Tower of London Beefeater tour
Culture | Europe | Museums

Tower of London Beefeater tour experience

Today, the Tower of London might seem like a charming castle dropped smack down the middle of a modern city. That wasn’t always the case during its 900+ years of history.  Its purpose: to awe and intimidate royal subjects and enemies. Over the centuries, it was also a place of death and torture. You can learn all about it and its famous residents during the Tower of London Beefeater tour.

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Tower of London history

After his victory at Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror started to expand his London fortress with a new and imposing stone tower.  Partly to intimidate and awe Londoners, and partly to keep them out. The new structure took about 20 years to complete using whitewashed stones imported from France. It is known as the White Tower. The current design of the whole complex is a result of additional expansions over the years.  

Tower of London from the water
The Tower of London

The Tower of London history is as fascinating and it is ruthless. The Tower has played an important part in England’s history since its beginning. It was a royal residence, a prison and home to a menagerie of wild animals. The royal mint, a records office, as well as an armoury and barracks for troops, had a home here.

You can’t talk about the Tower of London history without mentioning its role as a brutal prison and place of executions. Many Londoners, including royals and commoners, have lost their lives here. Their heads often adorning its gates as a grim warning to everyone else. Treason was often the name of the game and stakes were very high.

Famous residents and prisoners

The Tower of London was a place of luxury and misery. Many important prisoners lost their lives and heads here. Whatever their crime, they all arrived the same way – down the river Thames and through the Traitor’s Gate. Upon arrival, the awaiting Yeoman Warders took them to await their fate, which usually meant death.

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Four of Britain’s queens have entered the gates as prisoners.  Two of them were Henry VIII’s wives – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – the others were Jayne Gray and young Elizabeth Tudor. Only one of them managed to walk out alive. In case you’re not a history buff, it was Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter with Anne Boleyn. She went on to rule England for 44 years!

If you enjoy reading about the Tower of London, you might enjoy Castles in Kent!

Edward IV’s two sons – often referred to as the Princes in the Tower – also met their tragic end at the Tower of London.  The boys disappeared one day in 1483, while in the care of their uncle. The uncle, suspected of their murder, eventually became Richard III.  Two skeletons matching the boys’ age when they disappeared were unearthed in 1674 and tested in 1933, adding credibility to this story.

Yeoman Warders – why are they called Beefeaters?

Yeoman Warders, the Tower’s official guardians, became a staple during the reign of Henry VII. As his personal bodyguards, they lived and travelled with the king and enjoyed special privileges. One of those privileges was access to the king’s table. As the story goes, the guards received beef portions as part of their pay and had unlimited access to the meat at the table. Hence, they became known as Beefeaters. Some Beefeaters today happen to be vegetarian, which makes the nickname a bit ironic.  

Yeoman warder also know as the Beefeater
famous Yeoman Warders known as Beefeaters

The Beefeaters became a permanent staple at the Tower to guard it. Their main role was to look after prisoners and crown jewels. It was a post of privilege and honour. Today, there are 37 Yeomen Warders living at the Tower. To become eligible for the Yeomen Warder post, you need to be retired from the Armed Forces with at least 22 years of service reaching the rank of warrant officer and hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.

While today their role is mostly ceremonial, the Warders also act as greeters and guides and carry out the daily Ceremony of the Keys.  

The Tower of London Beefeater tour

The Tower of London Beefeater tour is an experience unlike any other. After all, this is their home and they know the place like the back of their hand. The tours are every half hour and there is no additional cost on top of your admission ticket to take them.

I was very excited to visit the Tower of London and even more so at the opportunity to partake in the Beefeater tour. Maybe it was the history nerd in me or that the Tower has such an important past. Either way, my visit here was an important stop during my London trip and it’s something I definitely recommend to everyone.  

Tower green
Tower of London today

My experience started with a guided tour by one of the Yeoman Warders named John. For about an hour, he entertained us with educational and insightful tales of the tower’s history. The Beefeaters, it seems, are also great storytellers and offer many interesting details about their home.

The Tower of London today

John, like the rest of the Yeoman Warders, lives on the premises. The Warders and their families rent out apartments in the complex, a tradition dating back to the 13th century. There is also a doctor on the property and a chaplain that looks after the chapel. There is even a special pub here, reserved only for the Warders.

Our tour included colourful stories of the Traitor’s Gate, the Bloody Tower and the many ghosts that supposedly make an occasional appearance.  With the many laughing and happy faces around me, it was hard to imagine this place as a place of death and torture.

A quick visit to the torture exhibit and a stop amidst the gardens, where the memorial to those executed here lies, is a sombre reminder of the Tower’s dark past. While today it’s a pleasant spot, it wasn’t always so. A simple inscription reads,  

“Let them rest in peace as we pass through the generations around their struggles and their courage.”

St. Peter ad Vincula

The chapel at the Tower of London is accessible only by being part of the Beefeater tour. As we entered, John asked us to sit and be respectful before he told us its history. The church still holds religious services as it has for centuries.

As the story goes, Queen Victoria’s decision to restore the chapel led to discovering many headless corpses beneath the floor on which we were seated. I must admit, I had a few unpleasant scenarios cross my mind as I tried to picture the discovery. The remains have since been respectfully reburied behind a marble slab, but that didn’t stop the little hairs on the back of my neck from standing up.   

london tower
Outside wall of the tower complex

Branding someone a traitor meant that his or her body didn’t warrant a proper burial after death. Traitors’ heads often adorned the spikes at the London Bridge, while their corpses ended up beneath the church’s floor.

Torture and confinement at the Tower

The prisoners held at the Tower of London experienced various ways of confinement. One’s crime and social status often played a deciding factor in how their imprisonment looked like. While some languished locked up in the dungeons, others suffered in solitary confinement. Those of higher stature and wealth had more freedom to move around the property, with some even having servants at their disposal.

traitor's gate
Beefeater tour highlights

You can tour the Beauchamp Tower to the west of Tower Green, where you’ll find graffiti carvings of some famous prisoners, including Robert Dudley and his brothers. The tower, built around 1281, has houses prisoners for centuries and provides a deep connection to the past.

Tower of London Beefeater tour experience | kasiawrites

For an exhibition about torture methods and instruments used at the Tower, head over to the Lower Wakefield Tower. Even though the various devices are replicas of the originals, they still provide a very grim picture of the pain inflicted on many tortured here.

Royal Armouries Collection  

For a glimpse of military armour of the royals, head over to the White Tower. From Henry VIII’s tournament armour to the gilded ones of Charles I and James II, the Line of Kings will impress you.  While it might be hard to imagine Henry fitting into the fancy silver armour with fine engravings, we should remember that he wasn’t always as large as he was in his later life.

armoury
Tower of London armouries

You’ll also have an opportunity to check out pieces worn by noblemen and common soldiers through time.

Tower of London crown jewels

For a less sombre experience, head over to see royal crown jewels, still used in present-day ceremonies. The jewels have been stored and displayed here since 1661. As the Tower of London was the most secure stronghold, many valuable royal objects found their way here over the years.  Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside.

London tower
Tower of London

The world-famous collection of 23,578 gemstones, displayed in glass cases, dazzle visitors thanks to strategically positioned lighting and settings. You can also learn about the different pieces, how they are used during royal ceremonies and their symbolism. You can always imagine yourself wearing them too.

Animals at the Tower

The Tower of London Beefeater tour is also a great way to learn about the many animals that lived here. For over 600 years, the Tower was home to polar bears, lions, tigers, monkeys, zebras, elephants, ostriches and even kangaroos. Various visiting dignitaries bestowed wild animals upon the king, a common practice in European courts of the day.

Exotic animals, especially those not native to the land, became objects of curiosity of the court and a status symbol of the monarchy. During the 19th century, the animals found a new home at a newly created zoo in Kensington Garden, ending their presence at the Tower. Today, you can see various statues dedicated to the types of animals once house here.

The ravens of the Tower of London

The ravens have made the Tower their home for as long as anyone can remember. According to the legend, the Tower of London and the entire kingdom will fall if the ravens ever leave the fortress. Today, seven ravens live at the Tower. Under the care of the Ravenmaster, the birds eat an assortment of raw meats twice a day with a special treat of biscuits soaked in blood. Mmmmm. Nothing but the best.

You might see the birds on the grounds during your visit and it’s advisable not to feed them yourself.

Tickets and prices 

Online 

 

Online price

with donation

Members 

Free

Free

Adult (age 18-59)

£22.70

£25.00

Age 60+ or 16-17, full-time student, disabled visitor

£17.70

£19.50

Child (age 5-15) *

£10.75

£11.90

Child (age 0-4) *

Free

Free

Family saver 1 (1 adult & up to 3 children)

£40.80

£44.90

Family saver 2 (2 adults & up to 3 children)

£57.80

£63.60

Groups of 15 or more

Varies

Varies

Audio guides

From £4.00

 

Guidebooks

From £4.99

 

Walk-up 

 

Walk-up price

with donation

Adult (age 18-59)

£26.80

£29.50

Concession

£20.90

£23

Child (age 5-15) *

£12.70

£14

Child (age 0-4) *

Free

Free

Family saver 1 (1 adult & up to 3 children)

£48.10

£53

Family saver 2 (2 adults & up to 3 children)

£68.10

£75

Visit the official Tower of London website for booking information. 

Tower of London Beefeater tour experience | kasiawrites

Opening times

The Tower of London is open daily with the exception of December 24-26 and January 1.

March 1 – October 31

Tuesday-Saturday: 9 am to 5:30 pm
Sunday-Monday: 10 am to 5:30 pm

Last admission: 5 pm

November 1 – February 28

Tuesday-Saturday: 9 am to 4:30 pm
Sunday-Monday: 10 am to 4:30 pm

Last admission: 4 pm

Getting here

Detailed travel information for your visit to the Tower of London.

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    teacakesand
    20 Apr 2017
    8:24am

    Fascinating. Despite being British, I had no idea about the beefeaters and their namesake. You really do learn something new everyday… great post! 🙂

      kasiawrites
      20 Apr 2017
      9:13am

      Thank you! Glad you like it! The name was always weird to me but now It makes sense 😁

    Satpura Tiger Reserve
    27 Apr 2017
    4:56am

    Entrancing. Regardless of being British, I had no clue about the beefeaters and their namesake. You truly do gain some new useful knowledge regular..

      kasiawrites
      27 Apr 2017
      9:11am

      Very true! Glad you enjoyed the read

    Margita
    30 Nov 2017
    4:04pm

    Great post. You were literally 2 minutes from me!!!!

      kasiawrites
      30 Nov 2017
      4:05pm

      Ha! What are the odds! It took only Iceland to meet 🙈

    Dippy Dotty Girl
    7 Apr 2019
    6:49am

    One of my earliest memories of London. I remember being fascinated by the beefeaters, their impressive girth and booming voices. Gave credence to the history behind the term beefeater. This was an informative and interesting piece, Kasia.

      kasiawrites
      7 Apr 2019
      1:47pm

      Thank you! I found all of the history of the London Tower fascinating. The beefeaters were a nice touch to the history and authenticity of the place.