Tower of London
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Tower of London information
Lonely Planet review
The unmissable Tower of London (actually a castle of 20-dd towers) offers a window on to a gruesome and quite compelling history. This was where two kings and three queens met their death and countless others imprisoned. Come here to see the colourful Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters), the spectacular Crown Jewels, the soothsaying ravens and armour fit for a king.
In the 1070s, William the Conqueror started work on the White Tower to replace the castle he'd previously had built here. By 1285, two walls with towers and a moat were built around it and the defences have barely been altered since. A former royal residence, treasury, mint and arsenal, it became most famous as a prison when Henry VIII moved to Whitehall Palace in 1529 and started meting out his preferred brand of punishment.
The most striking building is indeed the central White Tower, with its solid Norman architecture and four turrets. Today on the entrance floor it houses a collection from the Royal Armouries, including Henry VIII's commodious suit of armour. On the 1st floor is St John's Chapel, dating from 1080 and therefore the oldest church in London. To the north stands Waterloo Barracks, which now contains the spectacular Crown Jewels, including the platinum crown of the late Queen Mother, set with the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light) diamond and the Imperial State Crown, worn by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament. Slow-moving travelators shunt wide-eyed visitors past the collection. On the far side of the White Tower is the Bloody Tower, where the 12-year-old Edward V and his little brother Ricchard were held 'for their own safety' and later murdered, probably by their uncle, the future Richard III. Sir Walter Raleigh did a 13-year stretch here too under James I, when he wrote his History of the World.
On the small green in front of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula stood Henry VIII's scaffold, where nobles like Anne Boleyn and her cousin Catherine Howard (Henry's second and fifth wives) were beheaded. Look out for the latest in the Tower's long line of famous ravens, which legend says could cause the White Tower to collapse should they leave (their wing feathers are clipped in case they get any ideas).
To get your bearings, take the hugely entertaining free guided tour with any of the Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders). Hour-long tours leave every 30 minutes from the bridge near the main entrance; the last tour's an hour before closing. Book online for cheaper rates for the Tower.