Walk back into the past: tours that explore historic London


Although utterly identified, nowadays, with modern cosmopolitanism, London – the capital of the UK and, indeed, one of the arguable capitals of the world – is a city that is simply dripping with history, elegance, grandeur and ostentatious yet perfectly pristine pageantry.

This all makes for a roster of world-famous sites and sights to discover and explore for visitors to the place. However, what if you’re visiting this terrific destination while on a bit of a budget? Not all of these things are free to see and walk around (although all can be viewed – and viewed well – from at least a distance); yet, if you’re making the most of London hotels special offers and can’t afford to visit all the sites you’d like to tick off your itinerary, you’ll surely be able to cover one or more of them in a high-quality, reasonably priced walking tour… 

Westminster in World War Two (Churchill War Rooms and more)

Churchill War Rooms

This tour’s all about giving you quite a different view of the capital than you or, likely, many others will have ever considered or imagined. That’s because it gives you the perspective of the city from the view of those in positions of influence during the dark but evocative days of wartime London – when the city and, indeed, the rest of the country and world was embroiled in the Second World War (1939-45).

To be precise, it’s a walking tour that covers Westminster (easy to reach from hotels near Earls Court Tube) and its legendary landmarks such as ‘Big Ben’ (the Houses of Parliament), 10 Downing Street and Westminster Abbey, as well as the Cenotaph National War Memorial which certainly evokes memories and thoughts of the immense sacrifices made in the name of the Allied war effort.

The tour then goes subterranean, taking participants under the Horse Guards Parade ground where lies the much-heralded and fascinating WWII-era bunker, where the Prime Minister of the era, Sir Winston Churchill, was often to be found, directing the UK’s overseas war drive on land, on water and in the air. Truly, this labyrinthine combination of rooms, offices and tunnels is like another tension-filled world, doubling as a recreation of its 1940s-era appearance and a museum.

Overall, this tour will take up two-and-half hours of your day and runs several days a week, with group numbers of 20 people max and you can guarantee will be well-versed in the history of the oh-so eventful period in time it focuses on. 

Inside Buckingham Palace (including afternoon tea)

Buckingham Palace

One for enthusiasts of the British Royal family this one, for sure – and why not? The Windsors and, by extension, the people of the UK have had an eventful year and undergone a big change to their identity and sense of self – thanks to the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension of the new King Charles III – but that’s also fuelled reinvigorated interest in all things Royal. Good news, then, for Windsor-associated sites and walking tours here in London, which are some of the finest, both of them, for visitors to the city.

Buckingham Palace itself dates from the 18th Century and, over time (following its acquisition by Britain’s then Hanoverian Royal family), was added to and enlarged in both the 19th and 20th centuries to result in the glorious grand palace of today – certainly its ostentatious interior rivals the most impressive hotel meeting conference room!

As such, this July-September summer walking tour aims to deliver a right royally enjoyable day for participants, centring around entrance into and exploration of the palace, before it concludes with a traditional-as-you-like afternoon tea. And, whether you have questions about the Royals, afternoon teas or corgi dogs, your guide on this four-hour tour should be able to answer them all. 

The Tower of London (meet a Beefeater guard)

The Tower of London

One of the nation’s most legendary venues – and deservedly so – the Tower of London truly does boast an extraordinary history, having stood on its site beside the River Thames and the Victorian-era Tower Bridge for practically the past 1,000 years. Indeed, just as famous and impressive as the Tower itself, is its Beefeater guards (officially referred to as Yeomen Wardens). Fundamentally, in this modern age, these guards are ceremonial, essentially being retired armed forces personnel.

All told then, this venue and its associated paraphernalia (Beefeaters definitely included) are prime ingredients for a terrific day out while staying at the likes Park Grand Kensington – all pulled together in this wonderful walking tour. Not only does the tour lead you around this fascinating, incredibly historically resonant destination, with much information courtesy of your on-hand guide, it also affords you the chance to get up close to and even snap some pics with one of the friendly Beefeaters. You’ll also get the chance to witness with your own eyes world-renowned Crown Jewels in the White Tower.

You’ll be joined by no more than 30 other participants on this tour and departure times vary each day, lasting, for around an hour and 15 minutes. 

Westminster Abbey (including the Changing of the Guard)

Westminster Abbey

Again, for those who are simply fascinated by British Royal history, high on their bucket list of things to do – or, maybe, to be precise, to see – is the Changing of the Guard ceremony that takes place daily, around 11am, on the marching ground in front of Buckingham Palace. This legendary expression of pomp and circumstance sees one batch of marching and band-playing soldiers replace – all them bedecked in their absolutely iconic red tunics and tall, furry, black hats.

Just a few minutes’ walk away from the Palace lies another instantly recognisable site of Royal and international interest. Westminster Abbey has been, of course, the venue for multiple sovereign coronations, Royal weddings and funerals (including, naturally, that of HM Queen Elizabeth II, this year). Additionally, it’s where a whole host of universally acclaimed poets, authors, historical figures and monarchs from throughout history have been laid to rest; the tombs in which they lie clearly marked for all visitors to see.

This tour, then, accepting groups of 25 or fewer participants, covers both the Westminster Abbey and the Changing of the Guard at the Palace, as well as a walk through the lovely environs of St James’s Park. All in all, then, really rather glorious.