Category: London

Black Cab Tours London

The London black cab is as quintessentially British as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The black cab is the first thing to notice when arriving in the City.  The recognisable taxis have appeared in a thousand of films over the years.  James Bond, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes have all used the iconic taxis at some point.

If you are planning to visit London and see the sights then you should consider coming on our black cab tour of London. There is no better way to enjoy the highlights of London than from the comfort of a traditional Black Taxi.

The tour lasts for 4 hours and during that time your expert guide will provide commentary and point out London’s top attractions.  You will learn lots of fascinating anecdotes, historic events and snippets of trivia which will keep you entertained from start to finish.  Half way through the tour  you can walk into St James’s Park and enjoy a break and some great photo opportunities.

Your tour starts in fashionable South Kensington and takes you past all of the world famous sights such as the Queens official residence Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben.  The tour ends at the Tower of London at which point you will be familiar with most of the capital’s iconic landmarks and ready to start exploring on your own.

Those looking for a movie location tour should head to our sister site Brit Movie Tours.

History of Black Taxis

The first ‘taxis’ came around in the 1600s during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  The first taxis were horse drawn coaches and were known as ‘hackneys’.  The term comes from the Norman French word ‘hacquenée’ which referred to a horse that was available to hire.  Still today many people call traditional London black taxis as ‘hackney cabs’.

These early taxis got a bad reputation for being expensive.  This led to the first organised taxi rank which was set up by Captain John Baily.  He got four coaches and set prices for journeys’ and made coachmen wear a uniform. He set the standard and many people jumped on the band wagon and set up taxi services.  But none of them had the same high stands as John Bailys taxi firm which led to the House of Parliament passing the first regulatory bill for taxis in 1654.

Electric Cabs

The first motorized taxis in London were actually electrically powered.  Electric taxis were introduced to London in 1897.  They were designed by Walter Berseys so the cabs became nicknamed ‘Berseys’.  But after just three years they were taken off the streets as they were too unreliable and expensive to run.

Where did the word ‘Taxi’ come from?

London’s first petrol taxis were introduced three years later and it was in 1906 that cabs got the name ‘taxis’.  This was because they were fitted with taximeters to display fares which had been made compulsory. Over the next years the taxi trade grew until the first and second world war.  Taxi drivers were called up to serve the army and production of the cabs stopped until after the war.

After the war there was a need for new taxis. All of the pre-war models were discontinued. In 1948 a new Austin, called the FX3 was built by Carbodies of Coventry. Carbodies and Austin soon dominated the market.

Black Cabs Today

Today all black cabs are wheelchair accessible and carry a number of aids for travellers such as ramps, swivel seats and an intermediate step to help folk into cabs. The Hybrid TX5 seats six passengers and can use electric power alone for more than 70 miles.

To learn more about London taxi history head over to this page:


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.


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 [email protected] 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.

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?


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.

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.


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.


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.

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