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Top seven things to do when you visit the Tower of London in London, Great Britain
The White Tower, Tower of London
The Tower of London, in London England, had struck fear and awe in the hearts of the British for hundreds of years, yet since the Elizabethan Era it has attracted tourist. Situated in the heart of London next to the magnificent Tower Bridge, the Tower is a ‘must see’ for all visitors to London.
1. Envision the grandeur of King Edward I’s court
Few people realize that before the Tower of London was a dungeon to hold influential prisoners, it was medieval castle. It was a visual display royal authority over the people of London and the King’s foremost fortress. As you walk among the rooms where medieval Kings dinned and slept, envision what it would have been like to be a courtier: the grand outfits, the flirtations, the conspiracies, and the plots to overthrow the current monarch. The recreated royal palace is eye-opening, not only because you come to realize that royal bedrooms of the time are not very large, but also the décor is quite cheerful and colorful. The medieval palace is spread across St. Thomas’ Tower, Wakefield Tower, and Lanthorn Tower.
Map of the Tower of London
2. Consider the resigned terror of being lead towards the platform for execution
Only 7 people were beheaded on the Tower Green, where now a small memorial stands to remember them. A private execution within the walls of the Tower was reserved for only the highest ranking prisoners. Three of England’s Queens were executed here: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey (the 9 days queen). These three queens, along with the others executed on the Tower Green, are buried in The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula located nearby. Less privileged prisoners were executed on Tower Hill in front of large crowds. They too have a memorial situated near the Tower Hill Underground Station.
3. Hear the screams of the tortured
The Tower of London was also a place of torture, although not as often as most people would imagine. Between 1540 and 1640, only 48 people were tortured in the tower. It was used more often as a means of gathering information than punishment. The most commonly used torture devices were the rack, the scavenger’s daughter, and the manacles. Guy Fawkes, who attempted with his co-conspirators to blow up King James and parliament, is probably the most famous of the prisoners tortured here. The Tower of London never had a permanent torcher chamber, but today the Tower offers the exhibit ‘Torture in the Tower’ in the Lower Wakefield Tower.
The Imperial State Crown, on display in the Waterloo Barracks
4. Gape at the splendor of the Crown Jewels
At the rear of the Tower, stands the Waterloo Barracks which is currently home to the British Crown Jewels. Wander through the rooms and stare at the brilliant crowns caged behind glass. You can even watch a video of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth back in 1952, and then examine the crown she wore that day. Just be sure to head to the Jewel House early enough as it can be quite busy at certain times of the year
Engravings made by prisoners
5. Imagine life as a prisoner of the Tower
Visit the Beauchamp Tower to see what life would have been like as a prisoner of the Tower. There you can see the simply decorated rooms which became a prisoner’s home, and the engravings that the prisoners slowly etched into the stone walls during their stay. However, before getting the chance to etch into the walls, the prisoners had to enter the Tower of London through the infamous Traitor’s Gate. Traitor’s Gate is a water entrance to the Tower that cuts through St. Thomas’ Tower. For some unlucky prisoners, the glance behind them as they entered was the last time they saw the world outside. Another great place to experience life as a prisoner is to walk along the tower walls, and gaze out onto the surrounding city as the more privileged prisoners, such as the future Queen Elizabeth, would have done.
6. Gaze at the armor of the Kings of England
A very impressive collection of royal armory is housed in the White Tower. Looking at the armor of five centuries of English Kings, you can see the advancement of technology and change in style of each seceding set of armor. Look also at how large Henry VIII had become, or how short many of the Kings actually were. The armor had a range of uses from warfare to tournaments to decorative. Here, you can also try out a few items such as wearing a gauntlet, wielding a sword or holding a musket. There is a fantastic gift shop in the White Tower that offers replica armor and other gifts to take home.
7. Enjoy a historic reenactment
Throughout the day, actors offer historic reenactments of important events at the Tower. The current show is “Restoration and Rebellion” taking place in the aftermath of the Restoration. The shows do change regularly and past shows have included reenactments of Anne Boleyn’s Trial and Colonel Blood’s attempts to steal the crown jewels from the Tower. Be sure to check out the brochure you are given when you purchase your ticket for show times and meeting places.
My list of seven things to do is far from all that the Tower has to offer its visitors, but in my opinion, they are the most important. A visit to the Tower of London is something that you will never forget. Be warned though, the Tower’s size and number of exhibitions should not be underestimated, so give yourself at least 3 hours to walk around. I have had the pleasure of being to the Tower three times, each for several hours, and still have not managed to see everything.