I remember going to the Tower of London when I was a kid, I must have been less than 10 years old so we’re talking maybe 25 years ago (wow that makes me feel old)! The only thing I remember was the beautiful purple velvet crown in the Crown Jewels, and nothing else. So, when I returned to the Tower, I was excited to see the Crown Jewels again and see what else was in store for me at the tower, including the famous Tower of London Beefeater tour.
The Tower of London Beefeater Tour
A Yeoman Warder Beefeater Tour is an essential thing to do in the Tower of London. Beefeater tours are free with your entrance ticket, and one of these elite royal guards will lead you around part of the Tower of London, sharing facts, stories, myths and legends as they go.
The first Tower of London Beefeater tour of the day starts at 10:00 (Tuesday to Saturday) or 10:30 on Sunday and Monday, and they run every 30 minutes. The last tour of the day starts at 15.30 (summer) or 14.30 (winter), so make sure you don’t miss out!
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If you can, arrive at opening time so you can go straight to see the Crown Jewels when you arrive, then come back to the entrance to join the first or second Yeoman Warder Tour of the day. The tours start from the moat area next to the entrance, follow the signs and wait next to the stone block where the Beefeater will stand to deliver their welcoming speech.
I joined a tour at 11 AM and the group was around 180 people, so these tours are also extremely popular. However, the Beefeaters all have booming voices so you shouldn’t struggle to hear them as they guide the group around.
What are Beefeaters?
Beefeaters are officially known as Yeoman Warders and are the Royal Bodyguard, part of the Yeomen of the Guard who have guarded the kings and queens of England since the 1400s. Although no one is 100% sure where their Beefeater nickname came from, it is thought that it came from their close position to the King, who allowed them to eat as much beef as they wanted from his table.
Henry VIII decided that the Tower of London should be guarded by the Beefeaters, and they have lived and worked in the Tower ever since.
How Do You Become a Beefeater?
They don’t allow just anyone to become a Beefeater, which is why the Yeoman Warders are held in such high regard. In order to become a Yeoman Warder today, they have to have served at least 22 years in the military, reached the rank of warrant officer and have been awarded a longer service and good conduct medal. Guarding the Crown Jewels as a Beefeater is a big deal! There are 37 men and women currently serving as Beefeaters, who all live within the Tower walls.
What is the Beefeater Uniform?
One of the things that make Beefeaters stand out is their unique uniform. For daily activities inside the Tower of London, Yeoman Warders wear a dark blue uniform with red trim, known as an ‘undress’ uniform. For state occasions, they also have a red state dress uniform, which also features on the bottle of London Beefeater Gin! Apparently, as a birthday gift, each Yeoman Warder gets a bottle of Beefeater gin on their birthday.
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What Does a Tower of London Beefeater Tour Include?
The Beefeater tours don’t go to every part of the Tower of London, but they do share some fascinating information about the Tower and its previous residents, so they really are an essential part of your visit to the Tower of London. They mostly stay outside, starting in the moat by the entrance, then going to the area outside the Tower’s Mint, the Bloody Tower and Traitor’s Gate, then up to the courtyard by the White Tower where the executions used to take place. Finally, you’ll get the chance to go inside the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, which is usually off-limits to the public unless accompanied by a Yeoman Warder.
ONLY IN JULY 2019: You can also catch a special talk given by the Yeoman Warders to celebrate the arrival of four new raven chicks, which will take place daily in July at 11am and 1.30pm next to the raven enclosure.
Other Things to See in the Tower of London
The Crown Jewels
The most popular attraction in the Tower of London is the Crown Jewels exhibition. I’d recommend coming straight here as soon as you get inside so you can enjoy a comfortable visit without too much of a wait. I walked straight into the exhibition, but later my Beefeater guide said the wait to get in to see the jewels can be up to two and a half hours! There are no photographs allowed inside, presumably for security reasons, so just admire the jewels on show.
There are some incredible pieces displayed, including the Coronation Regalia, a collection of items used in the coronation of English monarchs since 1661. Although the Crown Jewels here are real, most of the pieces are not the originals, as the majority of the Crown Jewels were destroyed after the English Civil War which ended in 1649. Oliver Cromwell ordered the destruction of the jewels, and when Charles II took the throne in 1660, he had them remade. The oldest piece in the collection is an 11th-century coronation spoon which survived the Civil War. You can find more details on the crown jewels displayed here.
The White Tower
Arguably the most famous castle in the world, the White Tower is at the centre of the Tower of London. It now houses part of the Royal Armouries collection (some of which is at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds), and a 350-year-old exhibition called the Line of Kings which includes suits of armour belonging to Henry VIII, Charles I and James II. There are daily guided tours of the White Tower at 10:45, 12:45 and 14:15, which are included in your entry ticket, or you can visit freely in your own time.
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These large black birds are members of the crow family and are also guardians of the Tower. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave, the Tower will fall, and they are almost as famous as the Beefeaters! In 2019 two of the resident ravens welcomed a family of raven chicks, and throughout July the Yeoman Warders will give special talks about the birds at 11am and 1.30pm. The ravens roam around the Tower freely, so don’t be alarmed if you see them. However, don’t get too close as they may bite! The Beefeaters feed the birds with a diet of mice, chicks, rats, raw meat and biscuits soaked in blood. Delicious.
The Bloody Tower
This tower housed some of the Tower of London’s most famous prisoners, including Sir Walter Raleigh. It is also infamous for the discovery of two bodies of young children, believed to be those of a 12-year-old Edward V and his younger brother. It is rumoured that their uncle, the future Richard III imprisoned them in the tower and had them killed so he could take the throne.
Check the map and official Tower of London website for full information about everything to see and do at the Tower of London on the dates of your visit.
Tower of London Guided Tours
Inside the Tower, you can hire an audio guide to explore at your own pace. These cost £5 each and are available in several different languages. You can also arrange guided tours which include early access to the Tower of London and other perks. Check out these options from GetYourGuide for suggestions:
When to Visit the Tower of London
As one of the most popular things to do in London, the Tower of London gets very busy indeed. Try to avoid busier periods like school holidays around summer and Easter and Bank Holiday weekends. I visited on a Saturday in May and although it was fairly quiet when I arrived, by lunchtime it was much busier. Plan your visit so you can arrive at the Tower as close to opening time as possible, 9 AM on the dot if you can!
Plan Your Visit to the Tower of London
In order to make the most of your time at the Tower of London, plan what you’re going to do in advance, so you don’t waste any precious time inside the Tower. Due to how busy the most popular attractions get, I’d suggest arriving as early as you can and starting with the Crown Jewels, followed by a Yeoman Warder tour then the White Tower. Use this Tower of London map to plan the rest of your day >>>VIEW MAP
5 Top Tips for Visiting the Tower of London
Book Your Ticket Online
Booking your Tower of London ticket online is not only cheaper, but it will save you valuable time queueing at the ticket office. However, you need to print off a paper copy of your ticket, e-tickets are not accepted at the gates. Buy your tickets on the official website here.
The earlier you can arrive at the Tower, the better. As one of the most popular things to do in London, the Tower of London gets over 2.5 million visitors each year, so the queues get very long!
Take Your Time
I spent about 4 hours at the Tower of London and still didn’t get to see everything, even though there were no queues. Depending on how many days you have in London, make sure you allow enough time to see what you want and taking into account possible queueing time.
Bring a Picnic
Although there is a restaurant, café and food kiosk inside the Tower of London, save money by bringing your own packed lunch and enjoying a picnic in the moat. The Tower even suggests bringing a blanket with you so you can have a picnic in this unique location – weather permitting of course!
Leave Your Luggage Somewhere Else
There are no luggage storage facilities at the Tower of London, and you aren’t allowed to bring large suitcases or bags with you. All smaller bags are searched at the entrance for security reasons and must be kept with you at all times.
Where to Stay in London
As the #wombatsTraveller ambassador for wombat’s Hostels, I stayed at the wombat’s London, a fabulous hostel which is about 10 minutes’ to the Tower of London. The hostel was spotlessly clean, the staff were friendly, and the location was unbeatable. Wombat’s London is close to Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and Tower Hill underground station, and is walking distance from Shoreditch and Brick Lane, Borough Market and plenty more places to see in London. Dorm rooms are great for backpackers or travellers on a budget, or you can treat yourself to a private room for all the perks of being in a hostel, with the privacy of your own room.
Have you taken a Tower of London Beefeater tour? What did you think? Do you have any more tips for things to see in the Tower of London? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.
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