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The history of the UK arguably begins at the Tower of London. This famed structure that's been standing for roughly 1,000 years is an iconic site in the heart of London, with centuries of stories waiting to be discovered within its walls. Fascinating inside and out, a trip to the Tower is a step back in time, where the story of England readily unfolds.
The Tower of London was officially built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, and was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, when it housed the notorious gangsters, the Kray Twins.
Over the centuries, new elements of the tower would be added or “tacked on” to the initial tower, including the Inner Ward, which was built in the 1190s, and the Wharf-facing expansion, which was constructed in the late 1300s.
During its tenure, the Tower of London served as the temporary accommodations for a lengthy list of famed London prisoners including Sir Thomas Moore, Anne Boleyn, her daughter Elizabeth I years after Anne’s death, Lady Jane Gray, and Sir Walter Raleigh. The interior grounds also served as a place of execution for prisoners who were too noble or important for a public beheading, which includes Anne Boleyn, whose execution site is marked with a solemn statue.
While the Tower is arguably best known for its long list of unwilling residents, the tower’s function was never solely as just a prison for England’s most famed or notorious defendants. Instead, the tower was an imposing palace that also served as a treasury, an armory, a menagerie, a public record office, and even a royal residence. In fact, it was within the tower rooms that Anne Boleyn lived in the days and weeks leading up to her coronation – just 50 yards or so from where she eventually died.
Today, the Tower continues its stately role, as it serves as the current home of the Crown Jewels of England – (which can be admired by visitors.) In addition, the Tower of London is still manned by Yeomen - commonly known as Beefeaters – who have been guarding the structure for centuries, and who now conduct fascinating tours for the waves of public visitors.
The Tower of London is actually comprised of a series of buildings which encompass a roughly 18 acre site, and which includes the palace itself, as well as the Tower Liberties.
The primary tower – the White Tower – is one of the most famous structures within the complex, and is also one of oldest, having been built around 1078.
In addition to the White Tower, the circle of structures that make up the main site include the infamous Bloody Tower, the Constable Tower, and the Queen’s House, which resembles a Tudor residence as opposed to a formidable palace or fort.
Additional sites of interest within the Tower of London includes the Tower Dungeon, which is a thrilling site that’s best viewed by visitors with thick skin, and the Martin Tower, where more than 23,500 Crown Jewels are housed. Visitors will also want to pause by Traitor’s Gate, at the edge of the Thames, where legendary prisoners like Thomas Moore were shuttled into the Tower of London, away from the public eye.
The Tower of London is open to visitors year-round, (except holidays), from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., and on weekends from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the on-site ticket booth near the entrance, or in advance online. Guided tours are available throughout the day at roughly 15-20 minute increments by real Yeomen guards or “Beefeaters,” and the tours are complimentary with the ticket entrance price.
The Tower of London is just a stone’s throw away from the Tower Bridge, which is another iconic attraction. In addition, the site is relatively close to the London Bridge as well as The Shard, which is famed as one of the tallest modern towers in the city.
The Tower of London is located on the edge of the Thames, close to the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and a number of other attractions that are in the City of London proper.
The closest station to the Tower of London is the aptly named Tower Hill, which is serviced by both the Circle (yellow) and District (green) lines.
London’s most legendary stories and historical figures seemingly all have ties to the Tower of London, which makes it one of the city’s most intricate and fascinating landmarks. Embark on a tour guided by a real Beefeater, and discover why the story of England goes hand in hand with the story of the Tower of London.
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