The Tower of London – 1000 years of British History
The Tower of London for kids? How about 1000 years of British history, executions, fallen monarchs, mysteries, legends & a bit of gore! What’s not to love? After developing a keen interest in Tudor history, we were intent on including the famous Tower on our London itinerary. Boy did it live up to our expectations! The Tower of London was founded by William the Conqueror back in 1066. Mind blowing right?! It was also the place where Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, was kept and eventually executed. You can even see the (approximate) spot where the executions took place. Here are our top tips for making the most of your visit and some suggestions for resources to check out before your visit. Read on!
Not only will you save money on the entry fee but you’ll also avoid having to queue to buy a ticket. You will, however, still have to queue to get into the Tower of London as there’s no fast track entry system.
Visit the Crown Jewels First
Head straight to the Crown Jewels as the queues get really long as the day goes on. We visited during the Christmas holidays and were able to walk straight in. Result! We had plenty of time to look at the famous jewels in complete peace and tranquility. It felt like a private viewing. By the afternoon, a long queue had developed…
Pick Up a Free Children’s Activity Trail Pack
It’s well worth popping to the information desk BEFORE you head into the Tower of London to pick up a children’s activity pack. They’re free and they’ll keep your little ones interested. If you follow the above advice about visiting the crown jewels first, make sure you pick the trail up from the entrance of the Tower. (Yes, big failure on our part which led to lots of confusion as to where to find the answers to the questions).
Don’t Bother With The Audio Guides
I decided that for once I would pay extra for the audio guides and booked them online. When we turned up we were told that we had to choose either the adult OR the child audio guide as they followed different routes. We chose the children’s version, however, we found them a bit awkward to use and the kids weren’t particularly enthralled by the experience. Just stick with the freebie activity pack.
Download the Time Explorers App
Since visiting, I’ve read about the recently launched Time Explorers App which you can download to your mobile. Your children can then join in digital missions where they meet historical characters and help them solve problems whilst exploring the palace. It sounds like fun!
Yeoman Warder Guided Tours
There are regular organized guided tours led by the Yeoman Warders. They take place every 30 minutes and last 1 hour. Our timing didn’t work out for joining one – mostly because we wanted to beat the crowds for the Crown Jewels and didn’t fancy visiting ‘en masse’ with a large group. However, every now and again we would happen upon a guide and would listen intently to their animated, entertaining talks.
Chat to the Staff or the Yeoman Warders
We found them to be very friendly when we spoke to them or had any particular questions. Apparently the Yeoman Warders are all ex-service personnel and must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years amongst other prerequisites to obtain this coveted position. By the way, don’t make the mistake of calling them Beefeaters!
Check the Calendar for Special Events and Live Reenactements
If you’re going during school holidays, there will most likely be some special event on for children – check out for instance the Knight school taking place during the February school holidays. Looks like so much fun!
One of the highlights for Miss 8 and Mr 10 was watching the actors’ live interpretations in the medieval palace. We happened upon it by chance but I would definitely ask at the entrance to the Tower if we went back or check the Tower’s website.
Don’t Expect to See Everything
Kids’ attention span only lasts so long so be prepared for the fact that you may not manage to see everything. The website recommends allowing at least 3 hours to visit everything. We spent around 4 hours including a quick lunch break and we still didn’t see it all. It’s a very large site so why not have a list prepared ahead of your absolute must-see sites. Our highlights were the crown jewels (obviously), walking along the battlement walls, the live actor reenactements, the glass pillow at the execution site and the traitor’s gate for a bit of gore!
Changing of the guards
We were fascinated to watch the changing of the guards who are stationed here to protect the Crown Jewels. Ask a yeoman warder for the timings of the changes.
Keep Warm & Have Snacks at the Ready
It was a cold, windy day when we visited and we were grateful for the snacks that we’d brought in with us. We did pop into the lovely Tower café for something more substantial to eat at lunchtime. We went bang on 12 o’clock to avoid the crowds. Obviously, if visiting in spring or summer, you probably wouldn’t need to worry so much about keeping warm. Pack a raincoat or umbrella in case of inclement weather as you’ll spend quite a lot of time outdoors.
Tailor Your Visit to Your Children’s Ages
Unsurprisingly some of the history of the Tower is rather gory and gruesome! For instance, one room tells the story of Richard III who emprisoned his two young nephews and how years later, a chest was found with two human skeletons believed to be (but never confirmed) as the remains of the young princes. You know your children best so be sure to tailor your visit appropriately. You don’t want them having any nightmares!
Get the Kids Interested Beforehand
Do some research, watch some online youtube videos, read some books. It’ll make the visit come to life and you’ll appreciate your time at the Tower all the more. This makes a world of difference with our kids. They absolutely love identifying places/things that they’ve seen on tv (or in a video clip). Here are some of the resources we used:
This is a short, fun video that’s been made for kids by kids:
This next video gives an overview of the Time Explorers mission (I don’t think they actually lend out tablets as shown in the video. I think you simply download the app onto your own mobile device).
Our favourite – Horrible Histories! A short clip on the origins of why the ravens are kept at the Tower.
Next up is an overview of the Tower which has been created for school groups but it’s really helpful to bring your visit to life:
You could also create your own treasure trail or scavenger hunt. Get the kids to spot the ravens, a yeoman warder, the glass pillow, the lions, the polar bear – not too obscure or they may lose interest (depending on age of course).
How to get there
Check the London online travel planner – it’s a lifesaver!
Where We Stayed
If you’re looking for a hotel close to the Tower of London, check this one out! We bagged an incredible deal at the Tower Bridge Novotel. It’s a stone’s throw from both the Tower of London and the Tower Hill underground stop. We are members of the Accor Hotel loyalty programme and regularly received special private sale offers. We hit the jackpot with this one – £90 for a family room including breakfast. So get yourself signed up to the Accor hotel loyalty programme – not only will you receive special offers but you can also accumulate points which you can redeem against stays in their hotels.
Bonus Tip – Stop and Take in the Views
The views from the Tower of London are fantastic. On one side, you can see the fairytale Tower Bridge and on the other, you’ll find the wonderful juxtaposition of old and new. We were all rather taken with the futuristic buildings which include the Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie, the Cheesegrater and the Shard.
Hopefully we’ve convinced you that the Tower of London should feature in your next trip to London! Do let us know in the comments if you have any other hints and tips for the visiting the Tower of London with kids.
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