visit to Kensington Palace
- Things to do at Kew Gardens
- Things to do in South West London
For ideas for UK and European short breaks, you might find some other posts I have written of use:
- 11 top things to do in Guernsey in the Channel Islands
- A visit to Blenheim Palace
- Things to do in winter in Switzerland’s Zurich
- A weekend in Portugal’s second city, Porto
- Essential information for your trip to the Keukenhof flower gardens in the Netherlands
- A weekend in Bath in the UK
- 2 days in Lyon in France
Lead and featured image: Michal Jerzy/ Dreamstime.com