Every night, for about 700 years, the Yeoman Warders, often called Beefeaters, have performed a gate-closing ritual known as the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London.
At exactly 21:52 the Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower comes out of the Byward Tower, dressed in red, carrying a candle lantern in one hand and the Queen’s Keys in the other hand.
He walks to Traitor’s Gate to meet members of the duty regiment Foot Guards who will escort him throughout the ceremony.
One soldier takes the lantern and they walk in step to the outer gate.
All guards and sentries on duty salute the Queen’s Keys as they pass.
The Warder locks the outer gate and they walk back to lock the oak gates of the Middle and Byward Towers.
They then return along Water Lane towards the Wakefield Tower, where in the deep shadows of the Bloody Tower archway a sentry waits and watches.
As the Chief Warder and escort approach, the sentry’s challenge rings out.
“Who comes there?“
“The Keys“ replies the Chief Warder.
“Queen Elizabeth’s Keys.”
“Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All’s well.”
All four men walk to the Bloody Tower archway and up towards the broadwalk steps where the main Guard is drawn up.
The Chief Yeoman Warder and escort halt at the foot of the steps and the officer in charge gives the command to the Guard and escort to present arms.
The Chief Yeoman Warder moves two paces forward, raises his Tudor bonnet high in the air and calls “God preserve Queen Elizabeth.” The guard answers “Amen” exactly as the clock chimes 10pm and ‘The Duty Drummer’ sounds The Last Post on his bugle.
The Chief Yeoman Warder takes the keys back to the Queen’s House and the Guard is dismissed.
Visitors are escorted to the exit at 22.05.
The ceremony has never been cancelled and only delayed once when during WWII a bomb knocked a couple of warders off their feet.
Between 40-50 visitors are admitted, under escort, to watch the Ceremony of the Keys each night at 21:30 precisely.
Tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys can only be booked through the Historic Royal Palaces website.
Bookings can only be made online, but book early as the Ceremony of the Keys is very popular.
Tickets are free, but a transaction charge of £ 1.00 (GBP) is made for online bookings.
It is illegal to sell or purchase tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys via third parties and Historic Royal Palaces reserve the right to refuse permission, if a valid form of ID is not presented on the evening.
Between 1 April and 31 October there can be up to to 6 in a group.
From 1 November to 31 March, inclusive, up to 15 in a group.
To check availability and book Ceremony of the Keys tickets go to Historic Royal Palaces website.
Address: The Tower of London London, England EC3N 4AB
Tube station closest to the Tower of London: - Tower Hill - District or Circle lines
Dockland Light Railway
DLR station closest to the Tower of London: - Tower Gateway Station
Follow the signs from the stations main entrance to the Tower which is about five minutes walk away.
Nearest stations: - Fenchurch Street or London Bridge
Numbers of buses that stop near the Tower:
Numbers: 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1
Nearest river access: - Tower Pier
Riverboats for Tower Pier depart from Charing Cross, Westminster and Greenwich.
Nearest car park: - Lower Thames Street about two minutes walk away
The Tower of London is in the congestion charge zone
The Visitor Oyster Card is the cheapest and most flexible way to travel around London.
Valid on London Underground, buses, trams and the Dockland Light Railway (DLR).
The London Travelcard gives you access to unlimited travel on London Underground trains, buses, Docklands Light Railway, trams and overland trains within London.
Ceremonial Events draw millions of visitors to London year after year.
Along with the Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which can be seen throughout the year, highlights of the annual military ceremonial calendar includes The Queen's Birthday Parade and Beating Retreat.