HM Tower of London

Built by William the Conqueror in 1078 on the banks of the River Thames, the sprawling tower complex has been used as a palace, prison and fortress during its nearly 1000 year history.

In 1066 Edward the Confessor died childless, leaving several claimants vying for the throne. After William, Duke of Normandy, defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings he sent an advance guard to London to construct a fortress to secure the city. On his arrival in London, William replaced these early defences with a great stone tower – a monument to his physical power that was intended to strike fear into the unruly citizens and to deter foreign invaders. Standing at 27m tall 'The White Tower' dominated the skyline, and nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before.

There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. There are now 12 individual tower buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. Each has its own story to tell; for more than 600 years there was a Royal Menagerie at the site boasting wild and exotic creatures, while the tower buildings have also housed the Royal Mint, the Royal Observatory and HM Prison – where both Anne Boelyn, Elizabeth I, Guy Fawkes and the Jesuit were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured.

According to legend, the kingdom and the tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress. Charles II insisted that the birds should be protected and to this day there are still seven ravens on site – to include one spare – and their lodgings can be found next to the Wakefield Tower.

HM Tower of London was one of the finalists for Museum of the Year 2015. To find out more about why it made the short list, watch our video.

Permanent collections

William's White Tower remains at the heart of the complex, which contains the 11th-century Chapel of St John the Evangelist, the Royal Armouries – including the armour of Henry VIII, Charles I and James II – and the block and axe that were used in last public beheading on Tower Hill in 1747.

The Wakefield Tower holds an exhibition about prisoners and torture, while the Brick Tower's Royal Beasts explores the inhabitants of the menagerie – which included lions and a polar bear.

In 2014 major art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, paid tribute to 100 years since Britain's involvement in the First World War. Created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, 888,246 ceramic poppies progressively filled the tower's famous moat between 17 July and 11 November, each representing a British military or colonial fatality during the war. 

Visitor information

Download or stream our free audio guide to HM Tower of London​, provided by VocalEyes, a nationwide audio description charity that provides access to the arts for blind and partially sighted people.

Venue details

HM Tower of London London EC3N 4AB 0844 4827777

Entry details

Standard entry £22