Exploring the Tower of London is a must on any London itinerary, whether you’re a local Londoner or a first-time visitor. 

And who better to shed some light on some of the lesser known facts than the Chief Yeoman Warder (aka, the Head Beefeater)?

Now’s the time to tour this thousand-year-old castle, learn about its fascinating history, and admire the incredible artifacts, without the crowds.

What might surprise someone — even, dare we say, a born and bred Londoner — about the Tower of London? 

View of Traitors' Gate taken from within the Tower of London
©Historic Royal Palaces

The Tower of London was founded in 1066, making it almost 1,000 years old. Its official name is Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, but that’s quite a mouthful, whether you’re a local Londoner or not. It takes its name from the White Tower, where you’ll see the Royal Armoury’s collection, including the Line of Kings. This display boasts over 500 examples of armor and is the world’s longest-running museum display — over 350 years, in fact.

As you tour the grounds of the castle at your own pace, you’ll hear tales from the Yeoman Warders about its bloody history and royal intrigue. The Yeoman Warders are ceremonial guards who have been guarding the Tower since the time of Henry VIII. As you explore the grounds, you can listen to them tell stories of how the Tower has served as a palace, prison, and fortress. Did you know that in the 13th century it was home to a polar bear? Learn about the legend of the ravens that are kept on the grounds, too.

Our tip: Be amazed by tales about coronations, executions, and daring escapes.

And what of the Crown Jewels? 

Prince of Wales Investiture Coronet 1969. For use on web (Crown Jewels landing page and History and story page only), social and press only.
©Historic Royal Palaces

The Crown Jewels is a truly impressive display of precious gems. An incredible 23,578 gemstones are displayed in crowns, scepters, and other royal regalia. Thanks to the various health and safety measures currently in place, it means that the Tower is not as crowded as usual. In addition, the one-way walking system means that you’ll be able to see these fabulous jewels at leisure.

Although some areas of the Tower aren’t open right now, there are new areas that have been opened to the public for the first time, such as Tower Green. 

Our tip: Remember to take some time enjoying the views of the River Thames from the Tower’s Wharf.

How much a part of London life is it?

The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula looking north-west, 24 March 2015.
©Historic Royal Palaces

One of the many fascinating facts, that even many local Londoners don’t know, is that there are 45 families who live permanently within the walls of the Tower of London… it’s its own living village in the heart of the city! It has a doctor, two Chapels Royal, and even a pub called The Keys. Every night after the Ceremony of the Keys at 9:30 PM, they are locked inside till the next morning. The Ceremony of the Keys is also the oldest military ceremony in the world, as it has taken place every night for the past 700 years.

What measures have been put in place to address the current Coronavirus pandemic? 

Visitors can rest assured that many measures have been put in place for safety and hygiene. Some areas like the Battlements and the Bloody Tower aren’t open [to comply with social distancing measures], but others are open for the first time (like Tower Green). Hand sanitizers are available throughout the site, there’s plenty of space for social distancing, and admission numbers are kept low. All tickets are times, and there are now morning and afternoon time slots for your visit. 

Our tip: the afternoons are quietest.

Whether it’s your first visit to the Tower, or you’ve been countless times, there’s always something new and fascinating to explore.