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’.

Where to Start When Visiting London

If you’re planning a trip to London you will be spoilt for places to visit.   The diverse capital is the largest cities in Europe with a population of over 8 million. The city has plenty to offer everyone, so whether  you’re interested in the arts, architecture, entertainment or fashion you will find plenty to do in this great city.

You don’t have to spend a fortune in London as there are plenty of things you can do on a budget or free.  There are a number of great museums including the British Museum which is great for arts and culture as is the V&A museum. The Natural History Museum is the place to see amazing artefacts and if you want to learn about science and how things work you need to head to the Science Museum.

Fancy a Muscial?

The West End is the place to go when it comes to musicals.  There are over 40 theatres in the East End alone, but over 120 in the whole of London.  Or the next couple of months you can watch Grease at the New Wimbledon Theatre, 42nd Street  is on at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Alice’s Adventures Underground is on at the Vaults. Dream Girls is on at the Savoy Theatre, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child Parts I & II is on at the Palace Theatre,  Les Miserables at the Queens’s Theatre, Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre and Maltida the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre.  There are tons more and something for everyone.  The is a great site to see what’s on and buy tickets.   London really is the entertainment capital of Europe.

Many people don’t realise that there are plenty of green parks to enjoy. St James’s Park hosted some of the Olympic and Paralympics’ games in the summer of 2012. All the venues were removed at the end of Summer and now are back open to the public. Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common, Hyde Park, Epping Forest are all other parks which are open to the public.

London Tours

One of the best ways to see all of what London has to offer is by going on a tour.  Here at Traditional Tours UK we offer a number of walking, and mini coach tours around London and other places in the UK. Our tours are more than just a guide pointing to locations as you pass.  We aim to make our tours educational, fun and great for all ages and types of people.  We are an affordable tour company that puts lots of effort into creating great tours which people will really enjoy.

If you want to see some of the more quirky parts of London our Quirky London Tour is one not to miss. We show you the more obscure oddities London has to offer.  Perhaps you would like to create your own quirky tour and include other places around the UK.  This is a great article for those looking for Quirky places to visit in the UK.

Those wanting a more traditional London Tour will enjoy our City of London Tour where we have selected the best locations and sites to visits.  Like all our tours we like to share amusing anecdotes so you learn something you wouldn’t learn on any other tour.

We have plenty more tours which you can choose from.  Perhaps you fancy one of our literary tours.  We do a Dickens walking tour, a Shakespeare walking tour where you will learn lots about these to literary greats. Perhaps you just fancy having a few bears and going on a London Pub Tour.  We have that covered. We have many more tours which you find more information here.

Whatever you choose to do in this great capital you will have a great time.  There is nothing quite like London.


Virtual Houses of Parliament Tour

Not many people realised that people can visit the Houses of Parliament here in London. The Houses of Parliament are located inside the Palace of Westminster and are open to the public at various times and prices throughout the year when Parliament recesses.

However did you know that you could visit the Houses of Parliament virtually anytime, anywhere now? The Houses of Parliament can now be explored by anyone at anytime thanks to Google increasing its world famous street view coverage to show inside buildings and businesses.

There are a number of virtual tours of the building including the Central Lobby, Westminster Hall, the Prince’s Chamber, St Stephen’s Hall, House of Lords Chamber, the Members’ Corridor and Lobby and the Peers’ Lobby and Corridor.

The 360-degree virtual tour of the Commons can be found on this page:


Houses of Parliament virtual tour

It is quite interesting as the exclamation marks dotted around the 360-degree virtual tour points out what room your in and what names art and features of the rooms. Some of these you can click on and reveal some interesting facts about these sections.

Houses of Parliament Facts

  • The Palace of Westminster was originally built as a royal palace in the 1000’s.  Over the years it has been home to a number of monarchs until the time of Henry VIII.  In 1547 Henry’s son left the building to Parliament as a permanent place to meet and work.  Ever since then Parliament have always met in the building.
  • A tragic fire in 1834 destroyed the majority of the original building.
  • In 1945 Sir Giles Gillbert Scott the House of Commons chamber was rebuilt after it was destroyed during the London Blitz. Westminster Bridge, leading to the Houses of Parliament is painted the same green.
  • The oldest part of the building is Westminster Hall which was built from 1097 – 1099 by King William II.
  • The Queen addresses Parliament once a year, however she or any other member of the  Royal Family is allowed into the House of Commons.


London’s Secret Attractions

“The best bribe which London offers to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Strange Facts About London

  • Waterloo Bridge was mostly built by women
  • Hitler planned to dismantle Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square and display it in Berlin
  • Covent Garden is actually a spelling mistake. The area used to be a market garden for a convent
  • There was great opposition on the proposal of building the London underground from Victorian Churchmen, they believed it would ‘disturb the devil’
  • Heathrow Airport is named because the land it was built on was once a sleepy hamlet called Heath Row
  • The upper part of Tower Bridge was originally a walkway but it was closed in 1910 as it had become a haunt of prostitutes
  • In 1995 a flock of starlings landed on the minute hand of Big Ben and put the time back by five minutes
  • In 1829, with London running out of space to bury its dead, an architect called Thomas Wilson proposed building a 94 story pyramid on Primrose Hill to house five million corpses

Strange and Quirky Places to Visit in London

London is a place of many strange attractions if you know where to look. If you’re after the unusual and outlandish, avoid the usual touring haunts and check out the capital’s best kept secrets.

The Old Operating Theatre – Ever wondered how doctors performed surgeries in days of yesterday? Check out the 18th and 19th-century collection of surgical memorabilia at the Old Operating Theatre. The theatre has an interesting collection of unusual potions, herbs, and concoctions; as well as a bizarre assortment of rusty iron instruments and equipment that look more like tools for torture than items used for healing.

The Fan Museum – Many years ago, every young lady had to learn the proper way of handling a fan and the Fan Museum will bring you back to that time. Inside are hundreds of staggeringly expensive fans from all over the world, some of them are made from tortoiseshells and ivory!

Dennis Severs House, Folgate Street –House no. 18 on Folgate Street appears to be no different from the other Georgian terraced houses until you step inside. As soon as the front door closes, you will be transported into the 18th century. Each room is candlelit, and gives the impression that the occupants have only just slipped out for the day. There are unmade beds, half-eaten meals, there are even peculiar smells wafting around. The details are not only impressive, they’re almost obsessive.

Hunterian Museum Cabinets –If you’re not squeamish, check out the Hunterian’s collection of body parts kept in glass jars. You will find the digestive tracts of humans and horses, as well as the genitals of different mammals and most weird, Churchill’s dentures.

Wilton’s Music Hall – The world’s oldest and only surviving great music hall is a crumbling treasure in the most literal sense of the word. You can arrange for a tour as well as check out the events regularly held there, such as concerts and opera. The music hall has an amazing history. It served as a rag warehouse in the 50’s and a shelter during the blitz. It is presently falling apart so visit it before it’s gone forever.

Little Venice – Little Venice is London’s answer to the famous Italian city.  A great area to visit in the summer where you will find many Londoners enjoying a stroll or eating and drinking in the many waterside cafes and pubs.

Admiralty Arch Nose –  Admiralty Arch is a landmark building in the city commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria. Now a Grade I listed building.  On the inside wall of the northernmost arch you can find a life size stone nose producing out of the wall.  Artist Rick Buckley put it there in 1997 as part of a campaign against the “Big Brother” society.

The Gold Grasshopper – On top of the Royal Exchange in the financial district there is a large gold grasshopper looking oddly out of place. It is actually a weather vane and has been there since the mid 16th Century. The grasshopper was the personal emblem of Tudor financier Sir Thomas Gresham.

This is what makes London such an exciting city to visit as there is always something worth seeing even if a little strange!

Here at Traditional Tours UK we love seeking out unusual and quirky attractions. We have a number of London Tours including a Quirky London Tour where you will get the chance to explore the obscure and unravel the mysteries behind some of London’s little oddities.  Follow the link below to see all the London Tours we have put together.

Charles Dickens, from Rags to Riches

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born 7th February 1812 in Landport, Portsmouth. The son of a naval clerk, the Dickens family had always been poor, although had remained happy during Charles’ early years. After first moving to Chatham, Kent, the family eventually moved to the deeply deprived London neighbourhood of Camden Town, where their financial situation took a dire turn. His father’s poor management skills came to the fore when he was imprisoned for debt. Charles was just 12 years old.

During the years of Charles’ life to follow, he began to grasp the sentiment for life that would reflect through his writings. Indeed, it would be that both ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Great Expectations’ would fictionalise the time that Charles now spent working in a rodent-ridden factory with a feeling of loneliness and despair. He was returned to school after enduring the experience and supporting the family for three years, but the experience was clearly never forgotten.

At 15 he was made to leave school yet again and contribute to the families’ income once more. He started off as an office boy, but within a year he started freelance reporting and within a couple of years was writing for a two major London Newspapers. Not that he knew it at the time, but this job became the launching point for his writing career.

The very first work of fiction Dickens ever published were short pieces which were illustrative of everyday life and people. He wrote them under the pseudonym “Boz” and his first book ‘Sketches by Boz’ was published in 1836. In the same year he got his first major success with ‘The Pickwick Papers’. It was during this part of his career in which Charles would marry Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have 10 children. Charles also became publisher of a magazine called ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’, in which he began publishing his first novel, ‘Oliver Twist’. This is widely accepted as been inspired by Dickens’ own childhood, during which he felt abandoned by the adults he had entrusted to protect him, forced to earn his own keep, and left to rely on his own wit to survive. ‘Oliver Twist’ was widely well received, with monthly followers always eagerly awaiting the next publication.

From them onwards Dickens was never poor again, despite over the coming years struggling to quite find the success ‘Oliver Twist’ had received. As well as his own large family, Charles’ also supported his extended family, numerous friends and beneficiaries, which only increased as did his earning power. He calculated that he needed around £9,000 a year (around £630,000 today) to continue to provide and live with the comforts he was accustomed to. An inventory of his house shortly before his death noted in his cellar sherry, brandy, rum and “one fine cask scotch whiskey”, although Charles is not deemed to have been an alcoholic.

After a five-month lecture tour of America with his wife in 1842, Charles returned home and wrote ‘American Notes for General Circulation’, a sarcastic critique of American materialism and their general way of life.
Over the next couple of years Charles would publish the literary classic ‘A Christmas Carol’, the tale of the protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, a man devoid of all kindness and heart despite his wealth, who is then with the help of three ghosts is exposed to the Christmas spirit and becomes something of a philanthropist. The popularity of this work remains today, as it continues to be adapted in all artistic genres.

As well as his esteemed works as a novelist, Dickens during his time was a well-known campaigner for children’s rights and education, plus founder of many charities. His greatest fame was experienced during his two American tours, which he took as an opportunity to voice his opposition to slavery. Charles initially bragged of the way the American crowds flocked to him, although later grew to resent the invasion of his privacy. Back home Dickens was famous enough to regularly be recognised as his strolled London seeking inspiration for his work.

‘David Copperfield’ was Charles’s personal favourite of his own works, despite not particularly his most successful. This novel itself was very much a first of its kind, as the first to follow one character through their everyday life. During it, Charles reflects upon his own impoverished upbringing and early life as a journalist.
Indeed, it is much of the turmoil and strife experienced by the young Charles Dickens which gives us some of the great novels enjoyed today, which give us a sense of how a young Victorian boy was forced to live, and explore Victorian England through his writings.

Dickens London Walking Tour

To visit the sites that are mentioned in his world famous stories such as Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend, Oliver Twist and many other books join us on our Dickens Walking Tour of London. The tour is led by a world expert of the life and works of Charles Dickens who shares surprising facts and stories.

Dickens Favourites Places featured in his novels in London:

Palace of Westminster (including the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Hall), St Pauls`s Cathedral, Strand, Bank of England, Covent Garden Market, Holborn, London Bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Bridge.

Some are Born Great!

Southwark London - Mural of William ShakespeareSome are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.  Shakespeare is often referred to as England’s national poet, and the “Bard of Avon”.

As the most quoted English writer Shakespeare has more than his share of famous quotes. Some Shakespeare famous quotes are known for their beauty, some for their everyday truths and some for their wisdom.

Interesting Shakespeare Facts:

  • William Shakespeare was born in 1564, but his exact birthdate is unknown. He was baptized on April 26 of that year, so his birth would have been shortly before.
    Shakespeare’s parents were probably illiterate, and his children almost certainly were, Shakespeare himself did not go to college however attended Stratford’s local grammar school, where he mastered reading, writing and Latin.
  • Shakespeare was eighteen when he married an older woman Anne Hathaway in 1582 who was three months pregnant at the time.  The couple had a baby girl, and then had twins, a boy and a girl, in 1584.
  • Almost no information exists about Shakespeare’s activities from the time he moved to London from 1585 to 1592, when he was described as an up-and-coming playwright in the London theater scene. Because of this, the years 1585 to 1592 are called “the lost years”.  Historians have speculated that he worked as a schoolteacher, studied law, travelled across continental Europe or joined an acting troupe that was passing through Stratford.
  • We probably don’t spell Shakespeare’s name correctly—but, then again, neither did he.  Sources from William Shakespeare’s lifetime spell his last name in more than 80 different ways ranging from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.”  In the handful of signatures that have survived, the Bard never spelled his own name “William Shakespeare,” using variations or abbreviations such as “Willm Shakp,” “Willm Shakspere” and “William Shakspeare” instead.
  • Some people think Shakespeare was a fraud, how did a provincial commoner who had never gone to college or ventured outside Stratford become one of the most prolific, worldly and eloquent writers in history? Even early in his career, Shakespeare was spinning tales that displayed in-depth knowledge of international affairs, European capitals and history, as well as familiarity with the royal court and high society. For this reason, some theorists have suggested that one or several authors wishing to conceal their true identity used the person of William Shakespeare as a front.
  • Because of the plague outbreak in Europe, all London playhouses were closed between 1592 and 1594 because it was thought that crowded places helped facilitate the spread of the disease. During this period, because there was no demand for Shakespeare’s plays, he began to write poetry.
  • Plays were performed only in the afternoon, by daylight, the theater had no heating.
  • In 1594, Shakespeare became one of the founders of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting/theater group that soon became the leading player’s company in London.
  • Shakespeares playing company built the Globe Theater in 1599, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It showed up to 10 plays a week, however had to be rebuilt in 1614 when it burned down, it was designed to hold 3000 people.
  • Women were not allowed to act in plays during Shakespeare’s time, so in all of his plays, boys performed women’s roles and men wearing lots of makeup, however this led to early deaths due to the high lead content on the make-up.
  • None of Shakespeare’s original manuscripts exists.
  • Shakespeare’s plays feature the first written instances of hundreds of familiar terms.  William Shakespeare is believed to have influenced the English language more than any other writer in history has. Many say these combinations of words did not appear in print before Shakespeare’s works:

– All that glitters is not gold
– All’s well that ends well
– Bated breath
– Dead as a doornail
– Fancy-free
– Fool’s paradise
– For goodness’ sake
– Good riddance
– Heart of gold
– In a pickle
– Knock knock! Who’s there?
– Laughing stock
– Love is blind
– Naked truth
– Neither rhyme nor reason
– One fell swoop
– Star-crossed lovers
– Pomp and circumstance
– Pound of flesH
– Primrose path
– Too much of a good thing
– Wear my heart upon my sleeve
– What’s in a name?
– Wild goose chase
– The world’s my oyster

The Guinness Book of Records lists 410-feature length film and TV Versions of William Shakespeare`s plays as having been produced, making Shakespeare the most filmed author ever in the English language.

Why not join us on our two hour Shakespeare walking tour around London, exploring areas of the capital that are connected with this incredible playwright.


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