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Suggestions for tours

We tend to enjoy small group tours for the ease of maneuvering through crowded attractions and the more tailored and informative experience. My question....would small group guided tour for Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral. Churchill War Rooms be worthy of paying the extra cost for a tour? We will be visiting most of these places during the first week of May... Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I think St. Pauls is on our itinerary for Saturday.
Londdon Walks is an option I see frequently on this forum, however, the times don't add up with our itinerary and we will only be in London for 4 full days.
Thank you.

Posted by
11480 posts

We found the audio guides for St. Paul’s and Westminster to be fabulous. We had tried a Walks of London tour of Westminster but it was so crowded in the cathedral and the WoL group was so large, we missed a lot, so on a return trip, we went on our own and enjoyed it much more. The audio guides are at extra cost but far less than a tour and well worth it.

The Churchill War Rooms has an excellent included-in-the-price audio guide. Go at your own pace as you’ll linger more in some places than others.

We took the Warder’s tour at The Tower of London and it was a very large group but the tour guide managed it quite well. We had great weather, which helped as it is almost all outdoors. You’ll need to take time on your own for some areas like the Crown Jewels.

Posted by
3994 posts

We aslo just used the audioguides at these sights. I felt it was sufficient information for us, but if you are the Type who likes to ask questions, a tour might be for you. Just keep near the front, don’t lag behind.

Posted by
8234 posts

All the major European cities have Free Walking Tours where the tour guides work for tips. They're listed online. We always take them. Many cities require tour guides be certified/licensed and they're always excellent.

Then they'll have a Nightlife Tour where they take you around to bars and clubs--showing you the real city. They often include reasonably priced good restaurants. We always sign up for that one. The people you meet are from all over the world, and let me just say they're "very fun and full of life."

Posted by
7618 posts

An audio guide was included in our admission at Westminster Abbey earlier this month, and it was helpful, but my first one had bad, screeching, crackling feedback that was popping in my ears. I was able to work my way back through the crowd to the desk for a replacement that worked. But it was in Japanese at first, and it wasn’t immediately obvious how to switch it to English.

As mentioned, it was crowded - more than the Tube at rush hour. And the flow of visitors was pretty much a one-way route, from Point A to Point B and so on. The only restrooms are a long way through the cloister, if needed. A private guide might help get to specific locations quicker, or skip things to get to more significant locations, but the crowd when we were there might make that less possible. Just getting the audio guide (and having Rick’s London guidebook) and joining the crowd worked.

Rick’s London book tour was helpful at St. Paul’s. He also has his own recorded audio tour on his Website, but it didn’t get used. We also didn’t use the church’s audio guide, or a private guide.

At the Tower, we experienced a big group for the Yeoman Warden Beefeater’s tour, which lasted about an hour, outside. He mentioned to be sure and go inside the White Tower afterwards - “THAT is the Tower of London, what you’ve all paid to see, so go see it.” A private guide could maybe make things more efficient, but starting off with the Beefeater tour that was provided, followed by Crown Jewels (did I mention crowded?) and the White Tower (not as crowded) on our own worked well, at no additional charge.

Posted by
33301 posts

St Pauls Cathedral has special - completely free beyond your normal admission charge - trained guides who take you in small or very small groups to parts of the Cathedral not normally visited. We have done that and really enjoyed it. It was just the two of us and her. Absolutely wonderful.

The Yeoman Warders' (Beefeater) tour at the Tower of London goes to all the major points, in a logical order, and most of the Yeoman Warders have a keen sense of humour. They are chosen from career military. Basic requirements to qualify as a Yeoman Warder any candidate must have served for at least 22 years in the armed forces, be a former warrant officer or senior non commissioned, plus hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.

They know what they are doing and have an intimate knowledge of the history of the Tower and the military.

I don't think that most garden variety tour guides come close, actually.

Posted by
369 posts

In 2018 my daughters and I did a London Walks tour of Westminster Abbey. The guide was wonderful but the Abbey was so crowded it was hard to enjoy the tour.

I went to the Abbey last year on my own. Got an early ticket and was one of the first to enter the Abbey. The side chapels were almost empty, some were totally empty. It was wonderful. I signed up for a Verger tour which was also wonderful. This visit was the highlight of my trip last year, and I'm doing it again in May (I will visit Westminster Abbey every time I visit London!)

Posted by
104 posts

If it's available, I strongly recommend the Westminster Abbey Hidden Highlights tour. It's a small group and takes you to areas you can't access otherwise - plus you get to go inside the room that holds the Coronation Chair and see it up close.

Posted by
83 posts

Thank you all very much for replying!! We will go with the audio and other options provided by the various venues we visit. The Westminster Abbey Hidden Highlights tour sounds great for a minimal extra fee but it is all sold out for the days we will be in London. Darn!!

Thanks again

Posted by
369 posts

Sharon, sign up for a Verger tour when you get into the Abbey. I don't think you can sign up in advance. It's a great way to see the Abbey. I did a Verger tour and I can't recommend it enough. And you get to see the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor, which you can't do without the tour.

Posted by
27408 posts

I think Rick's recommendation for the Tower of London is to be there when it opens (probably a bit earlier would be smart so you'd be near the front of the line) and go first to see the crown jewels when that area isn't crowded. Then he suggests the Beefeater tour.

Posted by
1002 posts

The general recommendation from locals for the Tower is slightly different. Turn up 10 minutes or so after the opening time, when the initial queue of those who come early has dissipated- you will get tickets in minutes. Then go straight to the Crown Jewels and come back for the beefeater tour.