Blood. That’s what gives the Tower of London its infamous reputation. That’s what underpinned last year’s spectacle of 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat. That’s what we’re waiting for in the BBC Two adaptation of Wolf Hall, as hoity-toity Anne Boleyn finally gets her comeuppance.
Little matter that Henry VIII actually had only four people beheaded in the Tower, that the really brutal executions were outside on Tower Hill or at Tyburn, and that the fortress was a working royal palace, mint and menagerie that doubled as a prison from which many people were released.
It’s still a remaining fragment of horror in the modern capital and a reminder of the brute force of Norman architecture.
It’s also a cracking day out, if a trifle hard on the legs. Building works will continue until late 2015 ("first new scaffold for 500 years," said a staff member drily), so expect minor disruptions.
How To Get There
Take a vintage Routemaster No 15 and trundle from Charing Cross up on to Tower Hill, with the fortress spread below. Or the RV1, which goes south of the river from Aldwych and swoops back over Tower Bridge.
To Tower Millennium Pier from Greenwich, passing through Tower Bridge, or from the City of Westminster. On busy afternoons the return queues are huge, which can be a killer for tired children, so consider returning by Tube.
Thames Clippers offers single tickets from Embankment to Tower Millennium Pier for £7.15 (A$14.80) adults, £3.60 (A$7) Freedom Pass holders and children aged 5 to 15. River Roamers cost £14.70 (A$29) adults, £7.35 (A$14.50) children.
City Cruises offer single tickets for £8.78 (A$17.30) adults, £6.15 (A$12) concessions and £4.39 (A$8.60) children, or combined River Cruise and Tower of London entry £26.78 (A$52.90) adults, £21.42 (A$42.39) concessions, £13.37 (A$26.40) children (prices rise on April 1.)
The nearest Underground station is Tower Hill, connected to the site by a hideous concrete underpass. Or get the DLR to Tower Gateway and cross to use the underpass – the road crossings to the moat are horrible.
Tour Or No Tour?
Stand still and listen for the parade-ground bellow of a Yeoman Warder (all ex-service personnel). That’s one of their free, hour-long tours, which go every 30 minutes, and I defy you not to jump out of your skin at least once. Because they live with their families in the Tower, they have great insider knowledge, good stories and some truly awful jokes.
The last tour leaves at 2.30pm in winter, 3.30pm from March 1.
Multimedia guides offer five different routes, including a special family trail with ‘raven’ guides, perfect if you want to potter about at your leisure. £4 (A$7.90) adults, £3 (A$5.90) concessions and under-16s, £12 (A$23.70) families (up to two adults and three children.)
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Highlights For Adults
Prisoner graffiti in the Beauchamp and Salt Towers
Some beautiful, some plaintive, all moving – though no sympathy for the nitwit who, while imprisoned for sorcery in the Salt Tower, carved a sinister magical symbol on the wall.
The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, near the execution site, contains the headless bodies of three queens (including Anne Boleyn) and two saints. The sturdy Norman Chapel of St John’s is tucked into the White Tower wall.
Worth the queues, honest. Don’t miss Cullinan I, the biggest flawless and colourless cut diamond on earth, which is embedded in the royal sceptre, and George IV’s fabulously naff silver-gilt punch bowl, the size of a small hip-bath.
Highlights For Children
It’s mesmerising, the place where Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were executed. Though it’s not the exact place – that we may never know and it may have moved anyway – and the glass memorial needs repairing.
Raven feeding time
These huge, glossy black birds with their hoarse croaks have four territories around the Tower. Watch them sidle about and splash in baths.
One on the south side and one on the east, reached by scampering up and down creepy, twirly stairs and steep outdoor steps.
Best Time To Visit
Late on a winter afternoon, as the atmosphere builds. Dress for it, though, the wind whistles through every battlement and arrow slit.
Where To Eat
The New Armouries Restaurant inside the Tower is excellent and huge, so you can usually get a table. It closes at 4pm in winter (5pm from March 1). The Perkin Reveller outside on the wharf is pricier and, in my experience, the service is slow, so walk under Tower Bridge to St Katharine Docks for more choice, or cross the bridge for great views and Italian food at Strada Riverside.
The South Wall Walk from the Wakefield Tower to the Lanthorn Tower: From here you can imagine Anne Boleyn arriving triumphant from Greenwich in a splendid river procession before her coronation in 1533, and re-entering through Traitors’ Gate three years later for her execution. Her apartments no longer exist.
Keep an eye on the Jewel House queue and its quirky dynamics and pounce as soon as it shortens. Leave enough time as it shuts half an hour after closing time.
The Tower of London opens in winter 9am to 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday and 10am to 4.30pm Sunday and Monday; from March 1 it will stay open for an additional hour in the afternoon and entry prices rise slightly.
Tickets cost £22 (A$43.50) for adults (£20.90 when booked online), £11 (A$21.70) (£10.45) for children ages 5-15, £18.70 (A$36.90) (£17.60) for concessions.
This article was written by Sophie Campbell from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.