London is a diverse & exciting city with some of the world's top sights, attractions & activities.
One of the world’s most visited cities, our buzzing capital has more famous buildings, and neighbourhoods than any other, all accompanied by magnificent history and culture. As a Blue Badge Guide, I get privileged access to London’s major attractions and buildings including the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum. Get your culture fix at some of the best museums and galleries in the world - many of which are free. With the benefit of my full and thorough knowledge of each attraction you’ll see everything that there is to see, make the most of your time at each attraction and understand why it is so important. Here are just some of the places I’d be delighted to acquaint you with...
St Paul’s Cathedral
Walking along the nave we’ll be able to admire the work of Wren and his team of 17th century craftsmen. At the east end of the Cathedral, behind the High Altar is the American Memorial Chapel, commemorating 28,000 US servicemen based in Britain who were killed in World War Two. We will then descend into the atmospheric crypt, situated under the nave just below street level. Here you will have the chance to see the surprisingly plain tomb of Sir Christopher Wren and the tombs and memorials of many other famous Englishmen. There is also a rather nice café down there as well.
St Pauls is the seat of the Bishop of London, and a working Anglican church that holds regular services that are open to all faiths. The present cathedral dates was built after the 1666 Great Fire of London, but a cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood here at the highest point in the old City of London for more than 1400 years. And it is perfectly situated to enable me to show you the new developments of Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern gallery across the remarkable Millennium footbridge at Bankside or to explore the City of London, on foot. You can discover London’s newest square, as well as hidden alleyways, secluded parks and you can hear of some of its rich history.
In the late 17th century, a small, suburban villa was extended and transformed by master architect Sir Christopher Wren for the new King, William III. He suffered from asthma and found that the damp and smoky air of Central London was undermining his health. Kensington, located to the west of London, on a small hill meant that the prevailing winds kept the disagreeable smells away. We can see many rooms designed and bult for succeeding monarchs.
I can show you the Kings State Apartments, each grander than the last, where you may be fortunate enough to meet the King. It includes the fabulous cupola room, designed to look like a Roman temple, and I can demonstrate how this marks the beginning of interior design. We will also see the flamboyantly painted and ornamented Kings Grand Staircase, with all the characters from the Royal court looking down on you as you walk up them. And the Queens State Apartments, cosy, private rooms used for relaxation away from the activity of the court, where Queen Anne and royal favourite Sarah Churchill had their final rift.
As home to the Royal Dress Collection, there are always luxurious gowns and dresses on show in a regularly changing display, from shimmering but totally impractical mantuas from the 1700s to items from Queen Victoria’s wardrobe to clothing associated with more modern royals such as Princess Margaret or Diana, Princess of Wales. I’ll tell you about the fascinating people who have lived in the palace, with tales of royal life from William and Mary in 1689, via Queen Victoria to William and Catherine today. If you are interested in the Royal family over the last 350 years, this is the place for you.
A visit to Kensington Palace can be combined with a walk to explore Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and Kensington itself, or maybe the Science, Natural History or Victoria and Albert Museum, all of which are a pleasant 20 minute walk away.
With over 2,000 paintings in its collection, a visit to the National Gallery can be overwhelming. My highlights tour focuses on a wide range of works of art from across the collection. The earliest paintings are devotional works intended to bring the viewer closer to God, frequently created by anonymous craftsmen. A good example is ‘The Wilton Diptych’ an exquisite 18 inch (57 cm) high altarpiece commissioned for King Richard II over 600 years ago and probably seen by William Shakespeare. The High Renaissance produced paintings that are often regarded as the pinnacle of Western Art. I’ll show you to several of these masterpieces including Da Vinci’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ and Raphael’s strikingly lifelike portrait of ‘Pope Julius II.’
Great artists were enticed to London from mainland Europe to paint for royalty and the rich. I’ll point out Van Dyck’s ‘Lord John Stuart and his brother’ with its silk clothing, lace and kid leather gloves showing off the painter’s skills but also encapsulating the one of the reasons that there was a Civil War here in the 1640s. By the 18th century, Britain’s own artists were renowned across Europe. Must-sees include works by the two great English rivals of the 19th century – Turner and Constable – including Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ and Constable’s ‘The Haywain.’
Impressionists like Monet, Cezanne and Renoir would revolutionise the world of art with works that captured real life in the moment. Great works by these artists are on permanent display and we will marvel at their ability to depict light and movement with a few brushstrokes, including Van Gogh, whose ‘Sunflowers’ is one the National Gallery’s most popular paintings. There are many more paintings and artists that I would like to show you from Rubens and Caravaggio to Seurat and the one of the delights of the Gallery is that we can have as long or short a visit as you wish. And it is perfectly placed to explore Westminster, Theatreland or Covent Garden on foot afterwards.
As well as being a superb example of 13th century Gothic architecture, it has seen many Royal weddings and the coronation of all English monarchs since 1066. Let me accompany you to the resting place of some of them, show you the burial places of great Englishmen, and what is probably the most glorious ceiling in the country.
If you wish to see the burial place or memorial of a particular person, let me know beforehand and I will do my best to fulfil your wishes.
And I’ll take you in through a quiet entrance in the cloisters, to beat the queues!
Because it is a working Christian church, you may wish to attend a service at Westminster Abbey. These take place every day in late afternoon or early evening. This is a Church of England or Anglican service, but all are welcome whatever your faith.
The Tower of London
Within its solid stone towers is the finest collection of arms and armour in the country as well as the Crown Jewels containing all the objects need to crown a King or Queen. Crowns, bejewelled sceptres and words and a white diamond the size of a chickens egg. If you know where to look, and I do (possibly too big -headed?), you can see graffiti carved into the walls by prisoners in the 1500s. A UNESCO world heritage site, I can ensure you see the highlights if your time is short or take a whole day and you’ll see all its secrets.
First opening its doors to the public in 1759, it was free to enter to ‘any person of decent appearance’ and it is still free to enter today. There is plenty of room to move around with the addition of the Great Court, roofed in glass and steel in 2000 and now the largest public square in Europe. And if you let me know that you have a particular interest in any period, such as Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, mediaeval Europe or the Africa galleries, let me know and I’ll make sure we cover those in some depth
Victoria & Albert Museum
Contemporary design has always been at the heart of the V&A's work and many of Britain's most successful designers have used the V&A as a source of ideas. You often have the opportunity to see their work alongside the historic collections which helped shape them.
There are galleries dedicated to Ceramics, Furniture, Sculpture and Gold, silver and jewellery among many others. Alongside its own superb collection of sculptures are full sixed plaster casts made in the late 1800s of some of the worlds most significant works of art including Michelangelo’s David and Trajan’s Column from Ancient Rome. Let me show you the highlights of the galleries, or perhaps I can show you the history of this country from 1500 to 1900 through a series of beautiful and historic pieces in the British galleries. Or perhaps you’d rather see the Raphael cartoons, the enormous, colourful blueprints for the tapestries in the Sistine chapel, or a bed mentioned in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.
The V&A is famous for its collection of fashion covering style from the1600s to today, with a special focus on the late 20th century. Tell me what appeals to you and I’ll make sure it is covered.
Churchill War Rooms
I will show you the War Cabinet room where decisions that would impact on history were taken, in a room made out of an old storeroom. You can be amazed at how spartan the fittings are, with electric fans on the wall whose only effect was to circulate the tobacco smoke. We will also see the map room, which was the nerve centre of Britain’s war effort. Staffed by five officers, it was to all intents and purposes an information hub, receiving intelligence reports from around the world, plotting everything on to maps and producing a daily situation report on the war for the Prime Minister and the King. The maps on the wall are original and you can still see thousands of pinholes in the Atlantic, which charted the movements of vital supply convoys from North America and elsewhere.
In the Churchill Museum, I will concentrate on the war years, but if you are a Churchill enthusiast, I’m very happy to spend longer in here, exploring his whole life. And there is a chance to see the famous old door to No 10 Downing Street, learn the story behind the famous Karsh portrait of Winston, and see the actual items that were important to his public image – his cigar, his hat and his bow tie. This is an attraction that is becoming more popular with every passing year. It is normal now to have to book a timed ticket for your entrance, and I can advise you or even do it for you, if necessary.
Imperial War Museum
Having a specialist knowledge of the collections and the stories behind them, I will give you a tour tailored to the interests and needs of you and your group, whether it’s a particular aspect of 20th Century warfare or a guided tour of the highlights. This is a Museum that I particularly enjoy guiding children around.
We will see the large objects, including a First World War tank, a full sized V2 rocket, and a harrier jet, but also hear inspiring stories of the war experiences of soldiers, statesmen and ordinary Londoners.
I can take you into the First World War galleries for a fascinating insight into WWI through the lives of those who experienced it, both on the front line and at home.
And we will see all the WW2 exhibits, such as the Enigma machine used by the Germans to encipher their messages and famously broken by the British at Bletchley Park, as well as a superbly detailed model of a damaged ship used in a wartime film, and everyday items that show how ordinary Londoners coped with rationing, evacuation, war work and events on the home front.
I will explain the importance of everything from the American Norden bombsight and the British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine to the German electrically powered torpedo.
Add to this a well-stocked shop, a regularly changing programme of special exhibitions, and one of the largest art collections in London, and you have a great place to visit.
With my knowledge, I can take you on a day out with the Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian dynasties on a private tour of Hampton Court. We will visit Base Court, built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century. When his master Henry VIII started to covet the great palace, Wolsey quickly presented it to the petulant monarch, who made it even grander and more luxurious. Clock Court features a still working astrological clock installed in 1540 which is one of the most significant late-medieval clocks in Europe.
Inside, the Great Hall is a remarkable room with a breath-taking hammer beam timber roof and priceless tapestries. Beyond, some of Henry VIII’s apartments still survive which we will visit, proceeding to the Chapel Royal with its fan-vaulted ceiling. The ghost of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, is still said to haunt the corridor we walk down.
I will tell you stories of royalty and the court, as well as the servants. Downstairs are the huge and wonderfully preserved Tudor Kitchens, sometimes catering to 600 courtiers at a single sitting. You can see how food was prepared 500 years ago: a gluttonous feast of oxen, wild boar, pies, fish and even a roast peacock. 150 years later, King William III and subsequent monarchs started to refashion it into a grand Baroque Palace, to rival Versailles. They didn’t have the money to complete these ambitious plans, and today we are left with a magnificent Palace of two distinct halves!
There will be a chance to stroll through the grounds from a Tudor knot garden to an exquisite 18th century Privy Garden, then on to the ornate topiary of the yew trees in the Great Fountain Gardens. And you should see the Great Vine planted in 1768, the largest in the world and still producing around 600 lbs (270 kilos) of grapes every year.
The Museum of London
Documenting the social history of London and its inhabitants from prehistory to today, the Museum of London is an excellent, free to enter attraction a few minutes walk from St Pauls cathedral, on the edge of the oldest part of London. Never busy, it brings the fascinating story of London to life with world-class treasures, beautiful costumes, interactive displays, and atmospheric reconstructions.
Let me take you through the galleries and show you evidence of hippopotamuses living in Trafalgar Square, 1700 year old leather sandals with the owners name scratched in them, items used to create sound effects at Shakespeare’s theatres and the 1928 lifts from Selfridges.
Located in the City of London on the old Roman wall, the Museum of London is part of the Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 1970s to redevelop a bomb-damaged area.
With you, I will explore the history of London from its prehistory 10,000 years ago, when the whole population of London was no more than 30, to 2,000 years ago and the people and their lives in Roman Londinium, the city 5 metres beneath our feet. The largest city in Britain and a vibrant international port it was also the site of bloody gladiatorial games and wild animal fights in its own amphitheatre.
Moving forward we can discover everyday objects from medieval London which, though destroyed by invaders, racked by famine, fire and disease, grew to become one of the most important cities in Europe.
By the 1600s the city of Shakespeare was a divided city, home to both pleasure seekers and Puritans. The growing city experienced death and disaster from the execution of King Charles I in 1649, to plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.
London soon became Britain’s biggest manufacturing centre, and at the centre of an expanding empire, London was the wealthiest and most powerful city in the world by 1850. In the Victorian walk, let’s enjoy a little window shopping in 18th century London with recreated cobbled streets and genuine shops rescued from the developers.
Not every Londoner enjoyed this prosperity. Child mortality was extremely high, and those who became bankrupt ended up in debtors' prisons.
All Londoners shared the experience of two world wars, and we can study the post-war revolutions in technology, fashion, and culture transformed London and maintained its position as one of the most important cities in the world.
What my clients say of my Custom Tours
“Mike's knowledge and expertise made our day around the heart of London from Westminster Abbey to St Paul’s Cathedral much more meaningful" Terri, New Jersey