Our long layover and little sleep caught up to us and we didn’t get moving until after 10am. I had a plan to get to the Tower early because that is what all the guidebooks tell you to do, but I also knew that it was better than trying to get there on the weekend. We took the Underground to Tower Hill and bought our tickets there. You should be aware that they will charge you a “voluntary donation” with the regular tickets. If you ask for two adult tickets there is a 2.50 pound donation added to your ticket. London sights are fairly expensive, so keep an eye out for any time you can save some money!
We arrived in time for a Beefeater tour. Beefeaters are the Yeoman Warders better known as the Royal Bodyguard and have traditionally served as jailers for the Tower. Today there are only 36 of them both men and women and they all live in the Tower with their families. They stand guard, give tours, and lock the gates at night. Only ex-servicemen or women with at least 22 years of service can become a part of the Royal Bodyguard. Our tour guide, Spike, served for 35 years in the Royal Air Force. The tour lasts for 45 minutes and is free to anyone who enters. You get a lot of history and some gruesome stories. I found it fascinating. You move four times around the Tower and each time more people join the tour so make sure you keep up with the Yeoman or it may be difficult to hear their stories.
After the tour, we went straight to the Crown Jewels because we did not see a line. It was the most disorganized exhibit I have ever entered. I think some well placed cords would help move people around quicker, but each room is a different size and it’s like everyone is trying to rush the stage at a concert, but you are not sure where the band is playing. Once you get to the Crown Jewels, you stand on a conveyor belt and then when you get off, you can go by again on the other side of the display. You can also walk up and see them from a few steps above and they have explanations about the crowns and jewels. We did all three. Why not? It was the best part of the exhibit. The jewels are ridiculously large and some have interesting stories with them.
Our next stop was the White Tower. This was the original building of William the Conqueror in 1078. It has some great displays with suits of armor that were created for various kings, including a rather large one for Henry VIII, as well as weapons through the ages. The building itself is beautiful, so be sure to take a moment to look around at it as well.
We wandered around outside and checked out the ravens (they have a superstition that if the ravens leave, the Tower will crumble) and where they executed some very famous females. The chapel is known for the place where all the headless bodies were buried from various executions over the years as well as those women (Anne Boelyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey). It is a tiny chapel and it was a little unnerving thinking about walking over so many graves.
There are other nooks and crannies to explore in the Tower, but don’t miss touring through Edward’s original apartments and walking down the battlements with a great view of the Tower Bridge.
Our next stop after lunch near the water was St. Paul’s Cathedral. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty expensive church visit. However, it is difficult to impress me with a church due to the sheer number that I visited while living in Spain. You have the option of climbing to the top of the dome which is over 500 steps. The day we were there the Whispering Gallery was closed. Jef climbed to the dome on his last visit and said the view was not worth the climb (not like when we climbed to the top of St. Peter’s in Vatican City). I would have enjoyed the view from the Whispering Gallery, but it was not to be. I did enjoy the audio guide that you get since you can pick and choose what you want to hear. The crypt and chapel downstairs were interesting to explore as well.
A big tip from my uncle that we followed: get an Oyster pass if you are using public transportation. It’s 5 pounds to buy the card and you can “top it off” to continue using it. It makes riding the underground, trains, and buses really easy and you can use your credit card when you add value.