A walk around…

Please see my “Contacts & Terms” page for covid-19 guidance.  For those who can’t travel to London at the moment, please see my “Virtual Tours and Lectures” page for virtual alternatives during this difficult time

London is made up of lots of different neighbourhoods, each with their own unique character.  Take a walk around and discover some of these varied areas.

All tours can be included in a tailor-made tour or enjoyed on their own as a private group tour.  Private group tours last approximately 2-2.5 hours.  Normal minimum group size 15, maximum group size 25 (but group sizes will be determined individually during the covid-19 pandemic based on circumstances).  Normal cost £10 per person / concessions £9 (these prices will be held summer/winter 2020, but may well need to be revised in 2021 to allow for smaller groups – prices will be updated here)

The City of Westminster; London’s “must see” sights

Buck P

The City of Westminster is London’s royal and political heart and this walking tour will show you the top “must see” attractions.  The Palace of Westminster (better known as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben) are truly iconic, overlooking the river Thames, home of Parliament and site of 1,000 years of living history.  Westminster Abbey is the royal church, famous for coronations and royal weddings and a gothic  masterpiece.  Whitehall is where the country is actually governed, lined with government ministries and 10 Downing Street, and marked by the Cenotaph national memorial. 

Trafalgar Square is the geographical and emotional heart of London, overseen by the British hero admiral Nelson on top of his column.  Lastly a pleasant walk along the grand ceremonial route and through gorgeous royal parks takes us to Buckingham Palace, home of the queen and HQ of the British monarchy.  We will admire the architecture of all these beautiful buildings and spaces and learn about their history and the people who live and work in them today.

If Changing the Guard is scheduled for the day of the tour I will incorporate this and ensure you get the best possible view. If not I will make sure you have the opportunity to admire and have your photo taken with the soldiers who guard HM The Queen.

The City of London; historic London and financial centre

Guildhall

The City of London is where London began, almost 2000 years ago, as Roman Londinium.  Today it is the financial “square mile”, home to the Bank of England and numerous banks and financial services companies.  

Modernity bumps up against the past at every corner, with modern glass skyscrapers, like the Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater, towering over medieval churches.

The City is also entirely unique its governance with its own Lord Mayor and Corporation.  Learn how these institutions evolved since the 12th century, their ancient traditions and responsibilities today. 

No tour of the City would be complete without seeing some of Christopher Wren’s (the architect who built St Paul’s Cathedral) beautiful City churches, some hidden City gardens and finding out what makes a cockney (or true Londoner)

Bankside and Shakespeare’s London

Take a walk through Bankside, south of the river Thames and one of the oldest parts of London.  It was settled by the Romans and became part of London’s first suburb (Southwark).  In the medieval period it was an industrial area, with lots of involvement in the food and drink industries and in the Victorian era it was home to flourishing docks and warehouses.  Traces of this Roman, medieval and industrial past survive to be discovered and explored.  Today it is a bustling foodie and entertainment district, centred around Borough Market, riverside pubs and the Glove theatre.  It also has some of London’s most stunning riverside views! 

shakespeare

Bankside’s most famous resident was William Shakespeare, who lived and worked here in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when the area was London’s theatre and entertainment district.  Discover how the theatre developed, both physically and artistically, what going to the theatre in Shakespeare’s time was like and explore the places Shakespeare would have known.

Covent Garden; markets and theatres

Take a walk around London’s theatre, shopping and entertainment district.  From its beginnings in the 17th century as London’s first luxury neighbourhood, wander through its beautiful piazza and the neighbourhood’s narrow winding streets and learn how the fortunes of the area fell and then rose again thanks to the local community.  

Neal's Yard

Covent Garden is home to many theatres, including the two oldest, and our tour will explore the growth of London’s theatreland and discover important places and characters in its development, from the theatre where women were first allowed to appear on stage to the actor-manager who introduced a more natural stage acting style.

In the 18th century Covent Garden was London’s red-light district and a notorious slum, giving rise to the creation of London’s first professional police force, the Bow Street Runners.  We will discover how they came to operate and their famous old headquarters.  Today Covent Garden is completely transformed and we will enjoy the quirky boutiques and cafes of this vibrant neighbourhood.

St James’s; home of the traditional gentleman

Yeoman of the Guard Guard Change 2

Take a walk around the exclusive area of St James’s, neighbour to Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace, bordered by the fashionable shopping street of Piccadilly and on the edge of the West End theatre district.  

St James’s is the traditional home of English gentlemen, with its famous gentleman’s clubs and old-fashioned shops – including the shop that invented the bowler hat and made the hat worn by Oddjob in the James Bond film Goldfinger!

Temple and Lincoln’s Inn; secret cloisters of the legal profession

Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn are 3 of the ancient Inns of Court which became the centre of the English legal system in the 14th century.  Today they remain the offices of barristers (the lawyers in wigs who stand up in court and represent you).  All inns were set up on a similar pattern, a bit like an Oxbridge college, with accommodation for the lawyers to eat, sleep and study (today offices) a Great Hall to eat in and a chapel to pray in.

Explore the history of this unique neighbourhood, its stunning examples of Norman, Elizabethan and Victorian Gothic architecture, and learn of the people who have lived and worked here.

Stepping into one of the Inns of Court feels like stepping back in time into a peaceful oasis of historic buildings, winding lanes and squares and beautiful gardens.  It’s no wonder that TV and film companies visit frequently and you will recognise locations from Poirot, Miss Marple and Bridget Jones!

A walking tour of Temple and Lincoln’s Inn can combine well with a tour of Sir John Soane’s Museum

Bloomsbury; intellectual and medical neighbourhood

Take a walk through Bloomsbury, London’s intellectual area!  Within its tranquil 18th and 19th century squares, you will find the British Museum, numerous University of London colleges and departments and the homes of many famous literary inhabitants and publishers.  We will explore some of these institutions and people, such as Virginia Woolf, the Bloomsbury Group, TS Eliot, Hans Sloane and Charles Dickens.  See the building where the Ministry of Information invented the slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War 2 and which later inspired the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984.

But Bloomsbury is also associated with medicine, hospitals and most especially with children.  Learn about the creation of Great Ormond Street Hospital and about an even earlier hospital, the Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first home for abandoned children. 

Or simply take a walk through Bloomsbury’s tranquil squares, set around beautifully landscaped gardens, and admire the simple Georgian architecture.  Discover this friendly area, built on a domestic scale, within the hustle and bustle of modern London!

Notting Hill; vibrant village and film set

Take a walk around Notting Hill, the west London urban village known for Hugh Grant, Portobello Rd antiques market and Carnival!

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Explore the origins of the area (with piggeries and potteries), then admire its beautiful 19th century terraced houses and secluded private gardens built in elegant sweeping crescents, some painted in lovely pastel ice cream colours!

Soak up the atmosphere of vibrant Portobello Road with its antique and vintage boutiques and busy street market

Meet some of its famous residents, the hippies and bohemians who have shaped its character and explore its role as a popular film set!

The East End; working class melting pot and hipsters

East End - Brick Lane

East End - street art

Take a walk through the East End, the area of London where immigrants have traditionally settled and made their homes.  Walking through Shoreditch and Spitalfields we will explore how Huguenot (French Protestant) refugees in the 17th century were followed by Irish labourers in the 18th century, Jewish refugees in the 19th century and the Bengali and Bangladeshi community in the 1960s and 1970s, each in turn shaping the character of the area.  

Most recently the artistic community have settled in the East End and pioneered the gentrification of the area.  This is seen in vibrant street art, by artists such as Banksy and Ben Eine, and in the bustling markets of Spitalfields and Brick Lane.

Today the area is at the heart of the booming technology, media and advertising sectors of the economy, poised for yet another change of character.  Discover this colourful and buzzing tourist-friendly area off the normal beaten track!

The Docklands (Wapping); the river and its docks

docklands

wapping-pub

The Thames is the heart of London and the reason for its existence.  This tour starts at Tower Hill on the edge of Docklands where we will remember some of the people and institutions that made up London’s docks, before exploring the first of our docks, linked to the luxury goods trade. 

The atmospheric neighbourhood of Wapping is dotted with historic riverside pubs and stories of smugglers and pirates.  We will learn how this was countered with the creation of the world’s oldest uniformed police force and the creation of the 19th century cargo docks.  These made London the “warehouse of the world” and we will explore some of the best-preserved stretches of Victorian warehouse architecture.

Of course nothing lasts forever, and London’s docks experienced a rapid decline between the late 1960s and late 1970s, before their most recent redevelopment and reimagining.  The tour ends with a symbol of this rebirth of the docklands – the Millennium Dome or O2.

The Docklands (Rotherhithe); redeveloped docks and historic fishing village

Get off the beaten track and imagine you are exploring a wooded and marshy coastline and visiting a cobbled fishing village, whilst catching sight of steel and glass skyscrapers on the horizon.

Surrey Commercial Docks

Mayflower statue

This tour explores the Rotherhithe peninsula, dotted with the interlocked docks and waterways of Surrey Commercial Docks.  Learn about the history of the area when it was part of the “warehouse of the world” with goods arriving from as far away as Greenland, Canada and Russia.  Today the docks have been redeveloped for housing, watersports and wildlife, with stunning views of the skyscrapers of London’s 2 financial centres; the City and Canary Wharf.

Historic Rotherhithe village was a shipbuilding centre in the 17th century, and it was from here that the MAYFLOWER set sail to journey to the New World in 1620. 

It is also home to the Brunel Museum and the entrance shaft to the tunnel under the river Thames built by Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  Here they pioneered tunnelling underwater and built the oldest underground structure in London’s Underground, itself the oldest underground system in the world

This tour is slightly longer than other tours on this page (2.5 hours) and you should wear sensible shoes for muddy paths.

King’s Cross; Railways, Writers and Regeneration

The area around King’s Cross station has changed out of all recognition in the last 10 years – come and explore the changes and celebrate the wonderful industrial heritage that has been preserved.

Our tour starts at St Pancras railway station, fronted by the old Midland Hotel, a neo-gothic masterpiece to rival the Houses of Parliament!  We will explore the magnificent architecture of the hotel and station, before walking past the monumental British Library and the cutting edge research facility the Francis Crick Institute (the “armadillo” building”) to a reminder of pre-industrial King’s Cross at St Pancras Old Church.  This now peaceful spot was churned up by the 19th century railway builders, but today the graveyard provides a reminder of the rural past and  curious links to famous writers and architects.  

We will explore the heart of the King’s Cross regeneration, which has taken a semi-derelict industrial area and turned it into sought after homes, HQs for big corporations and universities, elegant squares and interesting parks, all while preserving the heritage of canals, railways, coal drops and gas holders.

We will finish at King’s Cross station with its wonderful Victorian train sheds and modern glazed concourse, beloved to all Harry Potter fans as home to Platform 9 and 3/4.

Chelsea; Bohemian village on the river

Chelsea

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Chelsea’s history goes back to the Tudors when Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More, his Lord Chancellor, owned manor houses in beautiful countryside bordering the river Thames.  In the 17th century Charles II built a road through the area, the King’s Road, and founded the Royal Hospital Chelsea for old, sick and injured soldiers.  Hans Sloane, physician, naturalist and collector, left his mark in the 18th century and his legacy survives today in place names and unique gardens.  Artists, writers and philosophers flocked to bohemian Chelsea in the 19th century and by the 1960s it was at the centre of “Swinging London” and THE place to come to buy a mini skirt.  Today the annual Chelsea Flower Show is a must for any gardener.

Our tour starts with the fashionable shops and restaurants of the King’s Road, then gets off the beaten track to discover quiet tree-lined mews and squares, gardens, river views and medieval churches.  Along the way we will learn about those who have lived and worked in Chelsea, from James Bond to John Barry, Mary Quant, PL Travers, the Beatles, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Oscar Wilde, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Carlyle and many more……

This tour is slightly longer than other tours on this page (2.5 hours)

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Highgate; village on the hill

We will start our tour at Highgate East Cemetery, soaking in the gothic atmosphere and visiting the graves of notable people.  Highgate Cemetery is one of the earliest private garden cemeteries in England, created as a reaction to overcrowded and unsanitary churchyards in the 19th century.  The first part to open was Highgate Cemetery West in 1839 (which we will not be visiting) followed by the East Cemetery in 1860.  Today Highgate East Cemetery is home to many of Highgate’s most famous residents inc Karl Marx, the novelist George Eliot and lots of writers, artists, political thinkers and actors.  Above all it is a peaceful, reflective space with a huge variety of memorials and monuments. 

From the cemetery we will walk to Highgate village.  As its name suggests it is perched high on a hill overlooking London and has a wonderful village feel, with a village green, loads of local pubs, a church and a famous school.  Over the years it has been home to and inspired numerous writers and we will explore the places associated with the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived here for much of his life, and Charles Dickens who briefly lived here and set part of David Copperfield here.  Highgate also has a huge variety of domestic architecture, from late 17th century houses, to a 1920s mock Tudor estate, to one of the most famous famous examples of Modernist architecture in London designed by renowned architect Berthold Lubetkin.

Note: There is an additional £4 entrance charge to visit Highgate East Cemetery

Note: The tour of the village includes one very steep hill that cannot be avoided, so if you are a wheelchair user please contact Caroline to discuss if this is suitable for you.