On the North bank of the River Thames, in the heart of Central London sits the nearly 1000-year-old Tower of London. Steeped in the type of history that even the most reluctant non-historian will struggle not to find – at the very least – intriguing; this is a day out guaranteed to be a multi-generational people pleaser.
On arrival, we were advised to expect our visit to last on average 3-hours. We were easily there longer than that – not least because of the mandatory ice cream we paused to enjoy!
You have opportunity to purchase guide books; and audio guides are available for hire in multiple languages. There are also free Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) guided tours conducted throughout the day. To get the most out of your visit, I would highly recommend the use of at least one of these – unless your history knowledge is so extensive you could tour yourself. There are so many stories within these grounds and walls, it would be such a shame to leave without hearing them. An old bed in an old room is only an old bed in an old room – until you hear who was murdered in it! (pause for audible gasp!)
With an 8 & 6-year old in tow, we thought it wise to purchase the children’s guide book. Tower Power is fully illustrated and packed with very kid-friendly, easy to understand facts and tales from the Tower of London (ToL). It also contains a map and lots of items to ‘look out for’ whilst you tour around. Plus it’s a great souvenir to come home with.
However, for me, a must-do for any visiting family is the Time Explorers free App. Quite simply, It’s fantastic! The app guides your family around the ToL on a series of missions. The children have to answer questions through exploring and earning time gems to take part in a final quiz at the end to receive special mission badges. Our selected ‘mission’ was to assist Arabella Seymour in helping her husband William escape from the Tower. It kept the children so involved and interested – they learnt far more in this engaging manner than if we had just stood and pointed at things.
Top tip: Download the app and all the missions prior to your visit whilst you have access to wifi.
A must-see during your visit are the Crown Jewels. Housed at the Tower since the Middle Ages, these precious jewels and religious objects are still used in Royal ceremonies today. Whilst you might have to queue to enter the Jewel House, once inside, things do flow quite nicely. Be prepared to be impressed with the 23,578 gemstones on display.
Directly opposite the Jewel House entrance is the White Tower. The oldest (and perhaps most iconic) part of the ToL built by William the Conqueror soon after his victory at the Battle of Hastings. Today, the White Tower, is home to the Royal Armouries – more guns, swords and suits of armour than a young wannabe knight can handle! It can be quite hard to believe that you are looking at the actual suit of armour worn by one of the most famous kings in history – Henry VIII.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit before 30th August, be sure to take time out to watch The last days of Anne Boleyn. A professional cast of actors and musicians lead you through a re-enactment of Anne’s final days at the ToL. Some sort of blanket is advised, as for the best view you’ll need to sit down on the grass in front of the stage. The good news – this show is included within your entrance price. Don’t be disappointed if you are visiting after August, there is generally always something extra scheduled.
So you’ve explored and learnt and now you’re hungry – there are 4 places where you can purchase food at ToL, but you can also take your own food and drink in with you (another reason why a picnic blanket would be advisable). If you want to eat after your visit is finished, just outside of ToL is Tower Place where you will find the usual restaurant-chain suspects, such as GBK, Zizzi, Pizza Express etc.
There are a selection of nice gift shops inside but be aware, souvenirs from here come at a premium.
The possibility of the children getting bored was our biggest concern before visiting ToL. We purposefully avoided visiting with the children until we felt they were able to comprehend some of the history. I’m glad we waited. Ok, there isn’t a massive adventure playground here (head to Hampton Court Palace if this is a deal breaker for you). However, there are plenty of open spaces for kids to run around and expend lots of energy. The real secret to unlocking the interest in the young children that visit here is through clever use of storytelling and technology; taking advantage of this meant our kids were able to immerse themselves into some of the most fun (read: gruesome) aspects of British History, without them realising how much they were actually learning.
I might be biased, as I do love a good bit of British history, but I genuinely believe there is lots of fun to be had at the Tower of London. I actually left feeling like we had done so much, but yet that we hadn’t done it all. Yes if you have children in tow, you do need to put your ‘lets get the kids engaged’ hat on, but it’s worth it – you can gain so much from it too. I’m personally looking forward to a return visit (we still have two more Time Explorers missions to complete!)
Good to know
If you can, book online in advance and save ££’s.
If you want to avoid the larger queues for the Crown Jewels, visit earlier in the morning and make this building one of your first stops.
This castle is nearly 1000 years old, so as you might imagine, is not fully accessible. There are buggy parks at certain points on site and ramps where possible. Find out more about accessibility here.
The Time Explorers free app is available for download from the App Store.
The Time Explorers passport and badges can be collected from the Welcome Centre at the end of your visit.
The last days of Anne Boleyn performance lasts for around 35 minutes and is subject to weather conditions.
Photography in the Crown Jewels building is not permitted.
For opening times, admission prices and further information click here
Historic Royal Palaces operates ToL, Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, Hillsborough Castle and Banqueting House. If you plan on visiting more than one of their sites within a year, you would benefit from annual membership which offers unlimited access to all sites. Find out more here
You might also like to read: Days Out: KidZania – London
This is a non-sponsored or affiliated post. If you have any question regarding a visit to ToL just ask away below, I promise to give an unbiased, honest answer. If you are heading to ToL, I hope you enjoy your time there as much as we did!