London 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).
We 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.