Tower of London

Possibly one of the most intriguing, gory and fascinating places to visit in London has to be the Tower of London, home to the Crown Jewels and many a king and queen from Britain’s history. I have been a few times now but the most recent visit with the girls over half term was a fantastic day out.

Tower of London Yeoman

I made sure we arrived early in the morning as I knew there was lots to see and do. As we walked through the entrance a Yeoman, also known as a Beefeater, stood waiting to start his tour. So I hung around as the tour is free and packed with interesting facts.

Tower of London Traitors Gate

We saw where the Ravens’ nests are. We learnt about Traitors Gate and the Bloody Tower.

Tower of London Raven

We saw where heads used to be chopped off and I caught a raven flying over in my photo which I’m pretty pleased about. Here’s a close up of the monument erected in the beheading area.

Tower of london chop heads

The yeoman also mentioned the Beauchamp tower, seen in the photo above behind the flying raven, where the prisoners were kept until their fate was decided. Sometimes it was for years and there is a lot of graffiti on the walls from hundreds of years ago.

Tower of London Graffiti

The Yeoman tour is great for adults and older children but by the third stop of the tour my two were getting bored and wanted to move on so we walked over to join the queue to see the Crown Jewels.

Tower of London Yeoman tour

It was a long queue and even on entering the building there is still a long route to follow and lots of foreigners trying to overtake.

imperial state crown

 

The Crown Jewels are fascinating for all ages but no photos were allowed. The twins were in awe with the guards outside The Jewel House, we stood and watched them march up and down a few times. The girls were delighted to hear them talking as they met in the middle and tried to understand what they were saying.

Tower of London Jewel House guard

After this we sat down on one of the many benches in the sunshine and ate our sandwiches before visiting the White Tower, or the central building with the four turrets.

Tower of London white tower armour

Again you follow the route laid out passing through the vast rooms filled with armour from the Arsenal, coins from the Royal Mint and records from the Tower Record Office where I spotted an old map on the wall showing our home town of Gravesend calling it Gravesend Beach.

Tower of London Gravesend beach

We walked right to the top of the building where there is a wonderful dragon made up of all sorts of materials.

Tower of London Dragon

Then there’s the long walk down, down, down one of the turrets, a tight spiral staircase leading out into the sunshine once again.

Looking out of the Beauchamp Tower

We decided to visit the Beauchamp Tower for a closer look at the graffiti and the rooms of the State Prison before heading off to the Bloody Tower.

Tower fo London view of Tower bridge

There is a long walkway running around the castle which gives off the most spectacular views of London, this is taken outside the Bloody Tower looking over the Thames at Tower Bridge.

Tower of London Menagerie

I didn’t know that the Tower of London had been home to London Zoo until moving it to Regent’s Park. Known as the Menagerie and home to lions, tygers, lynx and a porqupine as recorded by Hentzner in 1598 one of the first visitors to record his impressions. The girls tried out the cage on show.

As we walked around the top wall back to the centre and on our way to the exit I couldn’t help but stop and take a snap of this fabulous view of The City of London.

Tower of London view of the city of london

Our visit for now was complete, the girls were tired, I was too and we left wanting to return one day as there was so much more to see.

Tower of London white tower

My Top tips for visiting

  • If you would like to visit the Tower of London or find out more information take a look a the official website where booking online also allows discounts.
  • I would really recommend following the Yeoman’s tour which is free of charge.
  • There are plenty of benches to sit and eat a sandwich or for a rest throughout what can be a long day.
  • Pick up a trail at the Welcome Centre for the children to use as they make their way around the site
  • Keep an eye on the What’s On page for events organised throughout the year and school holidays.

All photos taken with iPhone 4

The Shard observation tower

Every time I ever draw into London Bridge train station I am fascinated by the gigantic building that shoots upwards piercing the sky with it’s point, The Shard.

The 87 storey skyscraper stands 309 metres (1,014 ft) high and is currently the tallest building in the European Union. It is 72 habitable floors and I visited the viewing gallery and open air observation deck on the 72nd floor.

IT WAS AMAZING. No, it was better than that, it was breath taking, it was utterly stunning. It was the most memorable occasion. It was the most fantastic experience and I’d do it all over again and again.

The Shard Tower bridge and Canary wharf

Your journey starts at the bottom, I know you know that but you will be pleasantly amazed by each member of staff who are polite and engage in conversation with you, with a smile on their face too! This is why it’s going to be one of the best experiences ever.

I had an online ticket from Attraction Tix which I had to exchange the print out for my real ticket at the cash desk. You then make your way over to the security check and an optional souvenir photo if you wish.

Have a look at all the different Fun Days out for Couples

Shard St Paul's Cathedral

There are two lifts, the first takes you to level 31-33 where the restaurants are situated, here everyone gets off and makes their way around to the second elevator which will take you to the observation rooms. By the way even the journey in the lift is exciting with a great film to watch on the ceiling.

Shard lift entrance

The second lift arrives at level 69 and you follow the path around and up stairs to The View.

Shard opbservation tower level 69

There are two floors to visit, the first is enclosed and is very high with floor to ceiling glass. As you walk around some of the capitals most famous monuments are written above your head encouraging you to look for them in the distance.

There is a champagne bar selling it at £10 a glass but offering soft drinks too. There is also a shop worth visiting as it has the usual souvenirs plus some very interesting merchandise.

You can then go up a level for some more fantastic views, at this point it is n longer enclosed, you feel and hear the wind whistling around you, a plane passed over head on it’s way to City Airport and i felt it was so close. and if you look up, this is what you see… isn’t it beautiful?

When to Visit The Shard?

  • Valentine’s day with champagne at the top and maybe dinner after?
  • A family day out with a good cultural, historical and architectural foundation.
  • A special birthday or occasion treat.

Shard looking up

Here is my favourite view of The City

The Shard - view of the city

This is the Tower of London zoomed from level 71.

Shard tower of London

Tower Bridge which we visited back in the summer, another great place to visit.

Shard view of Tower Bridge

The London Eye, which is another great observation point of London

Shard London eye

HMS Belfast from above

Shard view of HMS Belfast

The view from the Shangri La restaurant will look like the one Jen has photographed, equally stunning and she tells us excellent food too!

Renzo Piano – the architect

The Shard was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and replaced the previous occupant Southward Towers, a 24 storey office block built in 1975.

Renzo Piano designed the Shard as a spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames. He was inspired by the railway lines next to the site, the London spires depicted by the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto and the masts of sailing ships. Piano’s design met criticism from English Heritage, who claimed the building would be “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London“, giving the building its name, The Shard.

Piano considered the slender, spire-like form of the tower a positive addition to the London skyline, recalling the church steeples featured in historic engravings of the city, and believed that its presence would be far more delicate than opponents of the project alleged. He proposed a sophisticated use of glazing, with expressive façades of angled glass panes intended to reflect sunlight and the sky above, so that the appearance of the building will change according to the weather and seasons. The building features 11,000 panes of glass, with a total surface area of 56,000 square metres (600,000 sq ft). Wikipedia

Shard level 72 open air

 

Disclosure: I received a ticket to visit The Shard for the purpose of this reveiw

Ripley's Believe it or not London

We were recently invited to have a look around Ripley’s London collection and having never been before I was intrigued to discover what Ripley’s Believe It or Not! was all about.

The London Ripley’s museum is the world’s largest and it opened on 20th August 2008. It is home to over 500 exhibits from educational artefacts to the mind boggling weird and wonderful.

Ripley's price list London 2014

It all started when Robert Ripley picked up on sports feats in his cartoons in the New York Globe in 1918, slowly he added non sports features and then changed the name to Believe It or Not! where he indulged on a research for unusual facts with the help of his researcher.

Ripley's mini cooper london

The London Ripley’s Believe It or not! is set on six floors and the entrance opens onto the famous Piccadilly Circus. As we queued we past a robot and a Mini Cooper covered all over with Swarovski crystals – a million of them to be precise.

Robot Ripley's london

You then take a lift to the sixth floor and start to work your way down.

There is a LOT to see, a knitted Ferrari, a dinosaur, the sweet making machine out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Everywhere you look there is something to marvel at and later on to be repulsed at, or horrified at. 

Ripley's Diana Ross

 

It’s a weird and wonderful collection, it’s a bombardment to your senses and to your morals.

Ripley's toast art

There is a fabulous art collection with famous faces made out of all kinds of objects and materials including human skin.

Ripley's human skin

On your way down you will be invited to take a tour in the hall of mirrors which is amazing and frustratingly good. The girls and I had a go but there were a lot of other kids in there shouting out to their friends, it scared the girls and we ended up leaving via the entrance which we had ended up at again.

Ripley's car bonnet art

One part they really enjoyed was the graffiti wall where they were given a computer run aerosol can and invited to write their names (or draw) on the wall.

I must admit a lot of the exhibits were too advanced for my twins to enjoy but I know older kids would love and be fascinated by. There is something for everyone but if your kids are still at infant school like my twins I’d save this trip until they were a little older and they would get even more out of it.

I’d say perfect from 8 upwards.

Disclosure: We received free entry (me and the twins) for the purpose of this review)

 

Tower Bridge London

Tower Bridge is my favourite bridge over the River Thames out of the 34 that connect the two London embankments from the Queen Elizabeth II bridge in Dartford to the Hampton Court Bridge in East Molesey.

This year Tower Bridge celebrates it’s 120th anniversary and we were invited along to complete the tour to learn more about it.

Tower Bridge tour

My dad told me when I was a child that an American, Robert McCulloch, had visited London and wanted to buy Tower Bridge for his retirement real estate development on Lake Havasu. Only he made a mistake and bought London Bridge instead! This was a popular belief which is vehemently denied by Mr McCulloch and Ivan Luckin who sold the bridge but funny all the same.

Tower Bridge from walkway

I can certainly understand why anyone would want to buy the bridge as it is pretty spectacular and by visiting it we were able to see even more closely how unique this bridge is.

Tower Bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1894 after 8 years of construction. It was the result of a public competition to design a new bridge held in response to London’s massive growth and the need to connect both sides of the river as east London had expanded and was fast becoming an important trading port.

Tower Bridge walkways

Sir Horace Jones won the competition and worked alongside civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry on the £1.1m project. For more details visit the Tower Bridge website

The Tour of Tower Bridge

The tour starts on the Tower of London side at the north west tower. A lift takes you up to the walkway level which is 44 meters above the river at high tide and you arrive in a small room where you can listen and watch a wonderful enactment that explains the history of the bridge and a few details of its construction.

Tower Bridge tour

You can then walk along the walkways and take in the breathtaking views of London to the east and to the west.

Descent is via a staircase on the south east side but there is a second video to watch with more construction detail first. There is a lift also for those in need.

Tower bridge display

The way down has plenty of art and interesting things to look at and on arrival at the bottom you are back out on the street again.

By following the blue line you are lead along the bridge and down onto the walkway along the Thames. Once under the bridge the blue line leads you to the Victorian engine rooms and here you can see how the bridge used to be worked. When it was built it was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built.

This was the winner of the most recent Design a Bridge competition, what do you think?

Tower Bridge design winner

The bascules were operated by hydraulics using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators so when the bridge needed lifting the energy was available. The Accumulators fed the driving engines which drove the bascules up and down. The bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees.

view form tower bridge walkway

Today the bascules are driven by oil and electricity rather than steam but the original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are well worth a look as it is amazing. There are also interactive games to help the children understand how it worked.

tower bridge engine rooms

There are constant art exhibitions on show adding to the wow factor and making this a great place to visit for all the family

 art at tower bridge
 
An excellent exhibition which we thoroughly enjoyed
Disclosure: We were given free entrance for the purpose of this review, tickets aren’t expensive 1 adult + 2 children costs £14.10 see here

Start of the poppies at London Bridge

A while ago I took the girls up to London to visit Tower Bridge, we walked from Tower Hill tube station and I wondered what all the poppies were about.

I have recently seen on the news exactly what the Poppies are about. Each ceramic poppy represents a life lost fighting in the first World War

The installation continues until November, I want to go back and take more photos in September and then again in November and pay homage to those lives lost for us.

Poppies at Tower of London