Tower of London

Top choice castle in The City

Image by Bjorn Holland Getty Images

The unmissable Tower of London (actually a castle of 22 towers) offers a window into a gruesome and compelling history. A former royal residence, treasury, mint, armoury and zoo, it's perhaps now most remembered as the prison where a king, three queens and many nobles met their deaths. Come here to see the colourful Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters), the spectacular Crown Jewels, the soothsaying ravens and armour fit for a very large king.

In the 1070s William the Conqueror started work on the White Tower to replace the stronghold he'd previously built here, in the southeast corner of the Roman walls, shortly after the Norman invasion. By 1285, two walls with towers and a moat were built around it and the defences have barely been altered since.

The most striking building is the central White Tower, with its solid Norman architecture and four turrets. On the entrance floor it houses a collection from the Royal Armouries, including Henry VIII's commodious suit of armour. On the middle floor is St John's Chapel, dating from 1080 and therefore the oldest place of Christian worship still standing 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 106-carat Koh-i-Nûr ('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 other side of the White Tower is the Bloody Tower, where the 12-year-old Edward V and his little brother Richard were held 'for their own safety' and later possibly murdered, perhaps by their uncle, the future Richard III. Sir Walter Raleigh did a 13-year stretch here too under James I, where he wrote his Historie of the World.

In front of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula stood Henry VIII's scaffold, where nobles such as Anne Boleyn and 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 one of the entertaining (and free) guided tours offered by the Yeomen Warders; the 45-minute-long tours leave every 30 minutes from the bridge near the main entrance (the last tour is an hour before closing).

Book online for cheaper rates for the Tower.