London’s oldest building: how best to explore the Tower of London

One of the most iconic of all of London’s many landmarks is, without doubt, the Tower of London. This centuries-old, medieval-era fortification has, now and again, played a significant supporting role in major moments in the history of the UK.

It’s also, nowadays, a fantastic family-friendly attraction. One that guests, while staying at the likes of Marble Arch By Montcalm, are always urged to pay a visit. Yet, it’s also so crammed full of historical resonance, artefacts and unforgettable tidbits (did anyone mention the Crown Jewels?), that the best way to make the most of this place is to join a guided tour. But what kind of tour and exactly which should you choose…?

What is the Tower of the London?

The oldest extant building in the city, the Tower has an extraordinary past that stretches back through much of London’s history. Over the last millennium, it’s served various functions, including as a fortification, an armoury, a palace, a prison, a site of execution, a jewel depository, an exotic zoo and, in modern times, a tourist attraction and place of historical interest and education.

Still home to the crown jewels (which are worn and held by the British monarch at their coronation), The Tower boasts 12 acres of land and includes many features worth taking a look around. There’s the ornate King James I bedroom, the one-time prisoner-hold that’s the Bloody Tower, the millennium-old White Tower, the on-site Beefeater’s Quarters, the museum with weapons and suits of armour and, of course, Traitor’s Gate – the entrance from the river through which prisoners used to pass.

Why you should go on a tour of The Tower?

As pointed out above, then, there’s simply so much to see and experience. Undoubtedly, taking a guided tour of this attraction is by far the best way to get the most out of discovering its 1,000-plus years of treasures.

Indeed, if you’re enjoying a chic stay at luxury hotel rooms, there’s nothing like indulging yourself further during your London trip than to explore one of its most iconic sites with a proper tour. So, here are some details on probably the two best tours of the Tower of London you can currently attend…

Tour the Tower with a river trip on the Thames

This three-hour-long tour is unbeatable if you fancy combining two awesome activities in one day out:

  • Thames River boat ride – starting off in iconic Trafalgar Square, participants proceed to the river where they board a tour boat that’ll gently glide through the water, enabling them to catch many of Central London’s unmissable sights, such as the Houses of Parliament, the Tate Modern building, Shakespeare’s Globe, St Paul’s Cathedral and the skyscrapers of The City; all of them from a unique vantage point
  • The Tower– before disembarking, tour-goers get the chance to view The Tower from the river, just the way so many VIPs and/ or notorious prisoners did throughout history; then, after disembarking, they enter the site and begin an excellent guided tour of the attraction.

The tour, then, covers the building’s many centuries of incident and explains the integral role it played in English and, later, British history, as participants go all round the site; on the ancient walls once walked and guarded by armed soldiers, in the bedroom slept in by monarchs of old, past an (apparently) haunted apartment in the Beefeaters’ Quarters and in the Jewel House, where – yes – the Crown Jewels reside.

For sure, it sounds a fantastic day-out for all the family, before returning to one’s hotel, say, and spending the evening at one of the restaurants near the Arch.

London in a day tour (Westminster Abbey and The Tower)

This all-day, seven-hour-long tour is designed to encompass as many Central London sites in one day as possible, which means it’s a great option for those wanting to cram in many different activities into their London city-break – for instance, sightseeing one day, shopping the next, catching up with London-based relatives of friends the next, and so on.

Guided by a local, licenced professional, this tour covers not just the Tower, but the most important political and Royal-associated sites in Westminster, where it kicks-off:

  • Westminster Abbey – armed with skip-the-line tickets, participants get guided around this ancient and grandiose place of worship, the site of the vast majority of British coronation ceremonies, as well as state funerals (including, most recently, that of Queen Elizabeth II, of course); it’s also the site of the World War One-era Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the resting place of some of the most celebrated individuals in the English-speaking world, not least in its ‘Poets’ Corner’ section
  • Changing of the Guard – as the clock approaches 11am, it’s time to head to The Mall and stroll up to Buckingham Palace to watch the time-honoured tradition that’s the Changing of the Guard; a ceremony that sees one unit of guardsmen replace another outside the Palace (the unit being a remnant of the monarch’s one-time military ‘guard’), it involves lots of marching and military music performed by scarlet-tunicked soldiers
  • Downing Street – as the tour returns to Westminster, it pauses in Whitehall at the entrance gates of one of the most famous (and shortest?!) streets in the world, the one in which not just the UK’s Prime Minister but also their Chancellor of the Exchequer live and work; next door to each other, of course, behind the iconic black doors of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street
  • River Thames boat ride – next up, as with the previous tour, is a boat trip along the Thames; an opportunity to see the city’s old and modern landmarks from a river’s-eye-view and to take selfies and snap Instagrammable moments (ready to be edited and uploaded on return to that spa hotel London)
  • Tower Of London – finally, of course, the tour concludes at the oldest landmark of all, as participants are guided around this remarkable slice of regal, martial and London history; learning, as they go, all about the legendary ‘princes in the tower’ and perhaps even catching sight of a raven or two… of which, it’s said, if ever they leave The Tower, never to return, ‘the kingdom will fall’. Yes, really!
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