The writer Samuel Johnson once said “By seeing London I have seen as much of life as the world can show”. This is a great sentiment and in many ways London really does offer something for everyone. Yet finding out about those hidden gems not on the well-trod tourist trail can be challenging. We’ve put together this selection of what we consider to be some of the most unusual tours that it’s possible to undertake in the London area.
(1) Tour of Highgate Cemetery
The final resting place of Karl Marx (East Cemetery, Douglas Adams (Author of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), Beryl Bainbridge (Novelist) and Michael Faraday (Physicist). Highgate Cemetery came into existence in 1839 in response to the high mortality rate and lack of burial space in the city. At this time graveyards and burial grounds were completely overcrowded often situated in between buildings. Quick lime would be thrown over bodies to speed decomposition. The smell was often terrible. Illegal burials were regularly performed by undertakers dressed as clergy. As a result, an act of Parliament decreed that large areas of land outside the capital be turned into private cemeteries.
There are two sections of Highgate cemetery – East and West.
East Cemetery – 1 tour per week on Saturdays Arrive by 1.45pm for a 2pm start. Tickets can be purchased on the day on a first come first served basis from 11am when the cemetery opens. Spaces limited to 15 people per tour. Cost £7 for adults/£5 for students/£3 suggested donation for children over 8 years. East Cemetery can also be visited independently during cemetery opening hours.
West Cemetery Admission to the West Cemetery is by guided tour only. These take place on weekdays and at the weekend.
Weekdays – One tour per day leaving between 1.45 and 2pm from 1 March-2 November. Book in advance by phone.
Weekends – Tours run from 11am-3pm. No advance booking necessary. Tours last one hour. No children below 8 years old admitted to the West Cemetery.
Telephone 0208 340 1834
Nearest Tube: Highgate (Northern Line)
(2) A tour of the M25 motorway. Completed in 1986 this 117 mile route was once voted most hated place in the UK by BBC radio 4 listeners. Now Brighton and Hove Coach Company is offering a guided tour of Britain’s iconic orbital motorway. The coach takes you from Brighton to junction 7 of the motorway where the tour begins. On route you can look forward to views of Epping Forest, Heathrow Airport Terminal Five, Lakeside and the Dartford River Crossing. To find out more visit http://bookings.buses.co.uk/Itineraries/ItineraryViewer.aspx?id=115¤tpage=4&areafilter or contact Brighton and Hove Coach Company on 01278 886200
(3) Tour of Chislehurst Caves This 22 mile maze of man-made underground caves have connections with the Romans and Druids as well as providing shelter to local families during the Blitz. The caves are chalk and flint mines which were last believed to have been worked in the 1830s. In the first world war they were used as an ammunition depot and in the 1930s mushrooms were cultivated in the caves. In the heady days of flower power David Bowie, Status Quo, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix performed here. Take the train to Chiselhurst from London Bridge. Lamp-lit tours leave every hour on the hour. The first is at 10am and the last at 4pm. The tours last for 45-50 minutes. No need to book. Just turn up. For more information go to http://www.chislehurst-caves.co.uk/ or email email@example.com The caves are a short walk from Chiselhurst station 30 minutes from London Bridge station.
Address: Chiselhurst Caves, Caveside Close, Old Hill, Chiselhurst, Kent.
(4) Tour of The Battle of Britain Bunker at RAF Uxbridge. This was the underground operations room of No 11 Group Flight Command during the Second World War. Operations during the Battle of Britain and D-Day were controlled from this bunker. Guided visits available every weekday between 10am and 2pm. In exceptional circumstances evening and weekend visits will be considered. Visits can be arranged by contacting 01895 238 154 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Battle of Britain Bunker website can be found at http://www.raf.mod.uk/battleofbritainbunker/
Nearest Tube Station is Uxbridge (Metropolitan Line) Address: St Andrew’s Road, Uxbridge
(5) A surgical demonstration at The Old Operating Theatre Museum in St Thomas’s Hospital. Every Saturday from 2pm.
Presented within the original architecture of the old operating theatre of St. Thomas�s Hospital of 1822. Before the advent of anaesthesia, an operation had to be swift. Without hand-washing or antiseptics, the chance of later infection was high.
The Old Operating Theatre Museum is open every day from 10.30-5pm For further information see the Old Operating Theatre website http://www.thegarret.org.uk/ or call 0207 188 2679, Email email@example.com Nearest Tube Station: London Bridge, Northern Line. Address: 9a St Thomas’s Street, London SE1 9RY
(6) Jack The Ripper Tour. Discover the haunts of one of London’s most notorious serial killers. Expert guides will help you understand what happened, when and where. You’ll be shown original Victorian photographs of the streets and house featured in these crimes as they were in 1888 and details of the likely suspects enabling you to form your own opinion on these cases. Tours take place 7 nights a week. Meet at 7pm at exit 4 of Aldgate East Tube Station. Cost £8 per person. http://www.jack-the-ripper-walks.com/jacktherippertour.htm For more details call 0208 530 8443
(7) Denis Severs House. This House is true interactive art. To step inside is to experience a time capsule of life in 18th century house inhabited by Huguenot silk weavers. The silent guided tour allows you to experience the sights, feel, smell and touch of the place as it actually must have been at that time. The eccentric artist Denis Severs restored and lived in this house himself until his death in 1999. In a word “magical”! Tours run every Monday evening between 6 and 9pm and every Wednesday evening between 6 and 9pm. Reserve your space by email or phone. firstname.lastname@example.org 18 Folgate Street
http://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/ Nearest Tube Station: Liverpool Street (Central, Circle, Metropolitan Lines)
(8) Climb the Clock Tower of Big Ben 334 spiral steps take you to the top of this 150 year old clock tower. Tours are at set times of 9.15am, 11.15am and 2.15pm Monday-Friday (except Bank Holidays). There is a £15 admission charge. UK or overseas residents should contact a MP or member of The House of Lords to arrange a tour. This really is a part of the Palace of Westminster that few can say they have visited. For more details visit http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/ukvisitors/bigben/ Nearest Tube: Westminster (Jubilee and Circle Lines) Address: House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA
(9) Tour of Sir John Soane’s Museum. This little museum contains the extensive collections of architect Sir John Soane. In his lifetime Soanes acquired over 700 antiquities including Egyptian, Greek and Roman works of art. The collection also includes detailed drawings of his London projects including Pitshanger Manor, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Royal Hospital Chelsea and The Bank of England. There is one museum tour per week each Saturday at 11am. Tour tickets go on sale each Saturday from 10.30am and cost £10.
Visit http://www.soane.org/ for more information or call 0207 405 2107. Address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP
Nearest Tube: Holborn (Central Line)
(10) Go beachcombing. In this tour you’ll learn all about the history of old mother Thames and the items washed up every day at high tide as well as digging them up yourself. You’ll take away your very own small piece of the city’s history. Common finds include old pieces of Roman pottery, Elizabethan clay pipes or medieval roof tiles. For details of dates and times of tours see the Walks.com website http://www.walks.com/London_Walks_Home/Thames_Beachcombing_/default.aspx