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I am a Denver-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North: A Swing Down Memory Lane. I have several other pieces, including fiction, in the works.

Taking a Tour of the Tower of London

The north side of the Tower of London

We picked up our Tower of London tickets at the booth and headed off to the entrance. It was late in the day, so my friend and I would have to rush through the huge complex to squeeze in as many highlights as possible before they booted everyone out. But there was no way I had traveled all that way to London to skip out on the chance, however rushed it may be, to see one of the greatest historical attractions in London.

Standing on Tower Bridge

Our River Thames Cruise dropped us off below the Tower Bridge at St. Katharine’s Pier. I couldn’t take my eyes off the bridge, quite possibly the most notable icon of London. In my picture-snapping frenzy I lost track of time. When I looked at the clock I noticed we didn’t have a lot of time left to tour the Tower of London; a ticket agent at the gate said they recommend nearly three hours and we only had 90 minutes. In actuality, though, three hours is still too short to tour this amazing complex. I could have easily spent all day in it, as my friend, who isn’t known for his sightseeing interest, also admitted.

A map of the Tower of London complex

Looking down on Traitor’s Gate

From the Tower of London ticket office we walked through the main entrance and under the Bywater Tower. We rushed along Water Lane, a pathway between the two walls of the Tower, and on to the other side of Traitor’s Gate (above). Only moments before we stood at the outside of the gate, which is best known for the gate where the heads of those who were executed were displayed on pikes. Some of the most notable prisoners who entered through the gate, which was built by Edward I to provide a water gate entrance into the tower, are Queen Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, and Queen Catherine Howard.

The entrance to the Crown Jewels

We would return to the Traitor’s Gate later, but at the moment our sights were set on seeing the Crown Jewels – the highlight of any trip to the Tower of London. Passing under the Bloody Tower, we headed up passed the White Tower and on to the Waterloo Block, which is where the Crown Jewels are kept. Our luck could not have been better. There was no line! A huge system of railings are in place for an enormous queue, but we were fortunate enough to be able to walk right into the exhibit.

Photography of the Crown Jewels is not allowed. It is probably for the best, too, since I would likely still be in there taking pictures today. As it was, I walked through and admired each piece – crowns, scepter, orb, golden plates and goblets – and left with the feeling that I had just seen the absolute highlight of my trip to England. That is not far from the truth, either, since my trip to the Tower of London was most certainly my favorite stop while in the city.

The Tower of London was constructed on the north side of the River Thames during the Norman Conquest in 1066. At that time it was viewed as a symbol of oppression. The castle was not originally a prison, though. Instead it was the royal palace and seat of power for England. Although it had been used as a prison since the 12th century in some capacity, it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries that that was its primary purpose under the Tudors. Today it is a World Heritage Site and one of the most popular attractions in the country.

The White Tower and the Tower Bridge

Thanks to the nonexistent line to see the Crown Jewels we had plenty of time left to tour the rest of the tower grounds. We started with the White Tower, the focal point in the middle of the complex. As the most fortified structure in the Tower of London, the White Tower was the residence for the king. Today it is a museum detailing the history of the Tower, the monarchs, and their arms and armor. I found this particularly interesting, since I could see physically how I stacked up against each monarch – some so diminutive I could only assume the armor was made in their childhood.

The armor of King Charles II

King Henry VIII’s armor and lance handle

A visit to the White Tower could easily take half of a day if properly done. But due to our time constraints, my friend and I rushed through it. When we left the Tower of London we agreed that a three hour estimate to tour the complex is an understatement; we could have easily spent a whole day walking through the rooms, passageways, and museums. It was truly that fantastic. So much so even that I considered skipping something else on my itinerary in favor of returning. But, in the end, I agreed with myself that it’d be better to see more and simply make a return journey to London to spend more time at the Tower and many other sites I didn’t have time to visit.

Old Roman walls by the White Tower

We exited the White Tower on the north side and were back at the entrance for the Crown Jewels. We had already walked around to the east and seen ruins for a wall that was built by the Romans in the second or third centuries, upon which the Tower of London was built, so we took a left and walked over to the old scaffolding site. Now marked by a crystal pillow, it was at this spot where seven prisoners were executed; 112 executions occurred outside the north wall on Tower Hill over 400 years, but those who were considered too dangerous to execute in public were put to death on the Tower Green. Today the area is a lush green plot of grass flanked on two sides by the Queen’s House, which is protected by one of the Queen’s Guards.

The crystal pillow execution memorial

The Tower Green and the Queen’s House

Back in the Bloody Tower, near the Traitor’s Gate, was an exhibition on Torture at the Tower. It was the one time we found a line, but interested as we were we decided to wait. As it turns out it was a waste of time to walk through the one room and see recreations of Medieval torture devices like the rack. I had seen such things before and was disappointed by the lackluster display; I wasn’t looking for blood, guts, and graphic violence, but I had expected more of an explanation on how and why such devices were used at the Tower of London.

The Torture at the Tower exhibit

The rain began to fall and the Tower of London empty. Tourists were heading for the exit and, presumably, the nearest pub for a cold one. I couldn’t leave yet. I had seen most everything I wanted to in the Tower of London – the Crown Jewels, the White Tower, the execution spot, and the famed ravens that keep the Tower standing – but I had one thing left to do. I couldn’t leave without walking on the battlements surrounding the outer ward. As a young boy I dreamed of being a knight and guarding a castle like this, so I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to have my moment in the sun, or the rain in this instance, standing upon the battlements and looking out on the land.

Recreated royal bedroom

Walking on the tower walls

There were several other exhibits and displays within the outer ward walls, including a recreation of a royal bedroom. It was all quite impressive, but not so much so as the moment I had standing atop the wall make-believing I was a knight in the service of some fair maiden. The thought ended quickly enough as rain began to splatter down on my face. It was worth getting

a little wet over. I had my moment, the time I dreamt of since playing with my Medieval LEGO set as a kid, and was excited over the opportunity.

I left the Tower of London, the last stop on our River Thames cruise, through the same gate we entered on the southwest side of castle. Conveniently enough it put me right into the souvenir shop where I was able to hide momentarily from the rain. When it let up I headed out with my friends toward the Tube stop at Tower Hill, the location of the bulk of the executions, and the site of some other foundation ruins.

The Tower of London was the best stop on our River Thames cruise. And while we saw most of the displays, we certainly did not do the complex the justice it deserves. As I said, we could have easily spent a whole day touring the buildings and grounds. I could have just as easily spent the night, too, since the Tower of London is allegedly haunted. Unfortunately a good old fashioned ghost hunt it not a regular tour option, otherwise I would have stayed to see what other interesting points I could have uncovered.

“The Shard” from the Tower of London

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