After a good night’s rest, we were up and ready (after our breakfast including tea and mushrooms, of course!) to hit two major sites in one day – the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. I had read in Rick Steves London 2019 guidebook that you could do them both in a day so with our tickets in hand we set off.
We took the Tube to Tower Hill Station and arrived well before the Tower was open for tourists. We got a delicious hot chocolate and coffee from a little stand nearby and waited in the rain. Right in front of us was Tower Bridge and our first time seeing it. So cool!
We noticed people starting to line up under a canopy to get in, so we followed the crowd. Baa! 😉 It was also raining, so…
As we waited, we got to see the first of many pieces of the Tower of London Menagerie. These wire sculptures were commissioned in 2010 and represent the peculiar gifts given to monarchs over 600 years. I had seen a documentary about them and was excited to see them in person. They really are works of art!
The first thing we wanted to do once we got through the gates was head straight to the Jewel House and see the Crown Jewels before the crowds hit. Definitely a good decision – thanks, Mr Steves!
Basically, you’re walking into a big vault. No photos at all are allowed inside but trust me when I say…everything GLITTERED! Like nothing you’ve ever seen, ever! I thought the tiaras the previous day at Kensington Palace were sparkly, but well…the Crown Jewels blew everything else out of the water! I started to get really emotional seeing these objects that I had been obsessed with since childhood. Ok, I admit, I pretty much lost it!! They’re just such incredible, priceless objects of history and to see them in person was so surreal! 🙂
There is a moving walkway that takes you past the really big stuff of The Coronation Regalia; the Imperial State Crown, the Koh-i-nûr and Cullinan diamonds. Oh my goodness! Where are my smelling salts? Luckily, since we were pretty much the only people in there so we were able to go around twice and really take it all in. Probably could have done 3-4 times, actually! It was overwhelming and I wanted to spend all day in there just to soak each piece (and diamond) in. I just really hope I get to see them again someday.
We ventured back outside to explore the rest of the grounds. Took an obligatory photo of a red-coated guard and wandered around Tower Green to see the housing where the Yeoman Warders live and work. In the courtyard is a poignant, glass memorial dedicated to those who died at the Tower like two of Henry VIII’s wives; Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and poor Lady Jane Grey. A lovely tribute, I thought.
We then went to meet up with one of the Yeoman Warder tours. Unfortunately, due to the rain we were told it would be a quick tour and would be held inside rather than touring more outside. But fortunately, and to my delight, we were taken inside Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula. This is where Anne Boleyn is actually buried so I was super excited to see this spot! Our Warder was very entertaining and knowledgeable. The warders are very proud of their service. They serve at least 22 years in the military and must be of the highest standards to be offered a position at the Tower.
We headed to the White Tower to see the Royal Armory. As a lover of Tudor history, I was particularly keen to see Henry VIII’s armor. The intricate engraving and designs were mind boggling considering when they were made! It must have taken months and months to do all that fancy work!
I really enjoyed seeing the medieval graffiti on the walls in the White Tower and the stonework was so beautiful. Definitely built to last! Traitor’s Gate itself was a treat to see. We had to stand for a moment and imagine the future Queen Elizabeth I arriving through the gate under her sister’s arrest order. In the end, she did not meet the same fate as her mother, Anne Boleyn, who never left the Tower alive.
We easily could have spent the entire day at the Tower of London but we had timed tickets to Westminster Abbey and had to get going. On our way out, we bumped into one of the real celebrities of the Tower – a Tower raven! The old tradition/superstition is that if the ravens ever leave the tower, the kingdom will fall, so seven ravens have always been kept at the Tower since the 1600s. I’ve never been so excited to see a bird in my life and I was so happy he/she posed for a photo!
We hopped on a boat to travel up the Thames to Westminster Abbey. Such a sight from the water!
Have you been to the Tower of London? What is your favourite thing to see? Would love to know what we missed first time around.
Next up: Westminster Abbey!