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Tower Hill rises in tourist appeal

Times Staff Writer

The Tower of London, one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions, has been spruced up with a new visitor center, restaurants and more.

The additions, completed over the last few months, cap a $35-million, eight-year project to restore and improve the Tower area, visited by nearly 2 million people each year.

Tower Hill — once the site of ignoble beheadings outside the prison — has been transformed into a pedestrian area with benches, historic markers and wheelchair-accessible paths.

The visitor center, at the north end of the hill, offers displays, brochures, videos and staff to help plan a tour of the Tower tailored to an individual's interests and time constraints. Automated ticket machines also are available.

The visitor center filled a major need on the sprawling site, officials said.

"A lot of people arrive at the Tower of London and don't know what's actually there," said Jacqueline Gazzard, spokeswoman for Historic Royal Palaces, which operates the site.

Within the Tower, the beloved yeoman warders, nicknamed "beefeaters," continue to direct visitors, answer questions and pose for photos in their colorful traditional uniforms.

Also new to the Tower are two restaurants: Eat and Wagamama, a British chain of noodle eateries.

The Tower of London, which William the Conqueror began building in the 11th century, served as a barracks, armory, menagerie, mint, record office and royal prison over the centuries. Notable inmates included two wives of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard; Sir Walter Ralegh; Elizabeth I before she became queen of England; and, during World War II, Adolf Hitler associate Rudolf Hess.

It also houses the crown jewels, an extensive permanent collection of armor and rotating history exhibitions.

The site is open daily; hours vary by season. Admission is about $24 for adults, $19 for students and seniors, $16 for children and $67 for families (up to two adults and three children). Prices will go up April 1. 011-44-870-756-6060, www.hrp.org.uk.

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