Overlooking the River Thames, the Tower of London protected the city for nearly 1,000 years. Today it's largely a museum, and a fascinating look into the past.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
The Tower of London. Even the name sounds cool. Founded in 1066, the castle has at times been a royal residence, a prison, a mint, an armory and more. Its imposing stone facades still watch over the River Thames, even though her days as a defensive fortress are long gone.
The setting and inspiration for countless scenes, shows and movies, the Tower is one of the iconic symbols of London, and the UK as a whole.
Today, you can tour the vast majority of the Tower, with many buildings functioning as museums-within-a-museum. It's a look back into the past of one of the most powerful nations in history.
The best way to approach the Tower is by walking. Start out by Big Ben and Parliament, then follow the curve of the river past St. Paul's on your left, and on the other side of the river, the museum ship HMS Belfast. It's a beautiful walk if you're lucky enough to visit London on the one day it enjoys sunshine each year. You'll soon see the iconic spires of Tower Bridge (which is not, as is commonly mistaken, called "London Bridge" -- that's a different bridge). Then to the left, you'll see the Tower's keep, called the White Tower.
Tickets bought (and they're probably the most expensive of any castle or museum you'll ever visit), you cross through Middle Tower over what was once a moat, but is now grass. Byward Tower is next, and gets you access to the citadel itself.
Passing through the huge stone walls is like stepping back in time. Inside the Outer Ward, rows of brick and Tudor-style houses line the casemates on what's called Mint Street, revealing the Tower to be the walled city it eventually became. The view from these houses isn't great, however, since the walls of the Inner Ward are directly across the lane.
From here, though, you're free to explore, unless you follow one of the Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters) on a guided tour -- and I recommend doing that. There are also audio guides.
With or without the audio guide, the Tower is a great place to explore. Walk along the walls and see the city, imagining how it must have looked in the days before all the glass and steel skyscrapers. Walk through the various towers integrated into the walls, each with their own slice of history. Check out the infamous Traitor's Gate, and the huge Waterloo Block, once a barracks, now home to the Crown Jewels.
Then, it's time for the White Tower. It's one of the largest intact keeps in the world, and looks like a castle-within-a-castle. Inside are artifacts and displays dating back hundreds of years. From kingly armor and weapons to cannon and even a dragon, everything you'd expect to find in a castle is here, on display.
There's a lot to explore, and even if you don't take the time to listen to every audio stop, or watch the various events that happen throughout the day, it will still take the better part of an afternoon just to wander through and see everything.
And when you're done walk back out towards the river, pass Traitor's Gate, and walk across Tower Bridge (or tour that too, there's a great view of the river). From the other side you can get a better look at how it all looks, and how it must have looked with the Pool of London packed full of sailing ships and history.