BY DAVIS NGUYEN
“I am single and live in a castle,” Bill Callaghan, our tour guide, said jokingly. Bill is one of thirty-seven Yeomen Warder who serve as tour guides at the Tower of London. Each year, Bill and other Yeomen Warder greet over two million visitors. Not many people know, however, that there is more to these guides than just the bright undress uniforms they don. Prior to become a Yeomen Warder, Bill and his colleagues each served at least 22 years in the armed forces. When the position was created by King Henry VII in the 15th century, the Yeoman Warder were in charge of guarding the British Crown Jewels as well as looking after tower prisoners; today they act as tour guides, take photographs with visitors, and serve as another attraction at the Tower of London.
Some guidebooks will tell you that you can spend more than a day at the Tower and still not see everything. In this article, I provide you with an overview of the Tower and how to make the most of your time at the Tower.
To reach the Tower of London make sure to take the tube to Tower Hill via the District Line or Circle Line. But if you live near the Thames or don’t mind a walk to a nearby pier, taking a river boat to the Tower Millennium Pier is also a possibility and will allow you to get a great view of the Tower Bridge and the infamous Traitor’s Gate.
As with any attraction in London, it is best to plan ahead. The weekends are busiest time while the weekdays are ideal if you want to avoid long queues. In any case you can book your tickets online here.
Once inside the Tower, I would recommend joining a tour group. The tour is comes with admission, lasts about one hour, and starts once every thirty minutes at the main entrance. The tour will take you around the inside of the Tower passing many famous sites, including the Bell, Bloody, and Wakefield Towers as well as Traitor’s Gate. Along the way your guide will describe the historical significance of each structure: why it was build, who lived in it, and what function it serves today. At the end of the tour you will arrive at Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in Chains), famously known as the burial place of King Henry VIII’s two wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, who were both beheaded just a few yards outside. One of the benefits of joining the tour is having access to the Chapel.
After completing the tour, you are free to roam around. I would recommend you check out the Tower Green scaffold site, where Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were both executed, this is right outside the Chapel. Next, walk along the path to your left until you see a large building on your left, this is Waterloo Barracks, where the Crown Jewels are currently held. The building itself is one big queue but the way it is structured, you forget you are ever waiting. The famous ravens can be seen in the courtyard once you exit the Waterloo Barracks and head towards the center building, White Tower, where you will find an exhibition of royal armor and weapons as well as St. John’s Chapel. After you are done with White Tower, feel free to walk around and explore the Tower’s many niches. Try not to get locked in a Dungeon!
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