What better way to see the sites than on a guided tour? On our way through London, I thought it would be best to view some historic landmarks of London in the little time we had in town. I studied a few of the sightseeing tours that were being offered and ran across City Wonders tours, which offered tours around London. The one that caught my attention was Best of Royal London Tour, so we signed up!
We started out early in the morning and met with our City Wonders tour guide, Augusta, just outside the Tower of London at 8:15 a.m. Though we arrived a little late, she met us enthusiastically and warmly welcomed us to the group. It was good size group of 20 of us. We waited a few minutes and started walking towards the gates of the Tower of London, our first stop.
Once at the outer gates, our group was ushered through the main entrance by a Yeoman Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace, often called Beefeaters (because part of their salary was paid with chunks of beef back in the day). We walked down towards Traitor’s Gate and the Bloody Tower, where we were asked to stand behind a line on the floor and wait. He kept us entertained with his stories and explained to us the history and tradition of the “Opening Ceremony” of the Tower of London and how the ceremony would unfold.
We were asked to be quiet and to put away all our camera equipment including our phones (No pictures allowed) doing the ceremony. At precisely 9.00 a.m. the “Opening Ceremony” began. Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower comes out of the Byward Tower, dressed in red, carrying in one hand the Queen’s Keys and walks to Trailor’s Gate to meet members of the duty regiment Foot Guards. They walked in step and escorted him throughout the ceremory to the outer gate, which is then unlocked. The military escort walked back down to the main gates of the Tower and then halted by the sentry, who challenged them to identify themselves (all part of the ceremony). It was quite an experience to hear those boots marching smartly on the pavement with all of us silently watching.
The tradition of opening of the Tower of London and has taken place every day, without fail, for at least 20 years and takes place again in the evening in the gate-closing ritual. The importance of securing this fortress every day is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at this royal palace, the Crown Jewels and many other valuables still do!
After the ceremony, we had about an hour to roam around the property. We rushed in to see the crown jewels first, which are on display under heavy glass and on a moving walking path. When one of the crowns is being used by the queen, the case is empty with a note (in use).
In the museum, there are several displays of different types of armor and the busts of the kind of horses they rode, including a small set worn by the Boy King, Edward. There is an entire room dedicated solely to weapons, including some interactive sets where you can attempt to pull back different draw-strings or lift heavy swords. The Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After touring the grounds of the Tower of London, we all gathered at the front entrance and were given headsets.
We walked over to the Thames Clipper stop (Tower Millennium Pier) by the Tower of London and waited a few minutes until our boat arrived. Even though it was a fairly warm day for London, I had on a jacket which kept me warm waiting along the river. The Thames Clippers is a river bus service on the River Thames in London. It operates commuter services between eastern and central London and is certainly a great way to rest from a little sightseeing. Our tour guide handed our tickets to the agent and we all boarded the Thames Clippers. The ride along the River Thames was short, but it gave a chance to relax our feet (and use the bathroom!) while enjoying the sights along the way until we reached our stop at Embankment where we disembarked. Throughout the ride, Augusta excitedly told us all the nicknames for different well-known buildings as we passed them and educated us about the history behind the different isles of London.
Horse Guards at St. James’s Palace
We walked for ten minutes until we reached the entrance to St. James Palace in Whitehall just in time for the 11:00 a.m. Changing of the Guard ceremony. The entrance is still guarded by mounted sentries from the Queens Household Cavalry. Augusta our guide knew the exact spot for us to stand to watch the Changing of the Guard without it being crowded. Changing the Guard takes place here every morning at 11:00 a.m. (Monday to Saturday) and 10 a.m. on Sundays and the ceremony last for 30 minutes.
From here it’s a short walk through St James Park to Buckingham Palace, our final stop. While we relaxed outside, we heard about the few break-ins that have occurred, including one that got so far that the intruder ran into the Queen! We learned so much during this tour, including lots of quips that were unexpected and made us feel like we had intimate knowledge on the city.
Start Time: 8:30 a.m.
Duration: 4 hours
Meeting Point: Front of Ticket Office at Tower of London
Operating Days: Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat
Tickets Price: $106. 20 (Adult), 98.51 (child)
Tickets includes: Entrance to Tower of London, Thames Clipper Fare, Audio Headsets
Arriving By Tube: Get off Tower Hill Station (Circle and District Lines), turn right upon exit and cross the street. It’s a short walk (approx. 3 mins)
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes because the tour involves a reasonable amount of walking.
Our tour guide Augusta from City Wonders was fantastic, very charming and knowledgeable. She led us through making sure that we got to see all the highlights before they got crowded and give us real insights into each site we visited. City Wonders really offers the best tours of London.
Disclaimer: We were invited by City Wonders to experience their tour in London. I was not paid by them to write this.