All Along the Watchtower: The Tower of London

Absolutely no trip to London is complete without a stop inside of the Tower of London. It’s a place I visited when I first traveled to London in 2001, so I knew it was a place that I wanted C and T to see for themselves. It’s a glimpse of an almost-1000-year history in all its guts and glory, and it happens to be home to some of the world’s most infamous gemstones, the Crown Jewels.

Our London Holiday, March 31-through-April 9, 2013:
1. British Airways LAX-LHR
2. The Waldorf Hilton, London
3. Covent Garden Neighborhood, London
4. London Transport Museum
5. Day Out in London – Traditional Landmarks
6. Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground, Kensington Gardens, and Green Park/Buckingham Palace
7. Muggles and Magicians: The Harry Potter Experience
8. Family Remembrance and Celebration: Brookwood Cemetery and The Lion King at The Lyceum Theatre
9. Day-Trip Out of London: Isle of Wight and Portsmouth, UK
10. Where Time Began: Greenwich, UK
11. Tower of London TODAY’S POST
12. London’s Shopping Shrines: Hamleys Toys and Harrods

T and I in front of the Tower of London.

T and I in front of the Tower of London.

Bus 15 took us straight from Covent Garden to the Tower of London. This bus happened to also be advertising one of the Tower's special exhibits, The Beasts Within, a look back at the history of the Royal Menagerie.

Bus 15 took us straight from Covent Garden to the Tower of London. This bus happened to also be advertising one of the Tower’s special exhibits, The Beasts Within, a look back at the history of the Royal Menagerie.

The Tower of London is part of the Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) charity that oversees five of London area’s most storied royal landmarks. It has something for visitors of all ages, which means it’s a perfect family outing. To get here from Covent Garden, simply hop on board Bus 15 from Aldwych and get off at the Tower of London stop, no transfer necessary.

The Liberty Bounds pub near the Tower of London is a part of the Wetherspoon family of family-friendly pubs located throughout the city.

The Liberty Bounds pub near the Tower of London is a part of the Wetherspoon family of family-friendly pubs located throughout the city.

T was thrilled to get this juice bottle and these apples with his kids' meal at The Liberty Bounds.

T was thrilled to get this juice bottle and these apples with his kids’ meal at The Liberty Bounds.

At this same bus stop there’s a wonderful family-friendly pub to take in a meal either before or after your visit to the Tower of London. We’d heard about the J.D. Wetherspoon chain of pubs during our visit to London, yet we hadn’t come across any during our week-plus in London until our trek to the Tower. This really was a great find for us as their wider selection of kids’ meals was very much something that T (and we’d) grown to miss along our travels. For more restaurants in the Wetherspoon chain, you can go here.

T checks out the hands-on exhibits inside of The Beasts Within, a special area devoted to the history of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London.

T checks out the hands-on exhibits inside of The Beasts Within, a special area devoted to the history of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London.

C caged up at the Tower of London.

C caged up at the Tower of London.

Get me outta here! Grr!

Get me outta here! Grr!

T's turn in the animal cage at the Tower of London.

T’s turn in the animal cage at the Tower of London.

Now onto our Tower of London experience. I’ve been asked if the Tower of London is too gory for kids; I say no. There’s so much one can easily show to the kids that doesn’t involve that part of its history directly. Take this exhibit devoted to animals, for instance. The section at the Tower dedicated to the Royal Menagerie was as fascinating as it was fun for T, all of us really. There were games here to play that involved creating our own exotic beast, information to read about some of the 60+ animals that called the Tower home at one time, and many other activities to do. Don’t worry, RMT’ers, Tower staff let us out of our cages at the end of the tour completely unharmed.

This is about as many photos you can take at the Crown Jewels exhibit at the Tower of London. No photos inside of the actual gems, RMT'ers.

This is about as many photos you can take of the Crown Jewels exhibit at the Tower of London. No photos inside of the actual gems, RMT’ers.

T gets crowned in a nearby exhibit that has a few replica jewels and crowns on display at the Tower of London. This is not part of the official Crown Jewels vaults.

T got crowned in a nearby exhibit that has a few replica items on display at the Tower of London. This is not part of the official Crown Jewels vaults.

A better-known fact about the Tower of London is that it’s the official home of the Crown Jewels. Admission to the vaults is included with admission, but fair warning that there’s usually a queue. I won’t lie… it is a long-ish wait especially with kids in tow. But I told C that to go to the Tower and not see the gems would be like going to the Vatican Museum and not seeing the Sistine Chapel (another of the longer lines the world over when it comes to sightseeing; yes, we’ve waited that one out, too). Despite the wait, the Crown Jewels really are the shining attraction for many who come to visit the Tower. They’re so good in fact that no photos are allowed inside the vaults (you can see a slide show of some items on display here). There are, however, a few replica crown-and-scepter items on display in other nearby areas of the Tower, which visitors can photograph freely.

On guard outside of the Tower of London's Crown Jewels vault.

On guard outside of the Tower of London’s Crown Jewels vault.

We happened to catch a brief portion of the Tower of London's changing of the guard ceremonies while in queue for the Crown Jewels.

We happened to catch a brief portion of the Tower of London’s changing of the guard ceremonies while in queue for the Crown Jewels.

Beefeaters have a rich history at the Tower of London. From wikipedia: "The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels, but in practice they act as tour guides and are a tourist attraction in their own right, a point the Yeoman Warders acknowledge."

Beefeaters have a rich history at the Tower of London. From Wikipedia: “The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels, but in practice they act as tour guides and are a tourist attraction in their own right, a point the Yeoman Warders acknowledge.”

There’s also a changing of the guard ceremony that happens periodically throughout the day at the Tower of London. That was great since we missed it over at Buckingham Palace and all. It also kept us entertained while in queue for the Crown Jewels. T actually wound up liking “the show” very much. Do note this guard ceremony is much shorter, less grand in scale, and fewer in numbers than the one at Buckingham Palace, which I feel was better for T in that he could see given the smaller audience and was better able to focus on everything happening right in front of him.

05 salt tower

05 salt tower grafitti

OK, now that I’ve touched on the warm and fuzzy (and pretty and shiny) history of the Tower of London, onto the darker side of the Tower’s reality, its gore and guns. First, visitors can walk through Salt Tower, which is where many of the Tower’s prison chambers now sit empty yet full of plenty of stories from centuries past. I remember visiting Salt Tower for my first time more than 10 years ago, and it still gave me chills the second time around.

07 white tower hands on sign

Looking over a part of White Tower at the Tower of London.

Looking over an area inside of White Tower at the Tower of London.

Royal horse exhibit inside White Tower, Tower of London.

Royal horse exhibit inside White Tower, Tower of London.

One of the many games and activities inside of White Tower.

One of the many games and activities inside of White Tower.

Take a pull of the bow at White Tower.

Take a pull of the bow at White Tower.

T playing a trajectory-simulation game at the Tower of London inside of White Tower.

T playing a trajectory-simulation game at the Tower of London inside of White Tower.

White Tower is the area devoted to the majority of the weapon and warfare portion of the fortress’ past and where there’s much to see and do, including a wide variety of hands-on kids’ activities. Here visitors can pull back at an archery simulation station and around the corner they can play a trajectory video game to see how one might fire a cannon successfully. We visited White Tower toward the end of our visit, but next time I’d probably start here since this was one location that really did an amazing job in engaging the youngest visitors in the Tower’s history and relics.

Heavy helmet at the Tower of London.

Heavy helmet at the Tower of London.

T finds a cross-bow at the Tower of London.

T finds a cross-bow at the Tower of London.

Lots of stairs like this at the Tower of London, both to look at and to climb.

Lots of stairs like this at the Tower of London, both to look at and to climb.

T looking down at more canons at the Tower of London.

T looking down at more cannons at the Tower of London. Lots of cannons here, by the way.

T is the newest gunner at the Tower of London.

T is the newest gunner at the Tower of London.

I feel safe, don't you?!

I feel safe, don’t you?!

T and C at the Tower of London.

T and C at the Tower of London.

This guy was on a break, but he was more than a good sport about posing for some photos with T.

This guy was on a break, but he was more than a good sport about posing for some photos with T.

We spent almost an entire afternoon inside the Tower of London, but easily could have stayed a full day as there’s that much to see and do throughout the grounds and buildings. However, London was calling to us with other wonderful sites to see that day, so that was all the time we had here on this visit. Lucky for us, and unlike some other “visitors” throughout the Tower’s past, we were free to go at the end of our stay and already are looking forward to a return visit.

Us at the Tower of London with a view of the Tower Bridge in the background.

Here we are at the Tower of London with a view of the Tower Bridge in the background.

RMT’ers, if you’ve been to London or are currently planning your first trip over, what is your number one designated sightseeing stop?

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2 responses to “All Along the Watchtower: The Tower of London

  1. Pingback: London’s Shopping Shrines: Hamleys and Harrods | Real Mom Time (RMT)

  2. Pingback: Goodbye, London: Two More Museums and Five Future Sites to See | Real Mom Time (RMT)

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