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Why it’s a Great Time to Visit the UK

There has never been a better time to visit London or the UK in general. Tourism has seen an increase and this is mainly down to the pound dropping since the country voted to leave the EU in 2016. People are now getting more pounds for their money and spending is going up.  According to National Statistics, 39.1 million international visitors have come to Britain in the 12 months since Brexit which is 6.6% up on the previous year.  This is great news for the UK’s tourism industry and for the UK economy in general.

Many people visiting the UK head to the capital to see the many iconic sites such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The London Eye, Trafalgar Square and the Tower of London. There are many iconic buildings and locations to visit which is why visitors need to come back time and time again.

Here at Traditional Tours UK we run a number of tours taking in some of these iconic locations. To see some of the traditional locations like Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral, our Panoramic Tour of London by Mini Coach is a must. You can just sit back and relax as we guide you around London’s top locations. Those wanting a walking tour should book our City of London Walking Tour. Covering 2000 years of history you will learn about the Romans right up to today’s modern buildings.

We also run some tours which visitors might not necessarily think about. For instance our Quirky London Tour takes visitors to the more off beat parts of London where you get to explore quirky places, eccentric characters and learn bizarre anecdotes that some born and bred Londoners know nothing about.
Those wanting to sample the London Pub life need to go on our Pub Tour of London. Pubs and taverns have always been an important part of London life for centuries. On this tour you will be able to sample some of the best ales London has to offer.

Those wanting to learn about the London underground should book our Tube Tour. You will need an Oyster card topped up with at least £7 of pay-as-you-go-credit. It lasts for 2 hours and due to the continued work on the underground network, the route may change on the day.

Literary Tours

Britain is known for its many literary greats. Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter, Shakespeare and Jane Austin and 4 that stand out. We offer a tour on each of them.
Our Beatrix Potter tour takes in the breathtaking Lake District scenery and takes you to Hill Top, the childhood home of Beatrix. You can immerse yourself in the world or Beatrix Potter with other likeminded fans of this literary great.

Our Dickens tour is based in London and is a walking tour taking you to places that Charles frequented and featured in some of this stories such as Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend, Oliver Twist and many other books.

If Jane Austen is your favourite then our tour of Bath is for you. You will be able see where she lived, see locations that inspired her novels and visit The Royal Crescent, Pump Rooms and The Roman Baths.

On our Shakespeare tour you delve into the history and London life of the world’s most famous playwright. On route you will past theatres and other historic sites Shakespeare would have been familiar with in his literature. Also see film locations and original sites of buildings whilst enjoying a panoramic tour of London

Our Top 10 ‘Typically British’ Traditions

British people are known for their tradtions and we are quite proud of them.  Here at TTUK we have been discussing our top 10 favourite British traditions which we can all relate too.  So below I have put together our top 10 typically British tradtions that we are all guilty of.

 1. Having a Sunday roast dinner

One of the most iconic things about Britain is a Sunday roast dinner.  Sunday is not a proper Sunday unless we have a roast dinner.  And it’s the favourite meal of the week. Roast Chicken, Beef, Pork, Gamon or Lamb, it  doesn’t matter what meat, us Brits love a Sunday Roast.  In fact we also like to mix it up a bit and have a couple of different types of meat, especially when we go out for a carvery.  Roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings are a must.

2. Putting the kettle on

We don’t need an excuse to put the kettle on.  If there is a crisis, or we are celebrating, or someone comes to visit the first thing we do is put the kettle on.  There are some Brits are very particular in how tea should be made.  I for one have to add the milk last.  A tea bag needs to stew in boiling water to get the full flavour, once it’s as dark in colour,  only then the milk should be added. Some people get angry if tea is not made correctly.  This I totally understand.  This rap by stand up comedian Doc Brown explains it perfectly “My Proper Tea”. (please note if cursing offends you, this rap is not for you)

3. Biscuit dunking

Dunking biscuits in tea is serious business in Britain.   There is even a website dedicated to the practice!  According to those that have taken the tea dunking survey the plain digestive is our favourite biscuit to dunk. I myself prefer the custard cream. Dunking biscuits is fine when it comes to digestives, bourbons, custard creams or the hobnob.  However it’s quite a different story if you have bought lesser known biscuits and tried the dunk.  There is nothing worse than losing your biscuit in a fresh cup of tea.   Many people try to grab it quick and if they are lucky will be successful,  but I tend to let it sink.  The only trouble with the sinking strategy is remembering it’s there. There is nothing worse than getting a mouthful of soggy biscuit from your last slurp of tea.  Many people will refuse to drink the tea and make a fresh cup if they accidently dropped the biscuit.

4. Wearing summer clothes the minute the sun comes out

Stripping off at the first sign on sunshine is a very British thing to do.  It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, if the suns out and it feels warm, we will strip for the occasion. If the sun is shining in winter, you can be sure to find some brave chap wandering the streets in a pair of shorts.

5. Saying sorry

Us Brits pride ourselves on being polite and using manners.  However we do go overboard and apologise for everything.  Even when we’ve done nothing wrong we still say sorry!  Why do we do this?  I am not sure, but I think a lot of the time when we use the word sorry we actually mean ‘excuse me’.

6. Cheering on the underdog

We always love to see the underdog come out on tome.  One prime example is how we all got behind Susan Boyle back in 2009.  When she said she wished to be as successful as Elaine Page the judges and crowd collectively rolled their eyes and sneered.  But the moment she began to sing, the crowd and the nation were behind her.  It’s similar to how we all loved the first Rocky film, an average kid goes the distance with world heavyweight champion.

7. Eating a full English breakfast

We all love a good full fryup. From my experience, having travelled quite a bit, the best place to get a full English breakfast is England.  Countries abroad try their best to accommodate us, but they never get it right.  You need quality sausages, proper bacon, couple of eggs, fried or scrambled, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms and a fried slice of toast.  We all have our preferences but the main stay is quality sausages and bacon.

8. Never jumping the queue

It’s rare you will see a British person jumping the queue. Us Brits have the ability to queue nicely and wait our turn even if there are no barriers, signs or security enforcing us to do so.  Our amazing queue etiquette was on display in May this year when hundreds of Ed Sheeran fans queued to enter the 02.  There were no barriers in place but the fans formed a perfect ‘S’ queue and waited their turn to enter.

9. Talking about the weather

We talk about the weather as often as we say sorry. We are obsessed with talking about it. We are a small island and our weather is very unpredictable.  It is all down to our location in the world.  There is a lot of moisture in the air and water in the atmosphere makes the weather unpredictable.   One day it can be warm enough for summer clothes, but the next cold enough for overcoats and central heating.  We have had hot weather in November and cold weather in August.  Luckily we are prepared to an extent, we all know all about layering clothing in this country.     What we as a country are never prepared for is weeks and weeks of the same weather, be it a heat wave or snow.

10. Eating turkey on Christmas Day

The majority of families in the UK will eat turkey on Christmas Day. As a country we get through on average over 10 million turkeys at Christmas time.  Often families do like to have other meats, but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Turkey.

Common Sayings made famous by Shakespeare

The great William Shakespeare wrote many blockbuster plays of his era, but he also made a mark on the English language.  He used a number of sayings in his plays which are now common knowledge and still used today.  You may well have used one of his phrases without realising it came from the great writer himself. Below are some of the most common phrases coined by the great man himself.

Green Eyed Monster

When talking about jealousy we often refer to it as the ‘green eyed monster’.  It is a metaphor which was first quoted in Othello.  Lago sees Cassio leave Desdemona’s room without acknowledging Othello.  Lago uses this opportunity to accuse Cassio that he is cheating with Desdemona. “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Good riddance

We use ‘good riddance’ as an expression of being rid of someone or something.  Shakespeare used it in Merchant of Venice where Patroclus wishes the Prince of Morocoo “a good riddance”.

For goodness’ sake

“For goodness’ sake” is used today as a way of expression how surprised or annoyed you are by something.  Shakespeare penned it in Henry VIII in Act 3, scene 1: Cardinal Wolsey: 2For goodness sake, consider what you do. How you may hurt yourself—ay, utterly. Grow from the King’s acquaintance, by this carriage”.

Break the ice

“Break the ice” means to get something started and was first uses in ‘Taming of the Shrew’.  Tranio is saying that if Petruchio breaks the ice with Katherine, or gets to know her, then he can woo her.  If you “break the ice” in a room, then you’re getting rid of the tension and everyone can be comfortable getting to know each other.

Be-all and the end-all

Today we use the “Be all and end all” as a way of saying it is the most important part of something.  It originates from Macbeth in Act 1 scene 7 when he is contemplating assassinating King Duncan of Scotland and taking the throne for himself:  If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well. It were done quickly. If th’ assassination. Could trammel up the consequence, and catch. With his surcease, success: that but this blow. Might be the be-all and the end-all…

Wild-goose chase

Wild goose chase originates from Romeo and Juliet in Act 2 Scene 4. “Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five. Was I with you there for the goose?”  Today it means a foolish or hopeless search or pursuit of something unattainable.  Or simply a hopeless quest.

Laughing stock

Today a ‘Laughing stock’ means a person getting mocked or ridiculed.  Shakspeare penned it in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ where in Act 3, scene 1, Sir Hugh Evans says to Doctor Caius: “Pray you let us not be laughing-stocks to other men’s humours; I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends.”

As good luck would have it

“As good luck would have it” is another quote first penned from the play ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.  Falstaff: “You shall hear. As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford’s approach; and, in her invention and Ford’s wife’s distraction, they conveyed me into a buck-basket”. It means by good or bad luck, by chance, or how it tured out.

Wear my heart upon my sleeve

This phrase was spoken by Iago in Othello.  Shakespeare’s most hateful villain said “For when my outward action doth demonstrate. The native act and figure of my heart. In compliment extern, ’tis not long after. But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve. For daws to peck at: I am not what I am”. Today it means the same thing: to make your feelings and emotions obvious.

These are just a few of the many quotes and sayings which are now commonplace thanks to William Shakespeare.  Others include: faint hearted, fancy-free, forever and a day, foregone conclusion, foregone conclusion, full circle, give the devil his due, in my mind’s eye, heart of gold, in my mind’s eye, one fell swoop, in my heart of hearts, refuse to budge an inch, dead as a door nail, eaten me out of house and home and love is blind.  This is just a small list, but I touched upon the more common ones.

For a bit of fun below I tried to write a few lines with as many phrases from Shakespeare as possible. I managed 16!  It might not make perfect sense, but it was good fun trying!  Could you do better?

I wear my heart upon my sleeve, but when they say that Love is blind, this can’t be true; love is not the be all and end all For goodness sake I hear you cry, in one fell swoop I have made a laughing stock out of myself. I was only trying to break the ice, feeling faint hearted but being fancy free. But as good luck would have it, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I could do this; give the devil his due, in my heart of hearts and in my mind’s eye, and I refuse to budge an inch on this, I tried by best, it was always going to be a wild-goose chase!

Here at Traditional Tours we offer a Shakespeare London walking tour which takes in the history and London life of this famous playwright. On tour you will be guided through areas frequented by the Bard of Avon, hearing readings along the way and learning about 16th and 17th century London. To learn more and to book our Shakespeare London walking tour head over to this page: https://traditionaltoursuk.com/shakespeare-london-walking-tour.

 

 

 

History of London in 1000 words

Roman London

London was born in 50 AD, known then as Londinium.  It was founded by the Romans after they invaded.  Ostorius Scapula was the Roman Governor and with his orders a permanent base was built on the north bank. They built a bridge over the Thames and built a port.

Queen Boudicca invaded Londinium in 61AD and burned London to the ground and died soon after. The Romans eventually restored government and Londinium was rebuilt.

In 125 AD a 20 foot stone wall was built around London. In 290 AD the London Mint was established and coins went into production.

Roman London had potteries, glass works, brickworks and used donkeys to power mills for grinding grain. Water came from wells and roman baths were for socializing not just to keep clean.  The rich had baths in their homes and there were underground grains to remove rainwater.  An amphitheatre saw gladiators fight and cockfighting was also popular. It was also used for people to watch executions.

In 407AD the last Roman soldier left Britain.

Saxon London

Saxons were a group of Germanic tribes which settled in Britain around 410AD. Anglo-Saxons which they became known were converted to Christianity by monks from Rome.

St Pauls Cathedral was built in 604 on the orders of St Ethelbert, King of Kent.  St Ethelbert was the first Christian King of England and the cathedral was built by a monk called Mellitus and dedicated to St Paul.

Edward the Confessor was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England.  He built a palace at Westminter and also Westminster Abbey.

Middle Ages London

On 25th December in1066 following his victory at Hastings, William the Conqueror is crowned King in Westminster Abbey.  He won over Londoners and gave London a charter confirming certain rights to freedom.  He built a wooden tower to stand guard which was later replaced by stone and was the start of the Tower of London.

The 12 century saw London’s population grow.  In 1176 a stone bridge replaced the wooden bridge across the Thames.

A writer from said London is one of the most renowned, possessing above others, abundant wealth, extensive commerce, great grandeur and significance.

In 1255 King Henry III received an elephant as a gift from Louis IX of France. It joined other exotic animals at the Tower of London.

Football was banned in 1365 and people were encouraged to practice archery.

The city was spelt Lunden or Lundon until the late 14th century when it was spelt London.

In 1381 peasants from Kent and Essex marched into London ransacking buildings and beheading the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tower Hill.

1397 sees Dick Whittington become Mayor of London.  He was a member of parliament and a sheriff of London. He paid to improve the drainage systems in poor areas of the city and a hospital wardfor unmarried mothers amongst other public projects

16th-17th Century London

1538 saw monks and nuns turned out onto the streets and their monastery buildings were demolished or sold off.

The coronation of Edward V1 in 1547 saw a procession through the streets of London and 3 years later the first map of London was put together by George Hoefnagel.

The Royal Exchange was founded by the merchant Thomas Gresham in 1571 and opened by Queen Elizabeth I.

A waterwheel was installed in one of the arches of London Bridge to supply water to homes in 1581.

1652 saw the first coffee house open in St Michael’s Alley.  At the time a wooden shack and rebuilt over years but still today a coffee house.

In 1659 Nicholas Vanacker becomes the first person to draw a cheque on a London bank.

1665 is when the great plaque hit London and killed more than 8000 people in a single week.  By the end of that year it had claimed around 100,000 residents.

The great fire of London broke out on 2nd September 1665 and brought over 13 thousands homes to the ground. Also damaged were over 80 churches, St Pauls Cathedral, the guildhall, four bridges and the Royal Exchange.

The remains of St Pauls Cathedral are demolished and work starts on the rebuild in 1670,

The Bank of England is founded in 1694 with Sir John Houblon the first governor.

18th -19th Century London

The 18th century brought a number of hospitals including Westminster hospital, Guys hospital, St Georges hospital and London Hospital.

The British Museum was founded in 1753 as well as Mansion House for the Lord Mayor of London to reside.

An Act of Parliament in 1761 set up a body of men called Board of Commissioners whose job was to pave and clean up the streets.

The city walls were demolished between 1760 and 1766.

During the 19th century London became a global political, financial, and trading capital and the population excelled.

Railways began to transform the city so people could travel to the center of London for work.  Euston,  Kings Cross Station and St Pancras were built in the 1800’s.

Robert Peel the Prime Minster in 1829 established the Metropolitan Police force and they were affectionately known as ‘Bobbies’ or ‘Peelers’ after their founder.

Gas light lit up Pall Mall for the first time in1807 and used throughout London in the 1840’s. Electric light was used from 1883.

Parliament was destroyed in 1834 and rebuilt with the clock now known as Big Ben.

Trafalgar Square was created in 1839 by John Nash and 3 years later Nelsons column was erected.

Lots of green spaces were opened to the public later in the century and all the main museums.

20th Century London

In 1940 London suffers badly from the bombing of WWII, better known as ‘The Blitz’.  Tube stations were used as shelters during air raids.

Between 1945 and 1963 saw Waterloo Bridge built, The Royal Festival Hall built, the Shell Centre built and Millbank Tower built. The Post Office Tower opened to the public in 1966. Haywards Gallery opened in 1968. The Museum of London opened in 1976.

Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral takes place in 1965 and is given a state funeral.

8 Unusual Places to Visit in London

Visiting London? Fancy taking in some of the more quirky places this great city has to offer. Below are 5 of the more quirky places to visit for those looking for something a little different.

Cahoots

If you fancy a drink on the underground after a hard day of sightseeing, Cahoots tube themed cocktail bar is the place. Cahoots is an underground air raid shelter refurbished into a 1940s-themed bar complete with carriages, bunk beds and sandbags leftover from the Blitz. It is located in Kingly Court, Carnaby and its certainly keeping the Blitz spirit alive. Head down there for some great cocktails and check out all the Blitz paraphernalia

Dennis Severs House

Dennis Severs’ House is located at 18 Folgate Street next to a neat row of Georgian terraces. It is an 18th century time capsule that shows the lives of silk-weavers from 1724 to the 20th century. The house is breathtaking and with the soft candle light you are immediately transported back the 18th century. Thisvery rare house has been featured in many history documentaries and dramas and used for fashion shoots.

House of Dreams

The House of Dreams is a life project by artist Stephen Wright which you can visit in his house at certain times. Stephen has a history of working in the printed textiles industry before he felt disillusioned with the design world. He started his House of Dreams Museum in 1998 and today it is a collection of objects he has found over the years also with memory boards recalling important events in his life. You should email Stephen in advance on steveparis50@yahoo.co.uk if you want to book a visit.

Platform 9 3/4

Harry Potter fans know to board Hogwarts you have to walk through a solid brick barrier at Platform 9 3/4. Kings Cross has celebrated its role in the Harry Potter Books and films with a marker indicating the location of Platform 9 3/4.  You can see a baggage trolly disappearing into the wall.  It now attracts visitors from around the world to have their photo taken on Platform 9 3/4.

The Old Operating Theatre

Those interested in the history of medicine and how doctors performed surgeries need to head the Old Operating Theatre Museum in St Thomas Street London. This museum of surgical history houses a whole host of 18th and 19th-century surgical memorabilia. With lots of interesting and unusual rusty iron instruments and potions it is europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre.

Gir Lion Lodge at London Zoo

Fancy sleeping next to real-life lions?  Well this is possible right here at the London Zoo.  You can hire a lodge for a night or two and enjoy private guided tours around the Zoo after normal visiting hours.

Museum of Curiosities

Cross Bones Graveyard

Cross Bones Graveyard is a graveyard in sounth London which was closed in 1853.  It houses thousands of people (estimated 15,000) who could not be given a Christian burial.  So a number of prostitutes and poor people who lived in squalid conditions were buried here.  For centuries it was the outcast’s graveyard.  It is located in one of London’s poorest slums formally known as The Mint. Part was dug up in the 90’s during work on the Tubes Jubilee Line Extension. What is left is now a remembrance site.

The above are just a few quirky places to visit, there are lots more if you do some investigating. London’s history stretches back to Roman times and some of its history is being kept alive, you just need to know where to look. There is much more to London than the sights of Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace etc. Take a trip to the more quirky sites and enjoy something a little different on your trip to London.

Types Of Tours Available In The UK

Taking a tour is a great way to spend a day, a week, or just a couple of hours and learn in depth about things that are of interest to you or things that you have never thought about but would be keen to see and/or do. When you take a tour you have an expert guide or guides who will teach you much more about your interest in their subject and show you people, things, and places of importance.

Beatrix Potter

For example, you can take an afternoon tour of Beatrix Potter sites in the Lake District, beginning with a cruise on Lake Windermere – the largest lake in the country. Then you visit Hill Top Farm where the author wrote many of her books, and you can go into the house, explore the garden, and visit the shop.

Then you are taken into the medieval village of Hawkshead and see William Wordsworth’s old grammar school. There are plenty of chances to get off the bus and explore the local delights. Then it is back on the bus to go to Tarn Hows, a well-known beauty spot with fabulous views of the Langdale Pikes. Finally, you are taken back into Windermere.

Charles Dickens

You can step back in time to a bygone era and visit some of the fragments of London that Charles Dickens not only knew, but which he featured in some of his stories. Guided by a world expert on the life and works of Charles Dickens you will learn lots of surprising facts about this time in the 19th century. Visit the sites that are mentioned in stories such as Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend, Oliver Twist and many other books.

Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is widely considered as the greatest English language author who ever lived.  Now you can take a Shakespeare London walking tour into the history and London life of the world’s most famous playwright. It starts from The Old Vic and you will be guided through areas frequented by the Bard of Avon.  Along the way experiencing readings and learning about the 16th and 17th century London.

Much of Shakespearean London has been swept away during the Great Fire of London and The Blitz, however your expert guide and actor will guide you alongside the great artery of Elizabethan London – the River Thames, leading you past theatres and other historic sites Shakespeare would have been familiar with in his literature.

Anfield Stadium

Football fans may take delight in exploring the stadium of their favourite football team. For instance, Liverpool Football Club at its’ Anfield Stadium offers The Anfield Experience and The Ultimate Anfield Experience. These begin with a drink with one of your LFC “Legends” in one of the Executive Boxes where the Legend will share personal experiences and memories of playing for the club, and includes a Q & A session. This is followed by morning refreshments in the Café and a Preview Tour of the Stadium where you will see some of the new features of the Main Stand and the manager’s new dugout.

A three-course lunch is served in one of the Executive Boxes and includes a visit from your Legend. There is also a visit to the Liverpool FC Story which is the club’s interactive museum, there are opportunities for autographs and photos, and you get an exclusive limited edition gift to take home. Football fans will love this tour.

Leeds Castle

How about a visit to Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent? Here you can take a tour of the restricted areas “below stairs” where the servants took care of all the chores, prepared meals, kept the wine, and more, in order to see how they made the running of the Castle seem effortless. In fact, they had to operate with military precision. You can see falconry displays every day in the area in front of the Maze: displays include falcons, hawks, vultures, and owls.

Every Wednesday you can join one of the Castle gardeners for a tour of the gardens. Learn about the Culpeper Cottage Garden with its neat box hedges and displays of irises, hollyhocks, and roses. Then explore the wonderful Lady Baillie Mediterranean Terraces featuring exotic plants including palm trees and bananas. Leeds Castle also offers the History Set in Stone Tour where you will discover what happened in 1660 to cause half of the Castle to fall into the moat, and what a medieval toilet in the time of Henry VIII looked like!

Stonehenge

You can take a day trip to Stonehenge which begins with a visit to Windsor Castle. You will be one of the first people to enter the Castle on that day and see Queen Mary’s Doll’s house and tour the State Apartments.

Then it’s onwards to Stonehenge. This impressive rock formation has been there for 5,000 years and its’ purpose is still hotly disputed to this day. You can explore the stones and learn about the history in the visitor centre.

A packed lunch is provided on this trip, avoiding wasting time queueing in a restaurant. After Stonehenge you visit Lacock which is a magical medieval village. You will see Lacock Abbey which is not an abbey at all, but a quirky country home that was built on the foundations of a former nunnery.

Then it’s onwards again to Bath which is the first UK city to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a walking tour of the city sights and learn about its’ rich history before finally getting back on the coach for the return journey to London.

Those are just four of a huge range of different tours that you can take in the UK which include people, things, and places which you may never have dreamed existed.

Quirky Things To Do In London

Sure, when you visit London there are all the usual things that you can do, such as visit Buckingham Palace (no, you don’t actually get to go inside), go shopping in Oxford Street or Bond Street, visit the British Museum, go to Madame Tussaud’s, or see the Houses of Parliament, but wouldn’t it be much more fun to do some of the rarer things or visit some of the odd places tucked away in the corners of the city?

How about sleeping with the lions?

Huh?

At London Zoo in Regents Park you can actually stay overnight next to the lions in the Gir Lion Lodge. You visit the lions in the Land of the Lions enclosure, enjoy a two-course dinner with a glass or two of Prosecco, see the pygmy hippos, warthogs, check on the Anteaters having their insect dinner at twilight, and stay in your own private en-suite cabin overnight. It’s as close as you can get to living on safari in the centre of the largest city in the world.

Years ago my father was a member of the London Zoological Society and in those days members could get in on Sunday mornings before the zoo opened and see the animals close up and handle them. I will never forget the experience of having a 14’ long python in my hands slithering up one arm around my neck and down the other arm. Fortunately, he wasn’t hungry.

The exhibits today are superb, having been designed in such a way as to display the animals as though they are in their own natural habitat. Go into the indoor rainforest and meet the armadillos, sloths, and monkeys.  See the penguins eating dinner on Penguin Beach, or love the two Sumatran tigers, Jae Jae and Melati. The species was seriously endangered, but these two have had three cubs since they have been here.

Yes, a visit to this zoo is different from the run of the mill.

What about trying some white-water rafting? At Lea Valley you can do just that, along with canoeing, kayaking, and hydrospeeding (similar to body boarding) in the London 2012 Olympic Games venue.

Try a guided walk around Deptford Creek at low tide. This takes around two hours and is in one of the last surviving natural creeks in the UK. It includes birds, butterflies, animals, freshwater and saltwater plants, and over 120 different species of wild flowers.

In Mare Street in Hackney is the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History. This is a shop full of skulls, shells, specimens of taxidermy, creepy looking dolls, snakes, spiders, and an assortment of other weird and wonderful things. In the downstairs bar you can order cocktails and food – including chocolate worms and cockroaches! Up on the first floor is an art gallery which is also weird. All very strange, but well worth a trip.

In the Tower of London is the Yeomen Warders Club, which is actually the Beefeaters’ own on-site pub. It is only open to them and their guests, so it is worth getting to know one or two of them. It serves Beefeater Bitter and Yeoman 1485 Craft Lager which is made for them by Marston’s Brewery. The prices are cheaper than Wetherspoon’s and there are things like a grandfather clock made in 1679 and swords hanging on the walls. You may meet celebrities who have wangled the chance to get in, such as Patrick Stewart, Tom Cruise, and Ian McKellen.

Finally, what about the cheapest curry in London? In Fitzroy Square is the Indian YMCA, but it is open to anyone. Students and businessmen rub shoulders in there every lunch time and so can you. Veg curry and rice is just £1.80!

If you want to discover some of London’s little oddities why not join us on our Quirky London Tour.  It is a 2 hour walking tour which will take you down lots of side alleys and passages that you may not have noticed before.  We designed the tour to show off the London that sometimes gets forgotten on an average London tour. It is filled with quirky places, eccentric characters and bizarre anecdotes that you’ll remember long after the tour has finished. You will have plenty of opportunities to take photos along the way as we point out plaques, statues, parks, signs.  Some buildings that many Londoners have never even noticed will be pointed out and the story behind them told.  The tour costs just £12 for adults and £10 for children under 16. It runs on Saturday 3rd June, 1st of July and the 5th of August. For more information and to book click here.

London In The Time Of Shakespeare

London at the end of the 16th century already had a population of around 100,000 and included royalty, courtiers, noblemen, merchants, artisans, thieves, beggars, and prostitutes. There were also a large number of foreigners from continental Europe so that even in those days one would hear a lot of foreign languages being spoken.

London appears in several of Shakespeare’s plays: Richard III’s brother and nephews were killed in the Tower of London, while the Boar’s Head Inn where Falstaff spends his time in Henry IV parts one and two was in Eastcheap.

The River Thames was a vital contributor to the prosperity of the city bringing, as it did, ships carrying goods from abroad and taking back with them goods manufactured in London and beyond. Unfortunately it was also badly polluted, being full of both industrial and human waste, and must have been a serious carrier of disease. Audiences visiting the Globe Theatre must have hoped that there would be cool weather in order to keep down the stench of the river flowing past next door to it.

London Bridge

London Bridge was erected by the Romans and the site was chosen because it was the first place as you come up the Thames from its’ estuary that was narrow enough to erect a bridge. At the time of Shakespeare there were over 100 buildings on the bridge, many of which were shops with apartments above them, market stalls, and the mighty Nonesuch House – a four story palace so named because there was “none such” like it in Europe.

In Shakespeare’s day the queen had several palaces around London including Westminster, St. James, Whitehall, Greenwich, Richmond, Hampton Court, and Windsor Castle. The royal court consisted of over 1,000 people – courtiers, servants and other attendants – and the queen and her court frequently moved from one palace to another, not just to change the view but for a very basic more practical reason. There was no plumbing in any of the palaces and the human waste created by over 1,000 people obviously produced a very unpleasant atmosphere. Although the flush toilet was invented by one John Harrington, one of the queen’s courtiers, it didn’t get installed in Shakespeare’s lifetime. (Incidentally, the American slang term for the toilet – “the john” – was in honour of its’ inventor!).

In Shakespeare’s day most of the population of London either worked for a living, begged, or stole. The merchants, tradesmen and manufacturers contributed immensely to the growth of the city and although anyone with a skill set could make a living one of the problems that they faced was the guild system. In order to work in a particular trade you had to be a member of the appropriate guild, in much the same way as some trade unions operated in the 20th century. Your rank in the guild depended on your level of skill and length of time you had worked. However, if for some reason you were expelled from the guild you could no longer find work, which meant that in London you would join the ranks of the poor and be reduced to begging or stealing.

Those wanting to learn more about Shakespeare should book our walking Shakespeare tour here.  You will learn more about the history and London life of the world’s most famous playwright.

The Plague

Being poor was not just a hardship, but was also likely to make you more vulnerable to disease. The plague still came and went, and in London was a part of life, especially as the city’s population grew at an alarming rate with the arrival of many foreigners. In fact, by 1601 there was so much poverty that the queen “handed down ‘An Act for the Relief of the Poor’, which mandated local, community responses to indigent populations. The government wished to provide for the poor not necessarily out of any sense of charity or human kindness, but rather because of the plague” (https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/shakespeares-london).

Theft and burglary abounded, and there were many footpads and pickpockets in the crowded streets in Shakespeare’s day who stole in order to be able to live.

Westminster Tour

Westminster in London has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. The Westminster terrorist attack in March shook the nation as we learned that a man drove his hired car into pedestrians on the pavement along the south side of Westminster Bridge and Bridge Street. His selfish actions injured 50 people and sadly 4 fatally including him, as police shot the man dead. Then in April, a British man who was under surveillance for weeks was arrested for carrying knives in the area.

Today security has been beefed up and they are considering attack dogs to keep the area safe and secure in the future. Since the devastating 7/7 attacks that killed 52 people in London in 2005, this country has been broadly spared from Islamic or any kind of terrorism. Our border checks and gun controls are keeping terrorists with firearms at bay luckily. So anyone planning on visiting London should not be overly concerned. There is more chance of being hit by a London bus than being a victim of a terrorist attack. Having said that London is a busy city so being vigilant is important.

If you want to pay your respect to the victims of the recent attacks, or you just want to visit the area, our Westminster Tour of London would be a good choice. Our Westminster tour is a 2-hour walking tour which takes in some of the most famous sights and places Westminster has to offer.
Like with all our tour we aim to educate as well as entertain so you will learn lots of information. Our tour guide will take you on a journey through 1000 years of history and offer some interesting facts and anecdotes about our Royal family and our politicians. You will learn lots of famous and some little-known facts and events about The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, St James’s Palace, Leicester Square, The Ritz Hotel and much more.

If you grew up playing Monopoly you will recognise many of the streets. The guide will tell you which galleries and museums offer free admission and point out the best shops. There will be plenty of opportunity for photographs and if you’re lucky you might manage to get one of the Horse’s guards to laugh. It hasn’t happened yet, but we welcome everyone to try their best. We do have a laugh trying.

To ensure you get a positive experience we limit the number of people on tour and will not take any more than 30 people. We want you to be able to hear the guide so we have found 30 is about the limit. Sensible clothing is important, the weather can quickly change and the tour will go ahead regardless of the weather. We recommend you wearing sensible shoes and have rain coats at hand.

Some little-known facts about Westminster to whet the appetite:

  • There are 11,000 listed buildings of architectural and historic interest in Westminster.
  • Westminster has 32 public toilets
  • Westminster Abbey is not actually an abbey, its officially a Royal Peculiar, a church belonging directly to the monarch. And its Britain’s largest church.
  • The famous Big Ben clock slowed down by 5 minutes in 1949 when a flock of starlings landed on the minute hand.
  • In 1926 Parliament Square was made into Britain’s first roundabout.
  • The House of Parliament has over two miles of passages.
  • King Henry V, Isaac Newton, Edward the Confessor, Charles Dickens and over 3000 people are all buried at Westminster Abbey.
  • The poet Ben Jonson is the only person buried in a standing position in the abbey.
  • There have been 17 royal weddings at Westminster Abbey.
  • Westminster Bridge was painted green in 1970 to match the seats in the House of Commons.

If you want to learn more little-known facts about Westminster, join us on our Westminster Tour.  It costs £12 for adults and £12 for children under 16.
Click here to learn more and book.

 

Mind the Gap on our London Underground Tour

The London underground is taken for granted by Londoners, for them it’s a way of life and has always been there. It’s very crowded, expensive and unloved by most Londoners.  But where would London be today without it?

The underground or Tube as it was nicknamed in 1890 was the very first underground railway in the world. It turned out to be one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times.  It took over 150 years to create and it’s still expanding today. Over 250 miles of underground tunnelling carry millions of people each day around London. The Tube has helped people to get to work on time and has completly defined London.

The first line that operated was between Paddington and Farringdon and used gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam trains.  This line is now a part of the Northern line.  It began operation on January the 10th in 1863 and over the years has grown to the 11 lines it has today. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that they electrified the lines and electric trains were introduced. Today it takes around 4.8 million passengers to locations around London making it one of the world’s busiest underground transport systems.

Currently busy under the streets of London the new Elizabeth Line is in construction.  It will stretch for 60 miles from Reading to Heathrow and opens in December next year.  There will be 40 stations on route, 10 completely new builds and the other 30 are upgraded stations. Currently this line is boosting the UK economy by billions of pounds and supporting the creation of thousands of new jobs and homes.

From May this year there will be new trains introduced on the Liverpool Street Line.  They will feature air conditioning, CCTV and have dedicated wheelchair spaces as well as space to use for push chairs and bicycles. They are going to be more eco friendly by using 30% less energy.

Interesting facts

  • During the war many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters
  • Average speed on the Underground is 20.5 miles per hour
  • In 2015 the busiest Tube station was Waterloo and used by around 95 million people
  • The fastest line is the Metropolitan where trains can reach over 60mph
  • Aldgate Station was built on a massive plague pit, where more than 1,000 bodies
  • Dr Who’s Tardis can be found outside Earl’s Court station (well and an old blue police box can be found there)
  • Sadly 50 passengers a year kill themselves by throwing themselves under a train
  • One of the levels in Tomb Raider 3 is set in the disused Aldwych tube station, featuring scenes of Lara Croft killing rats.
  • You can visit the disused Aldwych Station Tour with Brit Movie Tours
  • Aldwych station is most commonly used for filming
  • The London Underground Film Office gets over 200 requests a month
  • During WWII the British Museum stored treasures in part of the Piccadilly line
  • It is open for 24 hours on New Year and for special occasions such as the London Olympics
  • Alcohol was banned on the Tube from June 2008
  • December 4 2015 was its busiest day to date when 4.82 million people used it
  • The Jubilee Line is the only track that connects with all the other lines
  • Today about 55% of the London Underground is actually above the ground

Want more facts?  Head over to this page where the independent wrote an article with 150 facts which being updated as stats change.

London Tube Tour

Fancy a tour? Traditional Tours offer you the chance to learn 150 years of history on our underground tube tour.  The tour starts at Paddington Station and takes you to some of London’s most famous and peculiar tube stations.  You will learn lots of interesting and lesser known facts including London’s Ghost stations and just how accurate the famous underground map really is.  The tour lasts for 2 hours and you will need a zone 1 travelcard or an Oyster card topped up with at least £7 of pay-as-you-go credit.  The tour costs £15 for adults and £12 for children. Click here for more details and booking. We look forward to warning you to ‘Mind the Gap’.

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