Last year at this time, I was in London to see my Dallas Cowboys play at Wembley Stadium. Little did I know that for the 100 year anniversary of the start World War I, there were special plans at the Tower of London to make what is known as Remembrance or Armistice Day extra special.
Even without a special event, the Tower of London is a must-see in London. The history is fascinating and you get to see the Crown Jewels! You can easily spend a whole day exploring the Tower.
In this post, I will tell you more about Armistice Day, its connection to the Tower of London, what you can see when you visit the Tower of London, and ways to save money on your tickets.
COVID-19 Update: Please follow government guidelines. The Tower of London is closed until December 2, 2020. If all goes as planned it will then open Wednesday – Sunday for a limited number of visitors. All outdoor areas of the Tower of London are open, as well as the Crown Jewels and the White Tower. All other buildings remain closed.
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What is Armistice Day?
Many Americans may not have heard about Remembrance or Armistice Day (November 11th). In the US, we now call it Veteran’s Day. November 11th marks the day the armistice (ceasefire agreement) was signed between the World War I Allies and Germany. In the US, the name changed to Veteran’s Day to expand the holiday to honor all military veterans.
Every year in the weeks leading up to November 11th, remembrance poppies are given out in return for a donation that goes to support the British Military. It is a simple paper design, but very meaningful as they commemorate the sacrifices of the armed forces and show support for those currently serving.
The Tower of London Poppies
So to mark the 100 year anniversary, 888,246 ceramic poppies (one for each British fatality during the war) were placed in the Tower of London moat. The major art installation was called Blood Swept Lands and the Seas of Red and was created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper. Paul Cummins actually lost a finger making the poppies.
The scale of the installation was intended to reflect the magnitude of 100 year anniversary and create a powerful visual commemoration. All of the ceramic poppies from the installation were sold, raising millions of pounds for charity. I wish I could have bought one, but by the time I learned about it, they were already sold out.
So, I braved the crazy crowds to see the ceramic poppies and it really was worth it. Seeing the sea of red was incredibly moving. My favorite part of the installation was where poppies were coming out of one of the tower windows, almost like a trail of blood tears. Since the poppies exhibit closed at the Tower of London, the “weeping window” section has been on tour at other iconic spots around the country like St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, England.
2018 Armistice Memorial Lights
To mark the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War I, 10,000 torches will individually be lit in the nights leading up to November 11th. The installation is called Beyond The Deepening Shadow and aims to remember but all those who were lost or affected by the war. You can see pictures of the moving display here.
What to See in the Tower of London
Even without the poppies or the torches, the Tower of London is worth a visit. It is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage site and on Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. If you want to see the Opening Ceremony and get first entry into the Crown Jewels, check out this exclusive tour.
The Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two layers of walls and a moat. The White Tower, which is the center of the complex, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078! There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the twelve and thirteenth centuries.
Prisoners at the Tower of London
The Tower of London was also a prison, mostly for prisoners accused of treason. Elizabeth I was held here before she became Queen. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, was imprisoned and later executed. Some say she still haunts the Tower. Twenty-two people were executed in the Tower while more than 200 executions took place nearby at Tower Hill.
It was interesting to see the area where prisoners were held. There was graffiti on the walls that allegedly was done by some of the prisoners. Especially during the Tudor period (16th century), many prisoners were mentally and physically tortured. The main ways to torture people at the Tower were the rack and the manacles, which are on exhibit.
I also liked the view of the Tower Bridge from this area, it’s one of most Instagrammed spots in London. The Tower Bridge is just beautiful, almost seems like something out of a fairy tale, and definitely worth a visit itself, especially since they have a newly installed glass floor.
The Crown Jewels
Being a fan of the royal family, my favorite part of the Tower of London is seeing the crown jewels. The mystique and beauty of the diamonds and precious jewels in the collection draw large crowds. It’s typical to have to wait in line to go it, so it’s best to go early in the day.
You can see several different crowns (some which are still currently in use) and many other priceless items. Several pieces on display are still used for coronations. Be careful not to lean on the glass of any of the cases. One tourist did during one of our visits and it set off a silent alarm. Everyone had to be evacuated from the exhibit while the guards made sure everything was secure.
As you can imagine, there are armed guards protecting the jewels and they are changed every two hours. There is not an elaborate ceremony to change the guards like there is at Buckingham Palace (also worth a visit).
The Bloody Tower
The Bloody Tower was the main entrance to the Tower of London from the river until the outer ward was built. Now, it is known as the site of the murder of the “Princes in the Tower.” The two young Princes in the Tower were Edward V and his brother, Richard Duke of York.
While preparing for Edward’s upcoming coronation, they were put in the Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and never seen again. Richard then took the throne for himself and became Richard III. It has been said that the two princes haunt the Bloody Tower.
The White Tower
Lastly, be sure to also see the armory exhibit inside the White Tower. The White Tower is the oldest building in the Tower of London, so it dates back more than 900 years! Inside you can see an impressive exhibit of the armor for many the past kings (Henry VIII, Charles I and James II) and even their horses. You can also see the Chapel Royal of St. John.
In front of the White Tower, there is an exhibit dedicated to the ravens. They are the most famous residents of the Tower. It is said that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the ravens ever leave. Currently, they have seven birds, one more than the required six. They all have names and their own personalities!
Charles II is thought to have been the first to insist that the ravens of the Tower be protected. He went against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained that the birds were an issue for his observatory in the White Tower. This was one of the reasons that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich was established.
Tower of London Admission
Tower of London tickets run 24.80 GBP for adults and 11.50 GBP for children. Yes, it’s pricey but trust me what you will see is worth the admission. You can purchase tickets in advance online here. If you are visiting London with kids, there is an option for a family ticket that can save you up to 25% the price of individual tickets.
Is the Tower of London Worth It?
Yes! I think if you can only see one attraction in London, it should be the Tower. The history here is mindblowing and the Crown Jewels are stunning.
The ticket prices are expensive but there are ways to save money. The Tower of London is included as part of the London pass. If you are doing more sightseeing during your time in London, the pass could save you 55% as it includes admission to 80+ of the top attractions in London. (Click here to get more information about the London Pass).
Another ticket option that you might like, if you are obsessed with the Royal Family like I am, is the Three Palace Royal Pass. It includes the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, and Hampton Court Palace. You save 5% with an adult ticket and 10% with a child ticket and can spread out your visits over two years. Click here for more information on the Three Palace Royal Pass.
How to Get to the Tower of London
It’s best to take the tube to the Tower of London. It is located right by the Tower Hill stop which is on the Circle and District lines. Another option is to take the DLR to Tower Gateway or the Thames Clipper to the Tower stop.
If you are visiting London from Overseas, consider getting the Visitor Oyster Card. It’s an easy way to save money on the London Underground. Trust me – you will be taking the tube a lot if you plan on doing much sightseeing! Click here for more info on the London Visitor Card.
The Tower of London Beefeater tour
There is so much history in this place, definitely more than I can cover in this blog. If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend taking a guided tour where Yeoman Warders (popularly known as ‘Beefeaters’) will “entertain you with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution, torture and much more.”
The ‘Beefeaters’, as they are nicknamed, have long been symbols of London and Britain. Their nickname comes from their position in the Royal Bodyguard, where they could eat as much beef as they wanted from the king’s table. Yeoman Warders are required to have served in the armed forces with an honorable record for at least 22 years and they are happy to answer your questions about the Tower or take a picture with you! These tours are included with your admission.
The Ceremony of the Keys
The Ceremony of the Keys is the ritual that has been held every evening at the Tower of London for the last 700 years when the main gates are locked for the night. The only part of the Ceremony of the Keys that has changed over the centuries is the name of the monarch. It has never been canceled and was only delayed once – when London was being bombed during World War II. The guards apologized to the King, and he was understanding.
The public can watch the Ceremony of the Keys if they have a ticket. You need to book tickets online here (which are free except for a small administration fee) at least a year in advance.
Note: There is also an opening ceremony that you can see as a part of this tour.
Tower of London Ice Skating Rink
If you are lucky enough to visit London during the holiday season, you can go ice skating at the Tower of London! I think that would be an unforgettable experience. At night, the Tower is lit up adding, even more, drama to the ice skating rink. (Get more ideas on things to do in London in the winter and how to spend Christmas in London.)
Have you visited the Tower of London? I would love to hear about your experience.
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Last Updated on November 11, 2020