Ceremony of the Keys | Tower of London Night Tour
Though it takes some planning, it’s possible to visit the Tower of London for free by becoming part of a historic ceremony that has taken place every night, without fail, for the past 700 years. Yeah, that’s not a typo – 700! Every night after kicking out the tourists and saying goodnight to the families residing within the Tower’s walls, the Yeoman Warder 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 9:53pm in the Tower of London since the 14th Century. The only exception occurred one evening during the Second World War 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 locks up the doors and passes on the Queens Keys for safekeeping. A dialogue between the sentry and the Yeoman Warder accompanies the exchange. The sentry yells out, ‘Halt, who comes there?’, to which the the Yeoman Warder replies, ‘The keys.’ The sentry then asks ‘Whose keys?’, the Yeoman Warder answers ‘Queen Elizabeth’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 do let you out through a small not so secret tour.
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!
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.
Tickets are free, but required and often booked out at least a year in advance! In order to apply, you most send in your contact information, two dates of your choosing, and a self addressed stamped envelop. Application Details can be found at the Ceremony of the Keys website.
Groups are strictly prohibited and any booking made by a group (even if under different names) will be cancelled. Tickets are non-transferable and changes are not allowed on the names of a bookings under any circumstances. Late arrivals are refused entrance, so be sure to get there early!
The ceremony concludes at precisely 10.05pm. There are no restrooms or refreshment stands open at this time.