The Tower of London is among Britain’s top tourist attractions. Although it’s mainly known as a place of imprisonment and execution, this remarkable building has also served as palace, mint, archive, armoury, barracks and royal menagerie over the years. See the legendary crown jewels and learn about the tower’s often brutal history.
Be sure to check out the central White Tower, the oldest part of the complex and its most eye-catching building. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror beginning in 1078. Inside you’ll find the Armories, with an excellent collection of arms and armour. Look for Henry VIII's large suit of armour, as well as various historic swords, morning stars and halberds.
On the far side of the White Tower, find the Bloody Tower. This tower takes its name from the famous murders of the uncrowned boy king, Edward V, and his brother Richard, who were imprisoned here by their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, after the death of their father. The boys were never seen again and Gloucester was crowned Richard III. Don’t miss the displays dedicated to some of the Tower’s other famous prisoners, including a reconstruction of Sir Walter Raleigh’s study.
The highlights of the tour are the iconic Crown Jewels, consisting of stunning crowns, glittering orbs and staffs housed in the Waterloo Barracks. This collection features the ceremonial objects of the British monarchy, some of which date as far back as the 12th century. Look for the magnificent Imperial State Crown, which is decorated with more than 3,000 jewels, including the fourth-largest diamond in the world. You’ll also see the platinum crown of the late Queen Mother, adorned with the 105-carat Indian Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light) diamond, which is said to bring luck to women.
The Tower of London is open daily, with hours varying by day. There is an admission fee. Free guided tours leave regularly from the bridge near the main entrance. To get to the tower, take the Tube to Tower Hill Station.