The Tower of London ★★★

The Tower of London (Photo by Duncan)
The Tower of London, where London began and the Crown Jewels are kept

The ancient Thameside castle at the heart of London, where London began, ravens roam, and Yoeman Warders guard the Crown Jewels

You'd best come early to beat the long lines at London’s best medieval attraction, a site of intrigue, murder, and executions galore.

The hour-long tours guided by Yoeman Warder guards (nicknamed "Beefeaters") are highly entertaining and informative—and are included in the admission.

You want to explore more on your own, too, so count on at least another full hour to investigate the Crown Jewels, the Armory, and such.

The Beefeaters take you past the Bloody Tower where Sir Walter Raleigh awaited execution for 13 years and where King Edward IV’s two young sons were murdered.

You walk through the 900-year-old White Tower, still housing an armory of swords and plate mail, as well as a gruesome collection of torture instruments, and into Tower Green, where Thomas Moore, Lady Jane Grey, and two of Henry VIII’s wives (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) were beheaded.

All those gory stories should be enough trade-off for the kids when you have to wait in a long line to be whisked past the Crown Jewels on a moving sidewalk.

As you cruise past the jewels, be sure to drool over the world’s largest cut diamond, the 530-carat Star of Africa (set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre), and to stare aghast at Queen Victoria’s Imperial State Crown (still worn on occasion), studded with more than 3,000 jewels.

Also say hello to the resident ravens on their plot of grass by the White Tower. This is a rather pampered flock of birds, since legend holds that the Tower will stand as long as they remain.

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How long should I spend at the Tower of London?

Budget at least 2 hours for the Tower, prerferably three. The included tour eats up an hour, and the Crown Jewels and White Tower at least another 30 minutes each.