The Crown Jewels, the White Tower, the Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders) and the Ravens were all part of our Tower of London tour. Each has a fascinating story to tell about the history of royalty, tradition and London and no first visit to London is complete without visiting the Tower of London. Seriously, if this is not on your itinerary you are missing out on a key piece of history.
Mom and I would choose to visit the Tower of London with Context Travel which specializes in small group tours with an in depth history led by educational professionals like historians, art history teachers and other specialized professions. They don’t just guide you reciting facts rote, they do deep dives into the history ensuring that you get more from them than what’s in the history book you’ve long forgotten. Personalized attention and a passion for the site is key. Mom wasn’t in the mood to “jump on the tour bus tour” for our final day on our whirlwind luxury trip.
We would meet our guide, Clare, at the meeting point and then go find the rest of the group (four women from Texas) outside the Tower of London. After introductions, we entered with the guide (who had our tickets) and up past the larger group tours to the open courtyard. The last time I visited the Tower of London was in 1988 on my first visit to the city and as this was Mom’s first visit it was on her list of “to do” despite her recent knee surgery and “on the trip” rehabilitation.
The White Tower at the Tower of London
With explanations of the buildings within the walls of the Tower of London we would enter The White Tower first. The White Tower (one of the oldest buildings on site) entrance involves steep stairs outside and then stairs inside and spiral stairs to exit – Mom was slow but decided to do them (she thought she was bionic apparently or just stubborn). Once inside we began the tour of the cool stuff as I like to say – it was the armor and all about the Knights. Oh Lancelot, where for art thou? On my first visit, I remember the armor room as one of my favorites, it has since been curated and arranged to tell a story rather than just walk by and gawk as the teenage version of me did so many years ago. You can follow the journey of conflicts – armor needed to fight, torture devices used against prisoners and artillery to defend the Tower of London.
Why Context Travel for the Tower of London tour?
What I like about the Context Travel guides is that they layer the stories of history so that it becomes memorable and you have those “aha” moments of realization as you continue through the exhibits. Some of your history lessons seep back into your brain – Henry VIII, the beheadings and the creation of the Church of England, etc. while others seem new until you google and wiki it later and go “right, now I remember that part”. Either way its a memorable visit and lesson.
And if you prefer a visual reason why a Context Travel Tower of London tour is good then this “group tour” with the Beefeater may convince you why a small group tour is worth it.
Yes, it’s more expensive than others, the three hour tour cost $140 + Tower of London admission ticket, I can’t argue with you on that but the knowledge, personalized attention and not getting lost in the large group straining to hear is worth it. Small group tours with private guides are travel luxuries worth the splurge.
The Crown Jewels
The biggest disappointment in touring the Crown Jewels is that you can’t take photos, you can buy the souvenir book of course, but no photos. That said, the crown jewels are stunning with all the history, pomp and circumstance made even more fascinating is that they are so much a part of the royal traditions – traditions that continue to live on hundreds of years later. The ceremony of each tradition is impressive as are all of the accessories that accompany the royal events. Within a climate controlled vault the tour is led in one direction past the display cases. It’s hard for the guide to stop and explain within the vault given the number of people and space so we had time before and after for a history lesson and to ask questions. She did answer individual questions inside that I had along the way which was good. I liked that the guide stays with the group and doesn’t run ahead and wait for everyone to finish – she was with us throughout our visit. A royal history lesson for those of us too young to remember when Queen Elizabeth was crowned, over 60 years ago, but a memory for when the next Royal succeeds her reign.
Tower of London Tour – The Ravens
The ravens have a much storied legend depending on what you believe. They have a wing clipped so they can’t fly far and are treated almost like royalty. The more famous lore is that when the ravens leave the Tower of London, the monarchy and Britain will fall. So not wanting to test that lore, the ravens are full time residences of the Tower of London and famous attractions in themselves (each has a name). They are cared for by the Raven master of the Tower of London who feeds them and lets them out of their cages each morning to wander the grounds.
The guards at the Tower of London are actually Yeoman Warders responsible for the guarding of prisoners at The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels. Retired from the armed services with at least 22 years of service, the Beefeaters live in the Tower of London residences with their families. They lead a daily Tower of London tour of the fortress and each night participate in the Ceremony of the Keys, a ritual performed each night.
Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London
Last year, I thought I won the lottery as I found one ticket to the Ceremony of the Keys held at the Tower of London every night. This special tradition is held every night as the Beefeaters lock up the Tower of London with the various keys, hence “Ceremony of the Keys”. The tickets are limited each night to a small group and are sold out a year in advance. They are free with only a slight service fee charge. I missed out on my opportunity when I had the Nightmare Travel Day from Paris. As much as I wanted to go to this, I couldn’t. Now since my trips are less than a year in advance, it’s hard to find a ticket. So if you know in advance you are visiting London, do try to reserve your ticket now!
The Tower of London buildings
You can view the outer building (towers in the walls) with some steep steps to climb. These towers are not adorned with much and are rather a good way to get perspective on the space and the environment (i.e. – its cold inside). You can also walk on top of the walls and have a spectacular view of Tower Bridget and the Thames.
Final Thoughts – The Tower of London tour with Context
The Context Travel tour of the Tower of London was just the right amount of time for a visit. It was chock full of history which I enjoyed, Mom grew a bit weary as we neared the end (I didn’t have a slushee for her this time) but hey she’s 74 and was recovering from knee surgery so in hindsight was probably not in good shape for all the walking and climbing we did that morning (she recovered quickly with a milkshake from GBK). She thought our guide, Clare, was very nice and quite knowledgeable (we’d learn that she is the lead guide who trains the other guides) and appreciated the small group vs. getting lost in (or not keeping up with) the larger group tour. Mom didn’t want to be at the back of the crowd not able to hear, she would have quit early if the group was massive, so having our small group of six was perfect for her visit. As for me, I continue to be impressed by Context Travel small group tours as I delve into a educational visit and learn so much along the way.
Want to Book Your Context Travel Tower of London Tour? Use code PhilaTravelGirl or call me to book for your London visit.
Disclosure: My Tower of London tour was provided complimentary by Context Travel and Mom received a 10% discount, however, we each had to pay full price for the Tower of London admission ticket. As always, opinions are uniquely mine (and Mom’s in this case).