Hello. My family of five (3 kids ages 15 – 25) will visit London for 5 days at Christmas – first time visitors. We have tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys. My question is: Should my family tour the Tower of London on the morning before the Ceremony of the Keys or the day after? Maybe I am over-thinking our schedule and the experiences will be the same either way, but surely someone has an opinion? Thanks.
Doing the Tower of London before the Ceremony of the Keys will make for a long day.
We went first thing in May and were glad we did. Toured with the first group, saw the crown jewels sans crowd or line, and were out by lunchtime. I'm not sure what hours the Tower is open in December. It can't open too early as the days get pretty short around Christmas. Generally two things on the schedule each day is plenty. If you have extra time, have an idea of your options but don't count on them.
I think I toured the Tower and saw the Ceremony of the Keys about ten years apart. I don't feel that I enjoyed either part less for not having done them together. In my opinion, the ceremony is less about seeing the Tower itself (you see only a little of it, and it's dark outside) and more about the spectacle of seeing this old tradition. It's about the solemn and serious attitude during the ceremony, and the freer, relaxed question and answer session afterward (ask for a ghost story!) If anything, doing the Ceremony of the Keys first might give your kids a little taste of the Tower and whet their appetite for more. Having finally seen the ceremony myself in 2009, I want to go back and tour the Tower again on my next visit. I do join others in recommending touring the Tower first thing in the morning to avoid crowds. So however you can best fit both into your itinerary is what I advise. Unless you have other things you want to do in the East End of London, I'm not sure I'd advise the Tower in the morning and the ceremony that night.
I recommend visiting the Tower the morning before your Ceremony of the Keys experience, so your children will be familiar with the place and have a proper appreciation for all of that sinister history!..... After touring the tower, consider enjoying a long walk down either bank of the Thames. South Bank has Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre, and the London Eye. North Bank has the Monument to the fire, the City of London museum, and the theatre district. Both walks are about three miles which shouldn't be a problem for your children. (We had no problem with either walk and we are around 60.) They might enjoy doing one of these walks on their own (no problem if they have a good map) while the parents have a nice lunch somewhere or attend a matinee at one of the theatres.
It does make for a long day and with a family of five, I'd opt to do the Tower tour one morning, and return the next evening for the Ceremony. Viewed the Ceremony of the Keys in May. Really enjoyed it. Take it seriously though. Our guard, a small in stature but loud in voice gentleman, (think James Cagney) had no time for an American 20 year old who wouldn't stop talking. The young man was asked twice, firmly and politely to be quiet. When he wouldn't, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, he was told to leave. When he started to protest all of us in the crowd joined the guard in making certain the young man did what he was told. The girlfriend stayed. She got it. This is a 600 year tradition and those individuals who participate in the ceremony take their jobs very seriously and rightly so.
Look at it in a logical order. You need to know what the Tower's about so you can see how the key ceremony fits in. On the other hand, I'd have no problem never seeing the key ceremony - - it's over-rated.
I do not recommend your approach because of the disparity between what you can absorb, see and enjoy over a day and then at night for the ceremony.
Go to the tower so that you arrive when it first opens in the morning, no lines, and then go directly first to the crown jewels. You will probably be alone for that tour which later in the day may take up to an hour in line to get into the White Tower.
Some people put down the Ceremony of the Keys, but I say that I if you want to experience the history and traditions of Great Britain the ceremony is a must. Only one night in over 900 years was the ceremony disrupted and that was when a German bomber dropped bombs nearby knocking the Chief Warder down whereupon he rose and completed his duties of turning the keys to the Tower into the Governor of the Tower. These warders (Beefeaters) are retired British Warrant Officers selected to be in their positions.
Go and enjoy the ceremony and the sense of dedication, history and traditions of the UK as it is seen here.
Commander Gilbert E. "Gib" Brown, Jr., US Coast Guard (Retired)