Date Posted: 01/12/2011
Whether you’re in London for the first time or have hosted previous group visits there’s always something new and exciting to explore.
Royal palaces, museums, monuments, unique attractions and a world class entertainment scene are just a few of the reasons that London is such an unrivalled group destination. Already one of the world’s most exciting capitals, there will be even more of a buzz in the air next year with the Queen’s diamond jubilee, marking the second longest reign of a British monarch, and the countdown to the Olympic Games.
Group guided walks are already available around various Olympic venues and a full programme of events to commemorate the Queen’s 60th year on the throne can be found at www.direct.gov.uk/diamondjubilee.
From the bright lights of the West End theatres to the riverside heritage of the south bank and bustling Covent Garden with its colourful street entertainers and tempting shops, London has numerous areas and villages that can be the focus of an entire visit or part of an itinerary.
Maritime Greenwich is 20 minutes from central London by public transport or groups can take to the water in a speedy Thames Clipper or a scenic riverboat tour from piers along the Thames to Greenwich. This region will be in the spotlight next year as the Cutty Sark, the world’s last surviving tea clipper is due to reopen in spring 2012 following a four-year restoration project. Greenwich is also going to be granted Royal Borough status due to its historical links with royalty and will host numerous Olympic events.
A Dickens of a time
Charles Dickens’s family moved to London in 1815 when he was three-years-old and the great author is buried in poet’s corner at Westminster Abbey. Victorian London and the characters that he encountered from all walks of life inspired much of his later writing career. Next year is the bicentenary of his birth and special events are being organised around the capital to mark the milestone.
A £3 million project is underway to redevelop the Charles Dickens Museum to coincide with the anniversary. Rooms at 48 Doughty Street, the only surviving London house where he lived, are being restored to how they would have looked in Dickens’s time. It was here that he completed The Pickwick Papers and wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and other works. Other events include a special exhibition at the Museum of London from 10th December to 3rd June 2012 where groups can explore his work and how he was influenced by his surroundings; and the Barbican will host a retrospective on silent film adaptations of Dickens’s novels as part of the centre’s regular Silent Film and Live Music series. For information on Dickens 2012 events log onto www.dickens2012.org.
Right royal celebrations
Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace, is planning a feast of activities, exhibitions and events to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee. A major event is the first exhibition at Kensington Palace following the multi-million project to make the former home of Princess Diana and Princess Margaret more accessible. Victoria Revealed will tell the story of one of the palace’s earlier royal residents and will include many objects from Queen Victoria’s life, including dresses, diaries and wedding gifts. The transformation includes a new group entrance, cafe and opportunity to explore the landscaped gardens.
From Easter 2012 groups will be able to enjoy the new look jewel house at the Tower of London, with a close up view of the dazzling crown jewels and other royal treasures. Over at Hampton Court Palace a new temporary exhibition will open in the spring; The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned aims to portray the meaning of beauty during the baroque period and some of the key characters that lived, loved and died at the palace from 1660 to1714. There’s also another new experience at Kew Palace with guided tours of the Georgian kitchens. Untouched since George III’s death in 1820, they represent a fascinating insight into life at the royal court. HRP has a dedicated travel trade department which can assist GTOs in planning visits to one or more properties.
All the world’s a stage
It’s curtain up on two exciting new musicals from the Ambassador Theatre Group. Backbeat, the story of the birth of the Beatles, recently opened at the Duke of York Theatre and runs until March 2012, and is packed with classic hits such Twist and Shout and Long Tall Sally. At the Piccadilly Theatre your group can immerse themselves in the romance of Ghost the Musical, based on the blockbuster film and featuring the unforgettable ballad Unchained Melody. In addition to offering discounted tickets at its venues, which include the Apollo Victoria, Lyceum and Savoy Theatre, Ambassador has teamed up with Tragus restaurants to offer a range of new dining options for groups visiting the West End. They offer a selection of packages at Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Strada, all close to the theatres, and Ambassador will take care of all the organisation for meals and theatre tickets.
For an interesting twist on visits to the Globe Theatre, groups can now add sword fighting, costume dressing or printing press demonstrations to their tour of the faithful reconstruction of the Shakespearian open-air playhouse.
That’s the way to do it
Punch and Judy fans should make a date to go to Covent Garden on 13th May for Mr Punch’s 350th birthday party. It marks the date that Samuel Pepys first spotted an Italian puppet in the market, which became Mr Punch, and wrote about it in his famous diary.
Head to head
Madame Tussauds is an enduring attraction that never fails to please and recent additions to the 300 life-like wax figures include world champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis, and singer Justin Bieber, guaranteed to be a hit with any groups with teenagers on board. Group benefits include one free GTO place for every ten tickets purchased, a group drop-off and pick-up point and dedicated entrance, and discounts on guidebooks.
Five great group attractions
• Buckingham Palace: During the summer groups can tour the 19 state rooms that form the heart of the palace, with discounted entry for groups of 15 or more. In 2012 there will be a special exhibition of royal diamonds as part of the jubilee celebration.
• Churchill War Rooms: The first London museum of its kind, the Churchill War Rooms covers the whole of Winston Churchill’s life in the secret underground headquarters that was the nerve centre of Britain’s war effort.
• London Transport Museum: Started in the 1920s when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve two Victorian horse buses, there are now more than 80 vehicles and fascinating transport artefacts at this attraction in the heart of Covent Garden.
• Tower Bridge Experience: One of London’s most recognisable landmarks, Tower Bridge has stood over the Thames since 1894 and a visit will enable your group to enjoy stunning views from the high level walkways and a tour of the Victorian engine room.
• Victoria and Albert Museum: A showcase for art and design, from March to August 2012 the V&A will stage British Design 1948-2012 to coincide with the Olympics and document the transformation of design since the post-war austerity games.
Five group-friendly Greenwich attractions
• British Music Experience: The exciting interactive museum of rock and pop at the O2 charts the evolving world of music from the 1940s and offers discounted admission to groups of ten or more.
• Fan Museum: A unique attraction, reportedly the first and only museum in the world devoted to fans celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and the pretty orangery offers group refreshments and light lunches.
• Greenwich Market: Open Tuesday to Sunday, quirky stalls and shops sell everything from food and retro sweets to clothes made from eco-friendly fabrics.
• National Maritime Museum: Britain’s seafaring heritage is dramatically recreated in rooms filled with ocean-going treasures and has been extended with the recent opening of the Sammy Ofer Wing, the largest development in the museum’s history.
• Old Royal Naval College: Designed by some of the greatest architects of the day including Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and John Vanbrugh, the beautiful chapel and the magnificent painted hall, where Nelson’s body lay in state after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, are open daily.
Did you know?
• The moat at the Tower of London was drained in 1843 and during the war it was used to grow vegetables.
• Mozart composed his first symphony at the age of eight at Ebury Street in Belgravia where he stayed with his father from April 1764 to July 1765.
• There are three small rooms inside Marble Arch that were used as a police station until 1950.
London & Partners Travel Trade Team: