One of Britain’s main tourist attractions, the Tower of London overlooks the river at the eastern boundary of the old city walls. Despite all the hype, it remains one of London’s most remarkable buildings, site of some of the goriest events in the nation’s history, and somewhere all visitors and Londoners should explore at least once. Chiefly famous as a place of imprisonment and death, it has variously been used as a royal residence, armoury, mint, menagerie, observatory and – a function it still serves – a safe-deposit box for the Crown Jewels.

The lively free guided tours given by the Tower’s Beefeaters (officially known as Yeoman Warders) are useful for getting your bearings. Visitors today enter the Tower along Water Lane, but in times gone by most prisoners were delivered through Traitors’ Gate, on the waterfront. Immediately, they would have come to the Bloody Tower, which forms the main entrance to the Inner Ward, and which is where the 12-year-old Edward V and his 10-year-old brother were accommodated “for their own safety” in 1483 by their uncle, the future Richard III, and later murdered. It’s also where Walter Raleigh was imprisoned on three separate occasions, including a thirteen-year stretch.

Tower Green

At the centre of the Inner Ward is Tower Green, where ten highly placed but unlucky individuals were beheaded, among them Anne Boleyn and her cousin Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s second and fifth wives). The White Tower, which overlooks the Green, is the original “Tower”, begun in 1076, and now home to displays from the Royal Armouries. Even if you’ve no interest in military paraphernalia, you should at least pay a visit to the Chapel of St John, a beautiful Norman structure on the second floor that was completed in 1080 – making it the oldest intact church building in London.

Crown Jewels

The Waterloo Barracks, to the north of the White Tower, hold the Crown Jewels; queues can be painfully long, however, and you only get to view the rocks from moving walkways. The vast majority of exhibits post-date the Commonwealth (1649–60), when many of the royal riches were melted down for coinage or sold off. Among the jewels are the three largest cut diamonds in the world, including the legendary Koh-i-Noor, which was set into the Queen Mother’s Crown in 1937.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

London features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Along the Thames: a step-by-step London itinerary

Along the Thames: a step-by-step London itinerary

London grew up around the Thames, and a stroll (or a boat ride) along its banks is one of the city’s real treats. This step-by-step itinerary, adapted from ou…

31 Aug 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
You can now play cult 90s gameshow The Crystal Maze for real in London

You can now play cult 90s gameshow The Crystal Maze for real in London

That’s right. Those days of buying a nylon jumpsuit and turning your house into a makeshift obstacle course are over. Thanks to a crowd-funded project set up …

22 Aug 2016 • Greg Dickinson insert_drive_file Article
We slept with the lions in London Zoo – and now you can too

We slept with the lions in London Zoo – and now you can too

Wondering where to stay when you next visit London? London Zoo just made your decision a bit easier. Forget glitzy hotels in Covent Garden or banged-up hostels …

09 Jun 2016 • Greg Dickinson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month