London Walks tours

By: Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 15 of the March 2018 issue.

We saw Carter Lane, a block southwest of St. Paul’s Cathedral, on London Walks’ tour “Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ London — The Old City.” Photos by Stephen Addison

One of the highlights of each of the two most recent visits that my wife, Paula Owens, and I made to London (December 2015 and November 2017) was a walking tour with London Walks (London, England; phone 020 7624 3978, www.walks.com). 

As a veteran of many walking tours on several continents, I haven’t found a better walking-tour operator than this 50-year-old organization.

The concept is simple: tours run regardless of the weather, begin at a Tube-stop exit, last around two hours and end at (or near) another Tube stop. You simply choose a tour and show up at the tour’s starting point at the appointed time. There’s no advance booking; you pay the tour guide before the start of the tour. 

If you don’t have one of the informative London Walks brochures, the tour guide can give you one when you pay. 

The tour cost for an adult is only £10 (near $14.25), cash. Those over 65 as well as students and people with the London Walks Loyalty Card (available from guides for £2) pay £8 each. Accompanied children under 15 go free. (They also operate a handful of day trips from London that, understandably, cost more.)

Dozens of different walks are offered, most once or twice a week, while others run less often. Over a dozen tours are held daily, seven days a week.

The 12th-century Priory Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great, seen on London Walks' “Shakespeare’s and Dickens' London” walking tour.

Tours can focus on areas (e.g., Hampstead, Greenwich, Kensington or Chelsea), history (e.g., the Blitz, Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ London or Maritime London), places (e.g., British Museum, Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s) or themes (e.g., the Beatles, ghosts, Harry Potter or crime). 

The walks are at a relatively easy pace but could be challenging for those with mobility issues.

More than 50 individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds act as tour guides. Several are Blue Badge guides. A brief profile of each guide is provided on the website and in the tour brochure. 

You’ll find the guides to be entertaining, knowledgeable and, definitely, good storytellers. They provide content, context and local flavor that aren’t found in guidebooks. They encourage questions and engagement. 

During our first London Walk, “Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ London,” David guided us through an area which we had crisscrossed several times in the previous days. He showed us places of interest and/or historic importance that we had overlooked. 

We’ve been fortunate to take two walks with David, the London Walks leader since 1990 and an outstanding guide (and, unexpectedly, an American).

Who goes on a London Walks tour? We’ve found the majority to be British, along with a fair number of Americans and Canadians. Almost all are repeat customers who take at least one walking tour each time they visit London. That’s now the plan for us, too. 

STEPHEN ADDISON
Charlotte, NC