The Tower of London
Visiting the Tower of London should definitely be on your list of things to do while in London. Honestly, it was one of our favorite things we did as a family. To get the full effect, you have to take a tour guided by one of the Yeoman Warders. It made our visit so interesting seeing the fortress through the eyes of “Billy the Beefeater”. The Beefeaters are the guards of the tower known officially as the Yeoman Warders. Henry VII founded the Yeoman Warders in 1485 and the nickname Beefeaters was most likely given to the royal bodyguards because they were allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted from the King’s table. When you go on the tour, do your best to get Billy as your guide. A unique point of view is delivered from a man who served over 22 years in the U.K. Army, holds a historian degree, and was a medic during his time in the armed services. He lives in the castle, so he is taking you on a tour of his home, community, and through the history of the Tower. You will be laughing non-stop while receiving a great history lesson during the tour. Billy may have missed his calling in life as a stand up comedian and could easily get a job on Saturday Night Live. At the end of tour he encourages you to follow him on Facebook @billythebeefeater for follow up questions about anything!
We asked our kids what they liked most about the tour, there were 3 things that stood out to them:
1. They loved Billy’s story of the obese King (King Henry VIII) who also suffered from diseases that could have been treated with penicillin in modern times. While learning how the King tortured his wives who could not bare him a son and beheaded Anne Boleyn. After her beheading it is said that her eyes were still wondering back and forth while she continued mouthing prayers. It is astounding to think that all of this happened on what is now a vibrant green lawn surrounded by the beautiful buildings of the Tower.
2. The moat construction stories made our kids really laugh. The original moat was constructed in such a manner that when the Thames River would recede, the moat would run dry rendering it useless. After the moat was deepened, it was soon discovered that it was now a low point and collected all off the runoff from the castle as well as the surrounding London medieval streets. You can use your imagination to decide what ended up in that moat (hint: they didn’t have central plumbing in those days!).
3. The Crown Jewels and bizarre animals that were given as gifts from other royal families around the world were an interesting topic. You will be amazed by the jewels, the size of the diamonds in their crowns, and the detail of the design in the gold punch bowl that holds 144 bottles of wine! Some of the exotic animal gifts (what else do you give a king?!) from other royals around the world included lions, polar bears, and monkeys. In most cases, the staff had no idea how to care for the exotic animals which resulted in the animals dying or them mauling people.
This tour is a must when visiting London and you can buy tickets in advance online here: Tower of London Tickets
Hot travel tip…if you want to go for free, look into attending the church service at the chapel on Sundays and your entry to the Tower is free!!