This post covers how to get tickets and attend the Ceremony of the Keys, as well as an explanation of what the ceremony is.
- What is the Ceremony of the Keys
- How to Apply
- Who Are the Beefeaters?
- Other Ways to Visit the Tower of London
- Crown Jewels
- Things to Do at Night in London
WHAT IS THE CEREMONY OF THE KEYS?
The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London is a gate-closing ritual that has taken place every night, without fail, for the past 700 years.
Each night, after kicking out the tourists and saying goodnight to the families residing within the Tower's walls, the Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower selects a few ticketed guests to come back inside to witness the "Ceremony of the Keys"- the ceremonial locking up of the Tower Of London!
Though you won't get to see the Crown Jewels or the centuries-old graffiti carved in the prison cells, you will be able to tell people you were locked in the Tower of London!
The Ceremony of the Keys is a time-honored tradition that has taken place every night at 21:53 (9:53 pm) in the Tower of London since the 14th century.
The only exception occurred one evening during WWII when the city was bombed and the Warders were knocked off their feet.
And though they carried out the ceremony, they wrote an apology to the King for being slightly late!
The ceremony itself is fairly simple and short.
The Chief Yeoman Warder walks out of Byward Tower to Traitor's Gate holding a lantern and the King's Keys, where he is met by King's Guard soldiers, members of the duty regiment Foot Guards, who will escort him during the ceremony.
He then locks the outer gate followed by the oak gates between the Middle Tower and Byward Tower before walking down Water Lane, past the Wakefield Tower to the archway of the Bloody Tower.
There, an exchange takes place between a sentry waiting in the archway and the Chief Warder.
The sentry yells out, 'Halt, who comes there?', to which the Yeoman Warder replies, 'The keys.'
The sentry then asks 'Whose keys?',
The Yeoman Warder answers 'King Charles's keys', and the sentry concludes 'Pass then, all's well.'
And just like that, you're locked inside the Tower of London! (But don't worry, they will let you out through a small, not-so-secret exit.)
Then, the soldiers and the Chief Warder walk up towards the Broadwalk steps, where the guards are inspected at the foot of the steps.
At 22:00 exactly, the Chief Warder takes off his hat and cries out, "God save King Charles!" and the guards answer "Amen."
Then a bugle plays Last Post at the end of the ceremony.
After that, the guards are dismissed and the Chief Yeoman Warder takes the keys back to the King's House.
Note that in keeping with historical tradition, the Beefeaters carry candle lanterns rather than torches!
However, they do wear the modern version of their uniform and not the Tudor bonnet that is part of their older, state-dress uniform.
You can see the version they do wear above - and there are capes for colder weather!
Though brief, the Ceremony of the Keys is an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to participate (read the reviews).
Nearly everyone who has participated in the tradition writes that it was a highlight of their time in London.
Others comment that it is well worth the wait and a 'must-do'.
A very small number of people who wrote reviews seem disappointed in the experience, and in almost all of these cases, it happens that the visitor did not know anything about the tradition before attending.
In that case, we suggest you read up on the history of the Ceremony of the Keys to fully appreciate the experience!
Note that photography is NOT allowed at ANY point during the Ceremony of the Keys.
Tip: Full entry to the Tower of London is included for free with the London Pass. For more ways to save, check out our London Night Tours, as well as our post on how to visit Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral for free.
HOW TO APPLY FOR TICKETS
Tickets are required and cost £10 and book out fast.
Tickets go on sale in 2-week blocks approximately 2 weeks before the first date of the block.
Application details can be found on the Ceremony of the Keys website.
Tickets are non-transferable and changes are not allowed on the names on a booking under any circumstances.
They do not accept bookings from groups, schools, or third parties. It's also illegal to resell tickets.
Between April 1 and October 31, there can be up to 6 in a group. From November 1 to March 31, groups can be as large as 15.
Latecomers are refused entrance, so be sure to get there early!
The ceremony concludes at precisely 22:05 (10.05 pm). There are no toilet or refreshment facilities open at this time.
Officially known as Yeoman Warders of His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary (but more commonly referred to as "Beefeaters"), are a group of ex-soldiers who both work and live at the Tower of London.
Their primary role is to protect the fortress of the Tower of London - and everything that is kept inside, such as the Crown Jewels!
Becoming a Yeoman Warder is not easy.
A candidate must have at least 22 years of service in the Armed Forces, be a former warrant officer or senior non-commissioned, and all Yeomen Warders must also have been awarded the ‘Long Service and Good Conduct’ medal during their time in the armed forces.
As for why they are called Beefeaters...well, there are two schools of thought.
The most popular speculation is that the term originated from the fact that the Yeomen of the Guard were allowed to eat as much leftover beef as they liked from the King’s table. Some historians argue.
However, that beef was given to them as part of their salary in the 15th century. Whatever the origin, the nickname has been in existence since the end of the 1400s!