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Ceremony of the Keys - new updated process

For those who are not familiar with this, the Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London, and it has taken place every single night for over 700 years. There are limited tickets available so you must book ahead at the first opportunity at this website: https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/whats-on/ceremony-of-the-keys/#gs.4ewlu5

For the past few years, you have been able to book online beginning on the first business day of the previous month. So for example, tickets for December opened up on the first working day in November. The booking started around 12 noon GMT, which of course meant that most people from the states had to get up at the crack of dawn to have a shot at it. And sometimes it was delayed.

This recently changed. Now booking starts promptly at 16:00 (4 pm) on the first business day of the previous month. So I was able to get online today at 10:00am to get a March date, which was nice. The process is simple. If you go online to the site before it begins, you just sit there and wait online. There is a countdown that will let you know how much time is left. You can have them send an email if you want that will let you know when it's time, but I chose to just wait.

At exactly 10:00 Central time, it opened up and I was assigned a random place in the queue (no. 924). It went quickly, however, and I got to my turn within 40+ minutes. There was still a decent amount of tickets left and I got my first choice. I paid for it (£5) and downloaded the ticket. There are still tickets left if anyone is traveling in March. Keep in mind that business days not only mean Monday through Friday, but also any bank holidays, etc.

A couple of notes: If you plan on attending this, make sure you read the rules at the link in the first paragraph. Also, if you're interested, here is a screenshot of what you will see prior to the booking opening up. https://photos.app.goo.gl/QRns5ys1nnZbhBGg8

Posted by
2631 posts

I hope you enjoy the Ceremony as much as I did--if you are at all a fan of the ravens, when they lead you into the final area for the end of the ceremony be sure to look up on the high wall to the right and you might get to see a mated pair hanging out long past their bedtime! The Yeoman Warder really means it when he says no phones, no photos--they will frog march you out if you even look like you might be disobeying this order. BUT, once the Ceremony is complete you will get to photograph the glorious White Tower all lit up...or, like I did, get a photo of the 2 ravens first :)

My experience with the ticketing was nerve-wracking due to having a doctor's appt that meant I needed to be in the car when the portal opened at 8 am Pacific...so I joined the queue, opted for email notification, drove to my appt and while sitting in my car at the doctor's I was able to get in and get my preferred date.

Posted by
348 posts

That’s wonderful mardee! So glad you were able to secure tickets! It was quite a process before- this new change seems much easier. Have you been before to the ceremony? We found it to be absolutely amazing!

Posted by
348 posts

Christa your keys acquisition story reminded me of the angst we went through- as well as so many other people who shared theirs. I felt like we all needed to start a Ceremony of the Keys support group! 😂

Posted by
7012 posts

Christa, yikes! Lucky that they have the email option! I was just happy I didn't have to wake up at 5:30 am. 🤣

Mustlovedogs, yes, I attended one back in 1996 (that was when you had to send a request by mail, along with an international postage stamp). I loved it, though, and always swore I would go again, so now I have my chance!

Posted by
7012 posts

I forgot to mention this above, but I was reading a post on Reddit about the ceremony. Someone mentioned they were there (this was about 6 months ago) and the warden let in a few extra people that were standing around without tickets. So I suppose it is a possibility that you might get in without one (although it could depend on who is on duty).

Posted by
208 posts

When I attended in October, the Yeoman Warder read names from the list of those who were assigned tickets for that night.
There were none added or invited from others who might have been around the entry gate.

Also, when I applied for ticket Sept 1, the release time was 4pm BST, which was a changeup for previous months. I wonder if the time changed for good then or if that might have been a pilot program?
Seems a stretch to imagine they were catering to North American audience. I was the only person from outside the UK on the night I attended.

Posted by
7012 posts

ribaholic60, I'm not sure, but I would think that there are several factors that led to the time change. What they are, I have no idea. 😊 But I'm happy to take advantage of it. When I'm there, I'll ask and see if anyone knows. I'm curious now.

Posted by
2017 posts

I really doubt that the Warden will let people in without tickets. It's a pretty secure place and I doubt they would deviate. Maybe it's changed so far out from 9/11 but when we went, there was a family who argued with the Warden about coming on a tour at the last minute and his response was "no ticket, no tour".

Posted by
4000 posts

When we were there last May, there was a group allowed entrance before 9:00. They were dressed up. We saw them later on when they joined the ticketed group. Turns out they were some VIP group who had a private tour of the tower. It added about 40 more people to our group and they were quite pushy.
But I would go again.

Posted by
7012 posts

Well, I think the person had no reason to lie about it, but as I said, maybe it was a one-off.

Posted by
4338 posts

As an aside to the process, I thought I would add this about my experience the first week of December (I didn’t have trouble getting the tickets). There were actually 3 groups in attendance: those of us who reserved I. This way, and two other groups that joined us from different directions. This also occurred when I was there in June, 2016. This time, though, the groups were a little larger and it was actually difficult to see parts of the ceremony unless you had managed a front standing place. There were a few too many people to all be “front row” and with three groups, it actually felt a bit crowded.

It was still impressive and I would go again, but I think knowing your group meeting at the regular Tower entrance is not the only one may help manage expectations a little. There were about 40ish people in each group.

Posted by
348 posts

We had three groups when we went last summer as well. One was the ticketed group whose names were checked off at the gate. The other, about 20-25 young men, were already inside and had a Yeoman Warden with them, along with an interpreter. The third was very small, maybe two families? They also were inside already. The second larger group actually was placed on the other side of the pathway across from us going up into the courtyard. The only challenge we had from that was the interpreter/guide was giving a narrative to his group while our Yeoman was explaining everything to us. It was a bit hard to hear our Yeoman with two conversations going, even while we were near the front. I am sure the interpreter with the group was unaware of how his voice carried mainly because he was positioned directly across. Maybe he was even trying to accommodate a hearing impaired individual in his group. Anyway, it seems there are multiple groups watching the ceremony each night, I guess.

It was soooo good though! So glad we went and we enjoyed it immensely!

Posted by
7012 posts

TexasTravelmom, that's interesting but a little sad. Back in 1996 when I went for the first time, I have a note in my journal saying that the tickets are limited to 50 people each night. I do not remember it being crowded with that amount, but obviously they've increased the size, if there were over 120 people when you went.

ETA: Mustlovedogs, that's interesting also. I had no idea that they were doing this. But this past week when I was staying with my brother in Naples, he told me about his trip there back in the mid 80's. He was a Navy pilot at the time, and a group of them were in town and I guess one of them knew a Yeoman. So they got tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys, but also were invited back to the Yeoman's bar for drinks afterward. But I think there were only 6-7 of them.

Posted by
348 posts

Mardee, that makes sense. I got the impression the Yeoman with the really small group knew the folks he had with him. I didn’t see where they went afterwards, but there seemed to be a connection.

Posted by
33324 posts

I got member only tickets for my birthday (not a gift, the event is on my birthday) so I'll be able to say how the members night goes for crowds.

Posted by
3821 posts

Great Mardee! I hope you enjoy it!
Thanks for the updated information on getting tickets.

Posted by
7012 posts

Nigel, it might be worth becoming a member, although I would not have been able to attend any of the dates they had listed for the members-only night. So are you there in February or March?

Posted by
33324 posts

February was sold out.... it should be a bit warmer next month if we're lucky

Posted by
4338 posts

Oh, Nigel, I bet one of the other 2 groups was a members group! That explains 2/3 of the people. (Duh 🤦🏻‍♀️) Have fun on your birthday!

Posted by
7012 posts

TexasTravelmom, I don't think they allow other visitors on the Members Only night. I noticed when I was booking that the dates for those nights were blocked off, so you could not book anything on those nights.

Posted by
494 posts

Thanks so much for posting, Mardee. I’ve been planning a winter trip to London and Oxford in February’25, which doesn’t seem so far off now that it’s within a year. I’ve been reading all your posts as you plan your upcoming trip.

Posted by
7012 posts

Lyncash, that would be wonderful! And isn't it exciting/scary/fun how those trips creep up on you? 😊 Don't you have some closer trips coming up, though?

I'm very sad that I don't have much time in Oxford. I won't get there until around 4 pm and then I have to leave for Heathrow after lunch the next day. But I'll see what I can while I'm there.

debwarburton1, I'm glad it was helpful! Enjoy London!

Posted by
4338 posts

Well, fooey. I don’t know more than I did. Someone needs to find out who the other groups are….. I would prefer it not be me, but I guess I AM going to be there for one night in May, so I could run ask. 🤣

Posted by
2765 posts

Just tried for April I only had two nights I could go and both were sold out by the time i cleared the queue. I got in the queue about 15 minutes before ticketing opened and was 1051 in the queue My advice get in the queue VERY early if you are limited options.

Posted by
1 posts

Now booking starts promptly at 16:00 (4 pm) on the first business day of the previous month. IF the first day of the month is a Friday distribution will takeplace the following Monday. I was able to get online today 3/4/24 at 11:00am to get an April date, I was only available two days in April. I thought my best chance to get one of those dates was to get on website as soon as I woke up at 6:00 am this morning. If, you go online to the site before the sale begins, you just sit there and watch countdown clock wind down. There is a message on the countdown page that says "you are in line and anyone that gets on the website after you will be behind you. Tickets are distributed first come first served." this leads me to believe you are not randomly assigned a place in line. The number you receive in the que is where you ended up in line based on when you accessed the website in relation to everyone else trying to get online. Get on the website as early as you can to avoid disappointment. I waited 5 hours online today using my phone browser.
When Countdown gets to zero. You are redirected to the que. The screen will show your place in the que . I was number 45 in the que Below your que number, you will see another countdown clock that tells you when you will be redirected to the ticketing website. On the same page it shows how many people are in front of you in the que. I had to wait five minutes from the que to the ticketing website.
When it is your turn to enter ticketing website you will be automatically redirected to the ticketing website and you see the calendar for which tickets are being distributed,
Once, you reach the ticketing page there is ten-minute time limit to make your selection and purchase tickets. You will receive confirmation email with the tickets. You can print at home or show them on your phone before entering. I did get my first choice of availability.

I thought the whole process was very smooth and the que moves right along.
Enjoy the experience!!

Currently waiting in the queue after joining it 7 hours in advance, with a queue number of 1024. The time you join (prior to the start time) doesn't allocate you a better position, as I first joined on my mobile, which has a worse queue position than my computer which I joined after.

Not sure if I like the new queue it system, as it is currently 2:30am in Australia, not sure I would have joined the queue so early if I knew the position was a random selection.

I do miss 10 years ago, when you mailed a physical letter asking to attend.

Hope this information is helpful for anyone looking to book tickets in the future.

Posted by
3 posts

Hi Rick - thanks for the info on this wonderful-sounding experience! I've had trouble actually getting the tickets. I tried on multiple computers and it's the same result. I went to the link you provided above at about 7:15am PDT today, Weds May 1, for the 8:00am PDT opening of tickets. Everything was as you described: countdown page prior to queue opening, then queue page with my queue number (147), then the purchase page.

However, when I got to the purchase page, I was unable to select ANY dates in June. When the page opened initially, it showed the calendar for May, and all those dates were black (sold out). When I clicked the right-arrow to display June, all the dates were all crossed out and could not be selected. As mentioned, I tried this process multiple times on different computers and browsers - same thing every time. I also checked online to see if today was a bank holiday in the UK and it seems it is not. So, something is not working. (Another oddity - the countdown page still mentioned March tickets - seems like they haven't updated things...) See screenshots here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1mFlNz3tNEKgisQ3tq5zVETcQftN6Q8AM?usp=drive_link

I'm not sure what's going on, but thus far I have not been able to buy tickets for mid-June. Could it be they've changed the system again and now you need to go to the site on the 1st of the CURRENT month? (i.e., login on June 1 for tickets within June?)

SEE UPDATE BELOW - It was May Day (May 1) which apparently is enough of a holiday (though not a "bank holiday") that the site was not open for ticket sales. Go figure.

Posted by
3 posts

I had the same very frustrating experience this morning. I had four devices in the queue and all of them showed June dates in red strike-through when I was finally allowed in, despite multiple refreshing and back page navigating. I have sent an email query to the Tower customer service email asking if, like you suspect, they have changed it and now the date to buy is the first of the month itself? Although that would make no sense for people trying to go on the first of the month to have to scramble that very morning for tickets. I will update here if I receive a reply. I'm very frustrated after calendaring this date months ago.

Posted by
1 posts

Same problem here as mentioned by others. Waited in pre-queue; finally got through and all I could see was May (sold out) and I could see June but none of the dates looked to be even open yet to select. I tried again on a different platform, same result. Very disappointing.

Posted by
18 posts

That's very frustrating!
Please report back with any news? I've been following for our trip in July...
thanks,
Jenn

Posted by
3 posts

I just visited the tickets page again right after midnight Pacific time (8am London time) and the tickets for June were available! No queue. It hung up on my iPhone - every time I would fill out the name and address screen, the next screen refused to load. After three times of that I switched to my laptop and it worked just fine. I was able to purchase the 4 tickets for my family. Whew! So for anyone else who was trying, go there as soon as you can!

Posted by
8634 posts

@Lacy, thanks for posting! I read your post and ran to my computer. I had just checked yesterday and nothing was open yet. Today, every day still had availability and I purchased my tickets with no wait or problems at all.

Posted by
4000 posts

Maybe the problem was that yesterday was a Holiday across Europe - May Day as we refer to it. I know schools, businesses, etc in Croatia were closed.

Posted by
3 posts

Apparently, yesterday (May 1) WAS a holiday (May Day), so ticket purchases were closed off. Pretty strange considering 1) no info about that on the site or anywhere I checked, and 2) it's an automated system - what difference does it make that it's a holiday? I do think the site needs some improvements as to sharing details of the process and things like when it's closed for holidays! (And Rick did warn us about bank holidays, not random other holidays) That said, I was indeed able to get on this morning (PDT) and snag some tickets - but they were nearly sold out already, and definitely selling fast! Managed to get 3, whew!

Posted by
903 posts

May 1st wasn't a holiday in the UK. I'd assume technical issues with the site.

Posted by
7012 posts

I think Gerry's right. I had sent them a message through their website asking about the problem, and got a response back that said there were some problems with the system.

Posted by
3 posts

@Mardee and @GerryM - it does seem like it was a holiday-related thing, since Lacy (above) was able to get on and successfully buy tickets at 8:00am today, London time. So while May 1st may not be a holiday in the UK, maybe the servers are in another country, like Croatia (per @Barbara above)?? Regardless, it is now possible to buy June tix but they are nearly sold out already.

Posted by
903 posts

I had thought of remote hosting being an issue too, but maybe just coincidence.

Posted by
7012 posts

Here is the response I got from Historic Royal Palaces via email:

Thank you for your response. I’m afraid there was an error in the
system due to the popularity of these tickets that caused it to crash
ahead of the ticket release.