November 11 is an interesting day to experience in London. While in the United States it is Veteran’s Day, in the UK and Commonwealth it is both Armistice Day and Remembrance Day. These holidays are observed to remember those who fought in England’s wars, primarily the Great War (WWI). Everyone wears a red poppy to commemorate fallen soldiers. 2014 was especially potent as it was the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.
My friend Maggie and I went to see the Tower of London on Remembrance Day, partly because they had a huge poppy display to mark the anniversary—one handcrafted and hand painted ceramic poppy for each British life lost in World War I. It was truly a memorable sight, and I’m so glad that I got to see it in person.
But while the display was wonderful to see, I was more excited about the Tower of London itself. I’ve wanted to see it ever since I read the Royal Diaries book about Elizabeth I. Needless to say, the tower is immense and impressive. Of course, it isn’t just one lone tower, despite the misleading name. The grounds have several buildings, all with thick walls that speak of fear of invasion. The tower is protected by Yeoman Warders (often called Beefeaters), who also give tours to visitors.
The tower was a direct result of the Norman conquest in 1066, and you can feel that sense of history as you stand in those buildings. Those walls have seen more kings, queens, traitors, and executions than you can possibly imagine, and the stats are staggering. The fated Anne Boleyn was imprisoned and executed there in 1536, and she wasn’t alone. 112 government sanctioned deaths were carried out on Tower Hill over a period of about 400 years. The place is also steeped in intrigue, thanks to stories like those of the princes in the tower.
But at the end of the day, the story of the tower isn’t necessarily a bloody one. It is essentially a fortress and castle that played an important role during British history, and even now it houses the priceless crown jewels of the monarchy.
You can visit the tower for a little over £20, and can even save a few pennies by purchasing tickets online instead of onsite. They do offer student and child discounts, so be sure to ask for the correct ticket. If you’ll be in England for a while, they also offer membership options that grant you access to Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, and Hillsborough Castle.