The Tower of London is a fascinating place to visit, with the castle at the centre of many of the capital’s most important historical moments. Make a day of it with Culture Trip’s guide on what to do, eat and drink around this London landmark.
A massive part of London’s identity that has served many purposes in its 900-plus years, the Tower of London has seen it all. This Medieval castle on the north bank of the River Thames has been a royal residency, military barracks and home to the Crown Jewels. It has also housed some of England’s most famous prisoners – from the princes in the tower to Anne Boleyn and Guy Fawkes. The tower well deserves its UNESCO World Heritage site status, and is a must-see when in Central London. To make a day of it, explore its historic surroundings. Here’s what to do and where to eat and stay.
Though not quite 900 years old, the Whitechapel Gallery has a good 100 years behind it. Founded in 1901, this contemporary art gallery (about 20 minutes on foot from the Tower of London) has premiered artists such as Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Mark Rothko. At any given time there are numerous exhibitions running in tandem, so you can easily kill a couple of hours here, and its Refectory Café, which turns into a wine bar at night, is a charming space to relax in after the show.
Wilton’s Music Hall is recognised as a Grade II* listed building and has been called “the most important surviving early music hall to be seen anywhere”. It still retains many original features (with peeling paint and exposed brickwork to boot). About a 20-minute walk from the Tower of London, head to this Shadwell institution to delve deeper into London’s heritage, admire the historical architecture and catch a theatre performance.
Dubbed ‘The Gherkin’ for obvious reasons, Norman Foster’s bullet-shaped skyscraper is actually called St Mary Axe, and its Neo-Futuristic design has made it one of the city’s most recognisable towers. Visiting this commercial skyscraper is a must-do to put its size into proportion – book a table at the Helix restaurant, which serves traditional British food in its dining room on the 39th floor, and enjoy seeing London from above.
Home to over 3,500 drinking haunts, it’s safe to say that London is the pub capital of the world. Situated on Commercial Street in Spitalfields, The Culpeper epitomises all that the city’s pub culture is about, with great food and great booze. It’s located close to the Whitechapel Gallery and even has a roof terrace where you can enjoy al fresco drinking in the summer.
If you don’t fancy heavy pub food, try Cirilo Noodle Bar and Grill, which serves up authentic Filipino and Chinese stir-fry dishes that make for a tasty light bite. London’s Filipino community are known to frequent the restaurant, which is always a good sign, and you can’t go wrong with one of its specials – try the tamarind-based stew sinigang with prawns.
Just under 15 minutes by foot from the Tower of London, Gaucho Tower Bridge invites you to discover Argentinian cuisine. Hearty meals like steak and roast dinners are on the menu here, so come hungry, and sit back and enjoy the splendid view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London itself. There are options for non-meat eaters, too, with the wild mushroom tagliatelle and the beetroot risotto particular highlights.
London is notoriously expensive, but it can be done on a budget. As a cheap alternative to boutique hotels, you can’t go wrong with Motel One Tower Hill. It aims to offer fair prices whatever dates you book, so whether it’s the height of summer or the middle of October, the room rates remain the same. The bar, with its marble-topped tables, smart leather sofas and low-lit wood burners, is first class and wouldn’t look out of place in one of London’s more upmarket hotels.
If visiting the tower and seeing the Crown Jewels has given you a hankering for luxury, book in at The LaLIT London. The five-star boutique hotel, housed in a striking 120-year-old Neo-Baroque building that used to be a Victorian boys’ grammar school, offers a calm respite from the hustle and bustle – and even has its own tower suite. With its great location, sumptuous interior and complimentary minibar, this discreet hotel ticks all the boxes.
Priding itself on its decent price point, Qbic Hotel London City is a well-designed, contemporary hotel that’s also a great choice for eco-friendly travel (it claims to be the capital’s greenest hotel). This hotel is all about bright, bold design, with rooms that feature quirky artworks and fun graphics. Located in the heart of Aldgate, just five minutes from Aldgate East station, it’s also easy to get to Central London from here.