For the past few days, we’ve been spending 90% of our time exploring London on our own, without the help of a tour. While this is a great way to see the city, sometimes we want a bit more background info on various sites, just for a deeper appreciation of what we’re seeing.
Tours are really expensive (we learned that in Iceland) and you get herded around like sheep, but they can often offer more info and a tried & true itinerary you can follow to get the most out of your visit.
Thus, we started looking up self-guided tours or free walking tours of London. They are “free” in the sense that you don’t have to pay someone to show you around, but you’ll need to pay for the cost of public transportation to get to the start of these places.
Anyways, here are some free tours that we liked:
This tour was a good 2.5 hours, and took us through the royal streets of the City of Westminster (“London” is really made up of different cities). The tour starts in Hyde Park and goes towards Buckingham Palace, Westminster, and Parliament Square. It also took us through smaller palaces, parks, the Horse Guard building, Downing Street, and Trafalgar Square. Our tour guide gave us lots of pub trivia and gave helpful tips on when to see different attractions. For example, the best place to see the changing of the guard is NOT at Buckingham Palace at 11:30am (where the procession ends), but at a smaller palace down the street (I forget the name) at 11am, where the parade starts and there’s less tourists.
We were also a bit lucky on the tour today. When the Union Flag is not flying atop Buckingham Palace and instead you see a yellow-ish flag with lots of emblems (like we saw today), it means the Queen is inside Buckingham Palace, which is quite rare. As a result, the Royal Guards are out in full force. Our guide took us through a secluded alleyway and we found 2 Royal Guards stationed in front of a door…all alone. Photo op!
Anyway, I’d highly recommend going on this tour. It’s free, you get good exercise, and you don’t have to book anything ahead of time, just show up.
Rick Steves London Audio Tours
Rick Steves is famous for being a really good tour guide. Anyone thinking of traveling to Europe should at least read one of his books, watch his videos, or listen to his podcasts. Thankfully, he puts out many self-guided audio tours that you can download for free. They are all walking tours, and he provides a lot of insight and history on things you see.
We listened to his London “City Walk” tour, which starts from a church near the Temple station, and ends on the London Bridge. He takes you through many different alleys, visited many churches, and points out buildings with a special history. The entire tour essentially took us through the City of London, the part that got destroyed in the big fire of 1666, and again during WW2 in 1941. The podcast itself was about an hour long, but with all the walks and pauses, it took us nearly three hours to complete it.
Been using this a LOT. This is an amazing site with a list of free walks, museums, and markets you can go to for free. If you follow a self-guided tour from their articles, you’ll get plenty of good tidbits of history.