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tours in London for a family of 4

We will be visiting London in July.

We are interested in a private tour of the Tower of London. Our hotel recommended a touring company, but it's more a 3rd party vendor with access to audio tours. We would love to have our own guide. Does anyone have recommendations or advice on how to find a reputable guide?

Same question for Westmister Abbey. Or what about the Hidden Highlights tour? How is that different than the Verger tour?

It would be great to have a private tour/guide with an overview of the city. But would something like that be just as doable with a hop-on, hop-off double decker bus tour?

Thanks for any advice and suggestions you can offer.

Posted by
33313 posts

I don't have any knowledge of private guides, but are you aware that the Tower's own Beefeaters (the official name is Yeoman Warders, dating back to the reign of Edward IV (1461-83), not just tour guides but ex-military with at least 22 years service and good conduct) give free tours every half hour?

They include the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula (where Thomas More, Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, were executed in 1535 and are buried here. Both are revered as saints of the Catholic Church and are remembered through a dedicated place of worship in the crypt. Most famous however, is the burial of three Queens of England within the Chapel: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey, who were all beheaded at the Tower) to which you are taken by the Beefeater tour.

I hope your private tour works out for you, just check that they can take you to all the places a Beefeater can.

Particularly important is how you will see the Crown Jewels - if they are important to you. They are up by the barracks beyond the White Tower, up the hill. Crowds make their way there shortly after Tower opens and lines form shortly thereafter and remain all day. A private guide won't get you to the front so the best advice is to get there when the Tower opens. You may even have a chance to go through twice if you want, before the lines form. The Crown Jewels are in a somewhat darkened room and you stand on a moving sidewalk which carries you in front of the various jewels, and when you get to the end you go out. Thus the advantage of going through twice. Once the line forms it can be up to an hour or more so the chances of going through twice are gone.

If you don't find a private guide I'd suggest getting to the Tower at or a bit before opening, go straight up to the Crown Jewels, then make your way back to the Middle Drawbridge and pick up a Beefeater tour, and when that finishes you can spend time at all the other wonderful parts of the Tower, including a nice lunch at the very tasty New Armouries Café.

If any of your party have various visible and invisible special needs, if contacted in advance the Tower can arrange special tours taking those needs into account.

I'm a member and frequent visitor and happy to answer other questions.

Sorry I can't help with a private guide.

Posted by
899 posts

The hop-on hop-off buses get a poor reputation on here. People say that they get stuck in traffic too much to be useful. They still seem to be really popular though, from my observations. I regularly find myself in the London Bridge area and there's always lots of people boarding these buses at their stop on the north end. I don't think the roads are half as busy (around The City particularly) as they used to be.

Has anyone used HOHO buses recently and enjoyed them?

Posted by
1003 posts

I suspect that the HOHO buses are popular because they work well in many other cities around the world and naturally therefore people would assume that would be the case in London. Not everyone comes on internet travel forums to get that sort of detailed advice. I cannot see how they can be a great experience given the levels of traffic and particularly if you use them to actually hop off and on - frequently it can take a long time to get back on one. Use the regular public transport to get around - much quicker and a lot cheaper.

I also can't see any point in arranging for a private tour guide for the Tower of London. Your entrance fee gives you a free tour anyway. The only possible reasons I could think of would be if you had a very special niche interest that you wanted to concentrate on in the Tower or if you were uncomfortable moving about in a largish tour group.

Posted by
16093 posts

Just another plug here for the Yeoman Warder tour at the Tower that's included in your entry ticket. It has been some years now since we did one but it was very interesting, entertaining and altogether WELL worth doing. No, they can't cover every nook and cranny - there's much too much history there for that! - but nothing like an overview from someone who actually lives within the ancient walls!

You could combine it with one of the Tower's own audio tours, if desired, or make your own written guide using some the transcripts:

Or purchase a book from the tower's bookshop; nice to be able to reference after your visit. Maybe this one?

Posted by
6 posts

Thank y'all so much for the info. I did not know about the Tower's own Beefeaters. They sound great. And the tips about the HOHO bases were very helpful. I appreciate it!

Posted by
15674 posts

One tour company that many of us on this board have used is London Walks.

They have numerous tours every day and if you want, each one can be booked as a private tour.

Posted by
16093 posts

Regarding Westminster: there are only two ways to do a tour of this one: with one of the Abbey's vergers, or with a Blue Badge guide. Info is here

I haven't had the privilege yet of a verger's tour, which is supposed to be excellent. Otherwise, a multimedia guide is included in your entry ticket if you are interested in using theirs, or can be pre-downloaded to your own devices. They're reported to be very good as well.

The Highlights tour appears only to be available "at times when we cannot open the entire Abbey to visitors." I might guess it is when prep for a large event or a maintenance project may necessitate closing parts of it off, thus reducing what may be seen. As they don't have any of those times listed on the website, they may not always know far ahead of time when unexpected events may occur.

The Abbey is one of my top London favorites; so much history/so many stories there! Been too long...

Posted by
8870 posts

Research the London Walks website to see if any meet your needs.

I’ve taken a walk each trip. Each has been excellent. Last one was Inns of the Court.

Posted by
27410 posts

This is a third recommendation for London Walks ( I'm not a fan of the way they describe their tours, but the tours are excellent--all lead by licensed guides. There are tours with an historical focus as well as tours of specific neighborhoods. Most will take you onto back streets a tourist wouldn't normally stumble on.

Prices are low--£20 for adults, £5 for kids 8 to 15. Refer to the website for info on discounts for seniors and students over 15. You normally should be able to book online the night before; you pay (card or cash) when you meet the tour group. As a single person I sometimes just show up, but that would not be advisable as a party of 4.