Date Posted: 14/09/2010
From history and culture to guided tours and exploring the urban jungle, we’ve got London covered.
England’s iconic capital offers a host of visitor attractions - over 250 of which are free - to enjoy as part of a day itinerary or for a longer city break. With an exciting number of innovative developments taking place over the next couple of years in preparation for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we offer an insight into what’s new and highlight some group favourites.
All things history
At Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, groups can now enjoy part of the Royal residence during the winter season - including, once you’re in, a complimentary audio tour - as the Royal Mews extends its opening hours to include November to February. The Royal Mews is one of the finest stables in existence and home to the royal collection of historic coaches and carriages.
At nearby Hyde Park Corner is the former home of the first Duke of Wellington, Apsley House and Wellington Arch, originally designed as an entrance to Buckingham Palace. Enjoy exclusive group access at both sites on Monday and Tuesday when they are closed to the general public.
If palaces tickle your group’s fancy, why not visit The Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace, running until 2012? Combine a tour of the sumptuous state apartments with a multisensory experience that blends fashion, performance and spectacle.
From Kensington to Knightsbridge; as of next year, the Royal Albert Hall will be operating tours seven days a week. All group tours of the building will now include refreshments for every member of the group. There will also be the opportunity to see backstage at the hall during the first three months of 2011, giving your group the chance to witness the unseen workings of the venue.
Over on The Strand is Somerset House, home to the Royal Society between 1780 and 1857. Learn about the history of the Royal Society and the great scientific discoveries that were made during its time at Somerset House on a free tour. Indulge your group’s interest in fashion with forthcoming exhibition, Dior Illustrated: Rene Gruau and the Line of Beauty, running until January 2011.
A stroll around the corner, or a couple of tube stops down the road, takes your group to the Museum of London in the Barbican area; an institute not only full of information about our city’s past, but situated beside the Roman remains of the historic London Wall (the defensive wall built around Londinium). The museum has a brand new selection of fashion tours, exploring its fashion archives and galleries that are home to over 26,000 pieces.
Outside of central London to the west, is Chiswick House Gardens which has recently undergone a £12 million restoration, with the results newly unveiled. Groups can enjoy a wide variety of guided tours at the property, including classical and mythological tours, plus tours which delve into secret symbolism at the house.
Closer to nature
This month the WWT London Wetland Centre will unveil its brand new Rain Garden, offering visiting groups an idyllic setting to relax in. Focusing on rain water management, the garden features lush vegetation, a cascade of rain gardens and pools, green roof planting, creature towers and a pavilion. Groups of 12 or more people are entitled to discounted admission rates with free coach parking available.
For groups seeking an alternative urban garden escape, the Natural History Museum will be opening its Wildlife Garden once more in 2011. Available from 1st April until the end of October, the garden aims to demonstrate the potential for wildlife conservation in the inner city, revealing a range of British lowland habitats. Groups visiting the iconic museum from the 22nd October can also catch special exhibition, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year, running until the 11th March.
Britain’s capital city boasts a surprising number of parks and open spaces, providing a change of pace from the bustling streets. The Royal Parks manage and maintain more than 5,000 acres of historic parkland, including Greenwich Park, home of the Old Royal Observatory and Royal Naval College; Kensington Gardens, the setting for Kensington Palace, the Peter Pan statue and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground; and Regent’s Park, featuring a boating lake and open air theatre.
Regent’s Park is also the home of popular animal attraction, London Zoo. Offering a host of benefits for parties of ten plus - including discounted entry with free admission and a meal voucher for coach drivers - groups can venture through the zoo’s latest attraction, Rainforest Life, and discover an array of nocturnal creatures in the mysterious Night Life feature.
Continuing the rainforest theme, the SEA LIFE London Aquarium allows groups to discover the aquatic creatures which dwell in the watery world of one of the Earth’s most fragile eco-systems, coming face-to-face with crocodiles, poison arrow frogs and piranha. Those who dare can take the daunting Shark Walk, and there is the chance to participate in daily talks, feeding sessions and guided tours (available to pre-book for parties of ten plus).
Less exotic, but still a quirky attraction for London’s urban jungle, the capital is home to a number of city farms, many of which welcome large parties. Try Kentish Town or Vauxhall City Farms - particularly suitable for children and family groups.
Tours and sightseeing
London Duck Tours has launched a brand new experience this autumn, transporting groups back to the Blitz to discover what life was like in the war-torn capital. The D-Day Duck Tour will take place in an amphibious craft used for the D-Day landings, where a costumed guide will point out some of London’s most important World War Two sites, accompanied with props, 1940s songs and archive pictures.
Groups can also view London from the water onboard the sightseeing service from City Cruises. Operating a circular cruise between Westminster, the London Eye and Tower Piers, groups will enjoy a full commentary along the way. Dedicated lunch cruises are an option for parties of 40 plus, with a variety of group packages also available.
Try something different and paddle through the city sights on a kayaking experience on the Thames and canals, hosted by Thames River Adventures Ltd. Suitable for smaller, adventurous groups, tours are led by qualified instructors with tours of Tower Bridge, Hampton Court and Regents Canal to choose from.
Active groups may also enjoy Capital Sport’s new London Thames and Royalty gentle cycling tour. A four-night venture beginning in the city centre, the route takes in Richmond, Hampton Court and Windsor, covering flat terrain. Self-guided day tours also provide a varied and energetic way of seeing the city sights, with prices including bike hire and route directions.
Continuing the active theme, gain some sporting perspective on a Guided Tour of the 2012 Sites, led by a Blue Badge Guide. Sample itineraries take in views of the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre, with the Olympic Village and Velodrome now visible. Tours can also visit Greenwich Park, home of the equestrian events; and Woolwich to see the Royal Artillery Barracks where the shooting and paralympic archery will take place.
For an alternative view of London, why not book a themed, celebrity or pop culture tour with The Celebrity Planet? Popular options for groups include The Beatles, Harry Potter, and Celebrity Tours. Catering for groups of ten plus, tours can be customised to suit individual requirements and itineraries.
Theatre buffs may also enjoy exploring London’s West End on a Theatreland Walking Tour led by Blue Badge Guide, Diane Burstein. Hear tales and anecdotes of variety artistes, theatre ghosts and the story of London theatre from the 16th century, while touring the historic theatres around Leicester Square and Covent Garden.
Ten great group attractions
1 Houses of Parliament: The recent Saturday openings offer a 75-minute Blue Badge guided tour, which groups can join from £8 per person. The tour takes in the Lords and Commons Chambers plus other highlights including Westminster Hall and the Royal Gallery.
2 The London Eye: The world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel. At 135-metres, it offers unrivalled views of the capital, and has become as iconic a London landmark as Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the Tower of London.
3 The Bank of England Museum: The museum’s displays include material drawn from the Bank’s own collections of books, documents, silver, prints, paintings, banknotes, coins and photographs. There is also a display of gold, including Roman and modern gold bars.
4 The Globe Theatre: A modern reproduction of the original 16th century theatre. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the theatre combined with entry to the Shakespeare exhibition. Groups of 15 or more are advised to book in advance.
5 The Southbank Centre: One of the largest single-run arts centres in the world; it includes the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Poetry Library. Explore the 21-acre site which includes bars, restaurants and shops.
6 Tower Bridge Exhibition: Completed in 1894, the bridge was instantly hailed as a London icon and one of the great engineering marvels of its age. Enjoy stunning views of London from the high level walkways, and experience the River Thames: Source to Sea exhibition. Learn about the inner workings of the bridge in the Victorian engine rooms.
7 Borough Market: Featuring everything from exquisite chocolates; artisan breads; the freshest fish and game; premium meats; organic fruit and vegetables; plus cheeses, preserves and spices; make sure you visit with an empty stomach and an open mind.
8 Tower of London: Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames. The tower offers a range of benefits and services to groups of 15 or more.
9 Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms: Visit this historic underground complex, the home of the British government command centre throughout World War Two, alongside the Churchill Museum as part of the Imperial War Museum.
10 St Paul’s Cathedral: See the new permanent film experience, Oculus: an eye into St Paul’s, which uses state-of-the-art projection technology to reveal a fascinating insight into the stories and history of London’s iconic landmark.