London walking tours are always popular with tourists, but for locals they can also be a way of stepping away from the commute and discovering more about the city you live and work in. Each tour covers something different. Some focus on history and architecture, others know the stories behind famous London characters and scandals, one even wants you to decide the truth for yourself. But none of them would happen without an expert guide at the helm, so we thought we’d get to know some of the people who spend their days (and sometimes nights) bringing the city’s past and present to life.
All you need to know about food and drink in Mayfair, Belgravia and Marylebone and superior pub knowledge. A favourite is Soho – A Foodie & Bar Themed History Tour.
Joanna Moncrieff is a born and bred Londoner. She’s been a qualified City of Westminster Walking Tour Guide for more than five years and loves sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for her beloved city.
If you’re looking for the only pub with a Victorian drinking box in London (basically it’s like entering a cupboard, with one door in and the other into the pub) then Joanna's the guide for you. You’ll learn all about pubs: the habits and drinks from yesteryear and how the watering holes and surrounding streets got their names. She'll also take you to the places you’d never find on an average pub crawl around central London. Joanna is one of the specialist guides for Footprints of London and prides herself on being in the know when it comes to the best places to eat in the capital.
“After quite a bit of deliberation I have to say that it is St Paul's - going past St Paul's on a bus (especially at night) gets me emotional every time!” – Joanna Moncrieff
Website and @WWalksWalk themes: Food, drink and literatureAverage time: Between one and a half and two and a half hoursAreas covered: Central London as well as Walhamstow & ChingfordSuitable for: Adults, as most of the tours feature pub stops along the way.Price: £10 (£7.50 concessions)
Art Deco in Bloomsbury Walking Tour (Architecture in the Machine Age)
Yannick Pucci is an independent London guide who has been volunteering at the British Museum continuously since 2010, giving the Highlights Tour as well as the Japan Eye Opener Tour. After two years, he decided to run his own tours in London, with Holland Park being his first foray into independent guiding.
The tagline for these walking tours is "exploring London with a twist" and this is exactly what you can expect in Yannick's capable hands. He takes something like the humble telephone box and weaves it into a two-hour walking tour., and knows where to find the best macarons in the capital.
"When not exploring the streets of London, one of my happy places is the Ceramics Wing at the V&A which is hidden on the 6th floor. Most people never make it that far up - a shame."
Website and @ypldnWalk themes: History, gardens, architecture, art and heritageWalk days: Wednesday, Saturday / SundayAverage time: 2 hoursAreas covered: Bloomsbury, Central London / Westminster, Holland Park, Belgravia and Knightsbridge.Suitable for: Seasoned Londoners as well as tourists who want something differentPrice: £8 booked online (concessions £6)
Laurence is a specialist in great stories of discovery, invention and intelligence. The London Spy Walks and the Invention, Intelligence and Industry including 'an Untoothsome Pear' in Vauxhall are our recommended tours.
Independent guide Laurence Scales has an engineering background and specialises in scientific trivia and fun facts. Few tours out there focus on invention and science, but Laurence will explain what quarks are, the historical importance of dentures and keeping the spy fans happy with tales of code-breaking. Someone once asked him if his subject was the ‘history of science’. After a few moments thought he decided that it was more accurate to say ‘stories from the history of science’ because he avoids the dry stuff.
Great stories, odd characters and surprising leaps of imagination are the focus of these tours rather than famous landmarks and celebrities. The tours aim to explore lesser known historic sites but also to offer a double-take on some famous ones Such as Richmond Park and Downing Street (on his Westminster and Whitehall walk).
“I’m so fond of the Royal Institution that I do volunteer work there. One of the first things to surprise me when I started looking into London’s history was that Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days was loosely based on a real person, George Train, who eventually managed it in sixty.” - Laurence Scales
Website and @LWalksLondonWalk themes: London unsung heroes, discovery, invention and intelligenceWalk days: VariesAverage time: 2.5 hours (but some longer)Areas covered: West to east (Richmond to Woolwich), and south to north: (Kingston to Camden), and includes all of central London. Suitable for: Anyone with an interest in London, but also studentsPrice: From £10 per person for a scheduled tour
They pioneered the first London folklore tours but are best known for their acclaimed London Liars’ Tours. At each stop members of the tour read out two prepared scripts, one is true the other false. It’s up to the tour group to decide which is which.
Run by touring trio Sean Griffiths, a blue badge and architecture expert, Vanessa Woolf, a widely respected London storyteller and Chris Roberts, an author and tour guide. There are other people who occasionally get involved in different projects.
Their slogan is “Never Knowingly Undertold” and they encourage interaction and audience participation, as well as being quite flexible with tour times and end points (even adding in pub stops). They rarely do public tours for individuals but instead rely on group bookings and are happy to create bespoke tours for clients and groups. As well architecture walking tours they also have the world’s first Peckham literature tour.
"Brockwell Lido, and I am amused by fact that more people were executed at Tower of London in 20th century than entire Tudor period." – Chris Roberts
"I am amused by the fact that Harrods sold cocaine until 1916 and like the Thames walk by Woolwich for the unspoiled 1980s industrial splendour." – Vanessa Woolf
Website and @oneeyegreyWalk themes: Liars, ghosts, literature, architecture and music. Walk days: Whenever we have bookings Average time: Aim for 90 minutes, sometimes over run a bit. Add 20 minutes per pub stop. Areas covered: Most of the riverside from Bermondsey to Battersea (from Borough along to Chelsea). Also have tours in Clapham, Peckham, Bloomsbury, Holborn and KensingtonSuitable for: Work colleagues, friends, social groups, stag & hen parties and tour groups. The liars’ tours are aimed to work equally well for London experts as well those on holiday. Adults rather than children (but do have family friendly tours). Price: Varies but £150 for up to 20 people on basic tour
Alternative tours of East London, revealing the past and discovering what's new.
After nearly a decade leading tours abroad, constantly curious guide and performer Simon Cole has been asking questions and finding magic on his doorstep as Hackney Tours since 2012. When embarking on a tour with Simon, he says you might: "hear a story, maybe savour a song; sign up for something or just get excited about the heritage under your feet."
While the tour themes vary, all of them aim to entertain, inspire and provoke questions about the London of tomorrow by examining the past and present. Hackney is home to Victorian nature reserves as well as the shiny new Olympic stadium, and these tours reveal how the area has not only changed, but where it will be going next. These tours are more like social events, so you might make a new friend. You'll also be doing a good deed: 10% of proceeds go to local causes like the Abney Park trust.
“Clapton; the marshes are quiet and beautiful. But I'm still only minutes from historic Abney Park cemetery or the industrial futurism of Hackney Wick." – Simon Cole
Website and @hackneytoursWalk themes: Social history, creativity, community, environmentalism, social reform, alternative living, conservation, 19th century London, Gentrification, Feminism equality and activism.Walk days: Days / times vary (see website) Average time: Generally one and half hoursAreas covered: Hackney and neighbouring areas (eg Tower Hamlets) Suitable for: AllPrice: Typically £7-10
Cultural creativity in East London; these are the street art experts.
Founded by street artist Gary Means, Alternative London tours are guided by local East End creatives. Some are graffiti artists, while others have a film and photography background. The common thread that unites them all is a love of the area that they work and live in.
The pioneers of street art tours in London like to keep things fresh, and walks centre around the constantly evolving East London landscape. Rather than always focussing on the history, they like to show the real London and share their passion for the art scene that the area has become famous for. Creative workshops are also available for street art and photography. Website and @AlternativeLdnWalk themes: Street art, historic pubs, photographyWalk days: The Alternative Walking Tour is available every day except Sunday; see website for other tour days and times.Average time: 2 hours to 4 hours for workshopsAreas covered: East London (but will be launching a Soho tour)Suitable for: Anyone (however the pub tours has an over 18 policy)Price: Varies per tour. The original tour is on a pay-what-you-like basis (booking essential) whereas the pub tour costs £20 (inlc 4 drinks) and the bike tours (incl hire) cost £22.
London’s iconic underground network (and everything above).
Published writer Mark Mason thrives on finding intriguing nuggets of information in London. You have to give kudos to someone who has walked the entire Tube system (overground).
Find out what makes London, and the transport beneath the streets, tick. A self-confessed trivia fan, Mark will reveal where there are hidden pineapples in the capital as well as pointing out where Queen Victoria used to go when she didn’t want anyone to recognise her. The walk routes follow three particular stretched of tube lines; the District (green), Central (red) and Piccadilly (dark blue) and Mark points out stories along the way.
"In 1836 the Bank of England’s directors received an anonymous letter, claiming that the author could get into their vaults. Not believing a word of it, they agreed to meet him at midnight on a specified day. At 12 o'clock exactly, a board in the floor lifted up and a head appeared belonging to a man who worked in the sewers. He had realised that one of them ran directly under the Bank. They rewarded his honesty with £800 - the equivalent today of £70,000. Not bad - but still not as much as he could have got by stealing all the gold." - Mark Mason (features in his Central Line walk)
Website and @WalkTheLinesLDNWalk themes: The history of London – via a Tube Line.Walk days: Scheduled walks take place from spring through summer but private walks can be arranged in the meantime.Average time: Approximately 90 minutesAreas covered: The District, Central and Piccadilly linesSuitable for: AllPrice: £8 (concessions available) No pre-booking needed
Charlotte is a former digital marketing graduate. After a stint in an office and a bizarre quarter life crisis at 25, she took on a simple open top bus summer job and fell in love with her job for the first time. The Royal family from 1600 to present is this guides own personal niche.
These tours are for people who want to explore the untold stories of a pretty crazy, ridiculous, hot mess of a city. The royal tour is a brilliant one for getting a very unique insight into our past monarchs. Charlotte loves telling you all about what is "essentially the world’s most dysfunctional family". The naughty is for anyone wanting a real adventure. There’s more to London than just Big Ben. Including plague, prostitutes, Shakespeare, stewing in filth, bear baiting, randy cardinals and execution with a feature on olde English insults. The haunted pub tour involves drinking in prison cells, hunting out Sweeny Todd and untold stories of England's prolific female serial killers.
"I love exploring the ever-changing world of the East End. The smells of spices, taste of bagels and the colourful graffiti is so brilliant. In contrast, royal St James is such a pleasure for the British heritage stores, the tucked away cocktail bars, luscious squares and royal connections."
Website and @ldnwalksWalk themes: History to pop culture, the Royal Family, pub tours. ghosts and photo walks.Walk days: Royal: everyday (no need to pre book); Haunted pub: Wednesday night (prebook); Naughty - Thursday (prebook)Average time: Between 1 and 2 hours (day tour) and up to 3 and a half hours for pub toursAreas covered: From Westminster to the East End and Wapping to as far as GreenwichSuitable for: Anyone with a sense of humourPrice: From £5 to £15
They cover pretty much everything
With more than 50 guides, many of whom are Blue Badge holders, rest assured you’ll be in the hands of an expert. The Jack the Ripper tour is lead by one of the foremost experts, Donald Rumbelow, so expect these to be popular.
One of the oldest walking tour specialists, they have been guiding people around the capital for more than 50 years. Putting on tours come rain or shine, these are great if you're feeling a bit spontaneous - you just turn up and pay as you walk. Website and @londonwalksWalk themes: Ghost walks, Jack the Ripper, museums, London landmarks, rock and roll, pubs, literaryWalk days: Walks available seven days a week. The earliest start at 8.45am and latest ones begin at 7.30pm Average time: Two hours Areas covered: Always starting near a tube stop; they cover all of central London from South Kensington across to Tower HillSuitable for: All(although the evening walks might not be suitable for children)Price: £9 (£7 concessions) No need to book – just turn up.
Each tour guide has a niche expertise, but literature, featuring Samuel Pepys, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens, is well represented.
There are more than 50 independent and qualified guides hosting tours under the umbrella of Footprints of London (including two guides, Laurence Scales and Joanna Moncrieff, previously mentioned). Look out for Rob Smith, a Clerkenwell & Islington Guide with a fascinating River Lea walk, and Mark Rowland who provides walks for families.
Footprints of London's tagline is: "Where Londoners walk" and most of the tours are either in depth or away from the usual tourist trail. All the guides are members of guiding associations in London and this website has brought them all together.
"St Pancras Old Churchyard, a place of amazing calm just a few minutes walk from St Pancras Station. It still has a slight Gothic feel to it – mentioned as a place of grave robbery in a Tale of Two Cities, the place where Frankenstein author Mary Shelley met her husband Percy, and where Thomas Hardy was involved in reburying the dead that had their graves disturbed by building the railway, leaving the gravestones stacked up against a tree." - Rob Smith, Tour Guide
Website and @footprintsldnWalk themes: Literature, The Royals, journalism, Charles Dickens Jack the Ripper, Shakespeare, Walk days: Have different walks on seven days a week, from 10.30 am until 7pmAverage time: Two hoursAreas covered: Central London, Southwark, Greenwich, Hackney, Clerkenwell, Islington, Havering and and CamdenSuitable for: AllPrice: Average price £10 (£7.50 concessions). Must be booked online in advance.
We’d love to find out what your favourite parts of London are to stroll around. Have you been on any of the tours? Have you maybe been on one we haven't included? Let us know by leaving a comment below or send us an e-mail: inspirationlastminute.com