The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower Of London

posted in: Blog, London | 49

The Tower of London at nightLondon is awash with fantastic things to do, both for those who live here and for tourists who come for a short or long visit. We are lucky enough to be Londoners, but we make sure we take advantage of many of the things this fantastic city offers – from concerts and plays to museums and more. Some cost a lot, some a little, but one of the best things we have ever done came to just £1 in total. It is called the Ceremony of the Keys and it has got to be the best value in the capital!

The Ceremony of the Keys takes place at the Tower of London and is the locking of all the doors to the Tower (home of the Crown Jewels and many other valuables). It is the oldest military ceremony in the world, at over 700 years of age, and also one of the shortest (the actual ceremony is only seven minutes long). It is carried out every single night, and even continued during the Blitz (the one time when it started a little late, thanks to an inconvenient bomb).

This is an opportunity to see living history right in front of your eyes. At one point, as soldiers marched in front of me and one began to play the Last Post on his bugle, I felt as if I was in a Shakespeare play. It was fantastic.

You need to book to see the Ceremony – which takes place after the Tower has closed for the day – in advance. We signed up for our tickets last year and all it cost was a £1 admission fee. It doesn’t start until 9.30pm, so be aware of this if you have young children (it will be a late night as although the ceremony is short, you meet the Warder beforehand and he fills you in on what is going to happen as well as the history behind the ceremony itself.) The whole thing takes around 40 minutes).

Outside the Gates of the Tower of LondonWe turned up about 15 minutes beforehand and were called into the Tower just before 9.30. No one is allowed to take photographs when you are inside and we entered as a group, escorted by a Beefeater called Jim.

It was actually quite thrilling, as ten-year-old Robert will tell you:

Over to him:

“The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London is a brilliant experience and you have got to do it when you come to London.

After we met Jim, who told lots of funny jokes and who lives in the Tower with his family (like all the other soldiers and their families), we walked through Middle Tower and stood in front of Traitors’ Gate. Just seeing Traitors’ Gate was amazing.

After an explanation about what was going to happen (It was quite complicated) soldiers came and started locking up the gates, accompanied by the Chief Yeoman Warder, who was dressed in red, holding the Queen’s Keys and a lantern with a single candle in it.

They walked so in time they looked like robots, but I didn’t say that. I wanted to keep on the soldiers’ good side, especially the ones with bayonets and swords!

I was a bit scared whenever they clicked their guns because I thought they might shoot someone by mistake.

The ceremony continued with the locking of the gates, and was like a play at the theatre. I don’t want to tell you much, as it would ruin the experience. But I will tell you that one of the soldiers who take part is called LANTERN MAN, which sounds a bit like a super hero and that when the Chief Yeoman Warder was asked by the Sentry what he was doing, the Sentry said: “Halt, who comes there?” (not “who goes there”).”

The ceremony ended with a call to preserve the Queen, to which every present said a fervent Amen. The clock hit 10pm as we said it and the Last Post sounded.

Afterwards we really felt as if we had experienced something special and unique. And we can’t believe we had never done it before. Do visit – you won’t be disappointed.

You can book online for the Ceremony of the Keys and definitely do it in advance if you are planning a trip to London. Only around 40-50 people are on each tour.

The only thing I would say to tourists is that all the information (and there’s a lot) is given in English, so be aware of that if English is not your first language.

More history in London: Read about our trip to Buckingham Palace

We’re linking up with Weekend Wanderlust this week – a place where you can find many fab travel blog posts!



We’re also linking up with the lovely Country Kids, where you can read about lots of great family adventures.


49 Responses

  1. Katja - globetotting

    Despite calling London home (even though I haven’t lived there for 9 years) I haven’t been to the Tower of London since I was a kid. I keep meaning to take my children every time we are back in the UK for holidays but – shamefully – I still haven’t! (I blame the fact that there is simply far too much to do with kids in London!). I had never heard of the Ceremony of the Keys before but it sounds like a great way to experience the Tower.

  2. Jolanta aka Casual Traveler

    For some reason I thought the ceremony of the keys is closed to outsiders. It’s so cool that you can actually watch it! I don’t know when we’ll be going to London next time, not for several years, but I’ll have to remember to try to book the visit in advance. I was bummed last time we were there, but the Parliament and Big Ben tours are only for Brits. I would have loved to go on a Big Ben tour too! Have you been?

  3. Christine

    That sounds like a great experience. I’ve heard of it in passing but wasn’t really sure what it involved or that it was late in the evening. I’ve been meaning to visit Big Ben too, and book tickets for the Houses of Parliament too. One day!

    • Sarah Ebner

      I have been spurred into action to try and organise a Big Ben tour (probably won’t happen till next year at this rate though!)

  4. Ting at My Travel Monkey

    I’ve never heard of the Ceremony of the Keys. This looks so interesting and for such a great price. I do love the Tower. I will be booking this definitely when Monkey gets a bit older!

    • Sarah Ebner

      Yes, I’d wait a few years as there’s a lot of talking and you have to wait, but I think you’d all love it!

  5. The Adventure Ahead

    I havn’t been to the tower of London since I was a teenager, but I remember loving it there. The entire place feels like it is just dripping in history. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

  6. Valentina

    WOW! I didn’t know that one could watch the keys ceremony. Must have been a fantastic experience! And we love London! Next time, I will surely book the visit. Thanks for this!

  7. Holly

    That sounds pretty awesome. I would love to try and go to this whenever I go to London.

  8. Carol Colborn

    Never heard of this. But i will be baby-sitting in London next year, so I will have lots of time to discover what you find!

  9. Erica Price

    I’d not heard of this. It sounds great and I’ll keep it in mind if we are staying over in London in the future.

  10. Liz Burton

    How have I not heard of this?

    We visited the Tower last summer, wish I’d known it sounds really interesting.

  11. Stephen - BeautykingUK

    I could spend all day in the Tower of London, it is an awesome place. I’ve never seen the ceremony so will have to pop some time in my diary to go along. Stephen :o)

  12. Louisa

    I have never heard of this ceremony but it sounds amazing. It is just the sort of thing that I know I would enjoy. Thanks for the heads up. If I ever get to visit the Tower I will add this onto my list.

  13. Rachel

    I have also done this and it was so interesting. I love the Tower of London for all the history x

  14. Lauren | Belle du Brighton

    This brings back memories, an ex boyfriend of mines dad was a beefeater so we spent time in the Tower visiting him and staying over, was pretty special! Glad you all enjoyed it!

  15. Mums do travel

    This ceremony does sound fascinating. I’d love to go along there some time and see it for myself. We went to the Tower of London recently though and the kids found the Beefeaters a little bit too shouty!

    • Sarah Ebner

      That’s interesting. Jim, who we saw, was great! Maybe they don’t have to shout so much when it’s a small group.

  16. Sue Reddel

    Very interesting. I’ve never heard of the Ceremony of the Keys in London. We’ll have to check it out next time we’re in London.

  17. Globalmouse

    This sounds absolutely brilliant, I’ve never heard of it before but this sounds like a great thing to go and see and only £1? Total bargain!!

  18. Andrea

    Goodness me I have never even heard of this! Sounds amazing and definitely added to the “To do” list.

  19. Maggie

    Interesting I have never heard about keys at the tower of London…..Got to know Some interesting information from your blog.. I am glad to stop by your site and found really interesting article to read. Thanks for Sharing your Experience at tower of London!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *