Want to visit the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and all of the other attractions in the area without having to travel back and forth across London? Why not stay right in the centre of it all and visit the historical highlights, stay in a hotel with the very best views in London, enjoy a meal at an 18th century traditional pub and try a late night river cruise. Here is our tried and tested planner for 24 hours in the historical heart of the city.
The Tower of London is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the whole of the UK, receiving around 3,000,000 visitors a year, which puts it on most visitors 'must-see' lists. Instead of traipsing across London and rushing to fit everything in, spend the night instead; take your time to explore and get to see the area when everyone else has left for the day and the whole place is yours. Watch the sun set behind Tower Bridge, see it rise over the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, sit on a bench by the river and watch the world walk by or explore St Katherine's Docks, described by some as a part of the countryside in the city. Above all, slow down and get to know the area like a local.
What to do in Tower Hamlets
Tower of London
No visit to the area is complete without a trip to the Tower of London, that incredible castle founded nearly 1000 years ago and steeped in British military and royal traditions. You can explore under your own steam or do a tour with a Yeoman Warder, popularly known as Beefeaters, who wear the distinctive red Tudor outfits. You can visit the sparkling Crown Jewels, see where the famous and infamous were executed, watch the Tower ravens flying over your heads, visit Traitors' Gate and explore the ramparts.
As you are staying close by you can comfortably visit either in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds, and even go to the morning Opening Ceremony or the Ceremony of the Keys at night. This evening ceremony is 700 years old, only costs £5 a person and is a real privilege to watch.
Book your ticket below for the Tower of London - either chose a straightforward entrance ticket, one which includes a guided tour with a Beefeater or one which includes the Opening Ceremony. We recommend using Get Your Guide to book your tickets as you cancel up to 24 hours in advance, which you can't do if you book directly with the Tower of London. The price remains the same.
This iconic bridge, which so many visitors mistakenly refer to as London Bridge, is known across the globe as a symbol of London.
You can climb up the stairs to admire the views from the walkways and descend to the engine rooms to see the immaculate steam punk engines.
If you time your visit right you can even do a behind the scenes tour into the depths of the underground bascule.
Read about a visit to Tower Bridge >>
Anchored on the south bank of the Thames, HMS Belfast is the only remaining British ship which was used on D-Day.
HMS Belfast had a long history both before and after the war, and today it is open to visitors who can scramble up and down the ladders, sit in the Captain's chair, explore the depths of the ship and learn all about life on board.
It is a fascinating site to visit and is very popular with children as there is a lot of hands on things to do.
Monument to the Great Fire of London
This monument was built five years after the Great Fire of 1666, a single column of 61 feet with a spiral staircase leading up to a viewing platform at the top topped with a copper urn with flames coming out to symbolise the fire. It was designed by famous architect Sir Christopher Wren who rebuilt so much of London after the fire, including St Paul's Cathedral. Underneath is a small laboratory which was once used for scientific experiments.
This monument is in Pudding Lane where the fire started and nearby you will find plaques to the fire and other memorials to the devastation caused by that inferno.
You cannot book tickets in advance to climb to the top of the monument, just show up between 9am - 6pm.
There are a wide variety of river cruises available from Tower Millennium Pier as it is the start and end point for so many of them. You can do a straightforward cruise with commentary, an afternoon tea, dinner and dancing or a sunset cruise. You can also just do your own cruise using the Uber boats - such as this one I did recently for under £10 which ended with the sun setting through Tower Bridge, something I will never forget.
You can even do one of the RIB boat tours of the Thames from here; a high speed journey down the Thames which will leave you clinging on to the handrails and screaming with laughter.
All of the below river trips leave from Tower Millennium Pier which is the nearest pier to the Tower of London and Tower Hotel
Free things to do in Tower Hamlets
St. Katherine's Docks
Right behind the Tower Hotel (see below) are St Katherine's Docks, once commercial docklands which themselves stood on the 12th century church and hospital of St Katherine's by the Tower. Badly destroyed by the German bombs in World War II, the site was derelict for some time until it was redeveloped from the 1970s.
Today it is filled with flats and businesses, a mixture of old and new with cobbled stones, pretty planting and of course, the marina which is filled with boats. It has a unique charm and has been said to be like the countryside in the city. Boats can only enter the marina through a lock designed by engineer Thomas Telford in the 1820s, and you may find yourself having to wait to cross the narrow bridges as the locks fill and the boats pass below you.
Tower Hill Memorial
Opposite the Tower of London is Tower Hill, home to a large part of the famous London Wall, a kids' playpark and a garden memorial to the men of the Merchant Navy who died in both World Wars. The main part of the WWI memorial was designed by Lutyens and is based on a Doric temple. It is large, imposing and strangely peaceful. Behind it are some gardens with a lawn, statues and benches.
St. Dunstan in the East
St Dunstan was a church built around 1100 which was badly damaged during the Great Fire of 1666. Rebuilt by Wren, it was severely damaged during the Blitz in 1941, with only Wren's tower and steeple surviving. The ruins were left as they were, one of the very few places you can still see the damage done by the Luftwaffe, and today there is a very pretty garden amongst the bombed out shell of the church. It is open the public, you can just wander in, find a bench to sit on and watch the locals enjoy their lunchbreak or the Instagrammers take thousands of photos.
The Sky Garden
41 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie, is one of the new skyscrapers in the city, at the top of which is the Sky Garden. This is free to visit, although you have to book your visiting time, and gives some incredible views across the rest of the city. There are restaurants and a bar in the garden, although it really is not much of a garden. That being said, the views are good and if you can book a timeslot for when you are in the area, it is worth doing just for them alone.
Where to Stay when visiting the Tower of London
There are several hotels in the immediate area, but none I could find that are independently owned, meaning that you have little choice but to stay in one of the multinationals. Seeing as you have no choice, the best place to stay is the Tower Hotel, thanks to its prime location right on the river next to both the Tower and the Bridge.
It is an unsightly building, a brown 1980s monstrosity which is a little dated and has reception staff who are incapable of cracking a smile, but once you are in there, it has the most incredible views over the river which completely make up for its shortcomings. The huge picture windows are an utter delight and it is easy to spend hours just sitting there, both day and night, watching the ebb and flow of the magnificent River Thames; its traffic, wildlife and visitors.
The hotel is clean and comfortable, has a couple of restaurants including one with fire pits which are great for a chilly evening, and a Fitness Centre. It is right next door to both the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and St. Katherine's Docks, a pretty place of cobbled stones, smart boats, a wealth of restaurants and a small supermarket if you don't want to eat out. Tower Pier is less than five minutes walk away, putting you within easy reach of the whole of the transportation network across the city as well as the assorted river cruises which are on offer.
Where to Eat when visiting Tower Hamlets
Just behind the Tower Hotel is St. Katherine's Docks, a picturesque and historic marina which is home to homes, businesses, restaurants, shops and pubs. The one which stands out the most is The Dickens Inn, an 18th century, thatched roof, balconied pub of several stories with a beer garden overlooking the water. It is a traditional pub of wooden walls and floors with an abundance of flowering baskets and twinkling lights.
It was built in the early 1700s as a warehouse which was later shifted lock, stock and barrel 70 metres east from its original location to make way for a housing estate. It is now the focal point of the marina and provides an elevated spot from which to watch the happenings below you. The food is traditional British pub food with burgers, pizza and the like, with beers on tap and occasional live music. It is popular with locals and tourists and was a great spot for food and a night on the beer.
The Dickens Inn is open 12 - 11pm. There is no need to book.
How to get around when visiting Tower Hamlets
Nearest tube station: Tower Hill (7 mins walk)
Nearest train station: London Bridge (10 mins walk)
Nearest Pier: Tower Millennium Pier