Have you visited a city so full of history and culture that every street you wander down conceals a dramatic story, ready to share?
London is like that.
Refurbished century-old townhouses reflect turbulent changes in living standards. Elite schools cultivate world-famous movie stars side-by-side with royalty. And humble corner pubs give legendary rock bands their big break, or serve infamous customers like Jack the Ripper.
It’s no surprise that most international tourists want to book a London walking tour to discover the city through the eyes of a savvy local. But choosing the right walking tour is harder than it sounds.
It’s not elementary, my dear Watson.
Should you choose a small group tour with a fixed itinerary? Or a private tour with a guide all to yourself? Should you seek out London’s icons like the Big Ben and Tower Bridge? Or something more personalised like a food tour or filming locations from your favourite movie? Perhaps you want to discover something completely quirky?
I’ve narrowed down hundreds of potentials to 6 of the best walking tours in London, covering history, pop culture, street art and food.
And since I’m a nice guy, I’ve personally tried each tour below.
Yes, I’ve verified that each guide is a real London expert, ready to dish up a slice of juicy drama.
Because anything less would not be London.
Iconic Tower Bridge from tour #1 below
1. London in a Day: Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Changing of the Guard
There are some sites in London you simply have to see at least once and London in a Day tour by Take Walks visits them all. We met our guide, Gina, and our group of 15 in Parliament Square for a 9am start and set off to trek 14,000 steps around London’s most iconic attractions.
Our first stop was Westminster Abbey, the historic religious center of London that dates back 1,000 years to the reign of Edward the Confessor. Gina guided us through the abbey stopping to discuss the Royal Coronation Chair, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, several memorials, and tombs of monarchs like Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I. The abbey’s interior is absolutely exquisite with slender stone columns, intricate ceilings, and stained-glass windows. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take photographs inside, so you’ll have to go and marvel at the abbey’s beauty for yourself.
Tip: If you can’t travel to London for one reason or another, check out this virtual tour of London from Headout.com.
Gina hurried us out of Westminster Abbey to reach her favourite lookout point for the 11am Changing of the Guard ceremony. In a sportsman-like manner, she told us to grab hold of a piece of kerb-side railing and claim it as our own, which seemed a little odd until 5 minutes later when dozens of tourists clamoured in behind us, stretching out their phones, standing on tippy toes to snap a picture. The Queen’s Guards and marching band passed right in front of us on their way to Buckingham Palace. After that Gina expertly weaved us through the thick crowed to a superb photo spot outside Buckingham Palace. Here she explained some history and fun facts about the palace, royal family, and the Queen’s guards.
After breaking for lunch near Trafalgar Square we took a cruise along the River Thames, and then walked over Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, the city’s only medieval castle. In true medieval-castle-form, the Tower’s walls conceal a series of buildings, almost like a mini city. Over the years, the Tower has served as a zoo, royal residence, prison, and torture chamber, but its current purpose is to house the priceless Crown Jewels.
Gina guided us through the Tower grounds, visiting important buildings like the oldest intact Tudor-era house in London, and a medieval torture chamber complete with replica torture equipment. She explained the history of the Crown Jewels and ended the walking tour, leaving us in the queue to see the eye-boggling gems. Photography of the Crown Jewels aren’t allowed, but if you enjoy looking at diamonds the size of golf balls, I strongly suggest taking a peek… oh, and wear sunglasses.
If you have only time for 1 tour in London, and you’re a first-time visitor, and you have comfy shoes, then this is the best walking tour to choose.
Tower of London
A ‘Beefeater’ or their official name, Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. Trying saying that three times fast.
Note: The changing of the guard ceremony only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
2. London’s Urban Jungle Tour
No two neighbourhoods in London are alike. Each has a unique character and style, shaped by centuries of history. One of my favourite areas to explore is the trendy-yet-grungy East End, which you can get to know on Withlocals’ London’s Urban Jungle Tour. Withlocals run private tours led by a local guide of your choice, selected at the time of booking.
I went with Thom, who we met at Whitechapel Gallery ready to traverse the neighbourhood of Shoreditch. Whitechapel was the first art gallery in London open to the public. Art exhibitions in the 1800s were otherwise reserved for the wealthy and elite, but they didn’t live in Shoreditch then. The working class did. And their presence can still be seen today in Victorian townhouses, traditional pubs, and industrial factory facades.
Thom showed us around a handful of places that skilfully blend Shoreditch’s history with gentrification, like an outdoor clothing market on Petticoat Lane originally run by immigrant French lace makers; a pub with modern art on one wall and heritage listed tile work on another; and community centres and art studios operating from old factories.
Petticoat Lane Market
We then explored the East End’s modern artistic flare around Brick Lane, where almost every wall is covered in street art. Thom went to point out some of his favourite pieces, including a mouse by Banksy, only to find they’d been painted over with new graffiti, proving Shoreditch never stays still. This gritty district is grounded in its roots while honouring the precept that nothing is sacred.
If you’re interested in seeing how the British Parliament operates, I suggest booking Take Walks’ Behind the Scenes Parliament Tour. We met our tour coordinator, Ariana, and our group of about 15 at Parliament Square for a 4pm start. We wandered over to Westminster Palace (the Houses of Parliament) where Ariana saw our group through security then handed us over to official Parliament guide, Lindon.
Lindon whisked us through the most politically important rooms in the building as well as the most architecturally beautiful rooms. We marvelled at large halls covered in wood panelling, intricate frescos, and gold-embellished furnishings. Some rooms honour the monarchy with paintings and statues of royal dynasties like the Tudors and Stuarts, while others salute politics with statues of past prime ministers and paintings of famous battles.
Lindon explained the history of the British Parliament and led us through important meeting rooms to describe how the houses of Lords and Commons operate today. I was surprised to learn the politicians express their vote for a given bill by simply walking down a corridor; one corridor signifies a ‘yes’ vote while the other signifies a ‘no’ vote. That’s one way to make your Fitbit happy.
Lindon was a fascinating guide with a sharp sense of humour. He kept the young and old in our group fully engaged with stories of the Palace’s origins and quirks of renowned politicians like Winston Churchill, and even tactfully mentioned hot topics like Brexit. Oh yeah, he went there.
Note: Tour only runs Friday and Saturday evenings when the Houses of Parliament are not in use.
4. London Vegan Food Tour
If you’d asked me what my favourite type of walking tour was at any other point in my life, I would have easily answered “a food tour!” But since I’ve chosen a vegan path, suitable food tours are a lot harder to find… unless you’re in London. London is brimming with plant-based versions of popular dishes and cuisines as well as a fully-fledged Vegan Food Tour to sample the best of London’s plant-based food scene.
We met our bubbly guide, Lien, outside Old Street Station at 6pm for a small group tour around Shoreditch, one of London’s foodie havens. Lien explained Shoreditch has a fairly young demographic with a lot of tech start-ups recently moving to the area. With these youngsters came nightclubs, new artistic expressions, and many healthy yet uber-trendy restaurants. Lien pointed out some of her favourite street art pieces like Banksy’s guard dog, and colourful portraits by Thiery Noir.
We made 4 stops for food and drinks and I was absolutely stuffed by the end of the tour. One more bite would have changed this from a walking tour to a rolling tour. I challenge anyone who thinks they can’t fill up on plant-based food to leave this tour hungry. We started with dessert (because life is short) in the form of fluffy vegan donuts before moving on for drinks and tacos at organic fusion restaurant, Genesis. There, we each ordered a glass of beer or wine and our choice of taco from options like fried avocado and smoked chorizo. Next, we tried a limited-edition meatball sub created by celebrity chef Gaz Oakley before finishing at Korean-Italian fusion restaurant Vegan Yes, where we were served a tasting platter of kimichi, homemade sausages, and parmesan topped rice, followed by a miringa drink and mochi for dessert.
Vegan donuts… heavenly
Chef Mauro from Vegan Yes
Yes, you read correctly, I did say ‘chorizo taco’, ‘meatball sub’, and ‘sausages’. All of these traditionally meat-based dishes were made completely from plants and were pretty damn convincing. The food sampled on this tour proves you can still eat your favourite foods on a plant-based diet. The tour isn’t just for vegans either. Lien said about half of guests are usually non-vegan who wanted to learn about vegan and vegetarian diets or try plant-based food with friends, and as a very knowledgeable vegan, she could happily answer their questions.
London is by far one of the easiest cities in the world to find delicious plant-based food and I strongly encourage you to give this tour a try if you’ve ever thought of adopting a vegan diet, or just want to see what all the fuss is about.
Duration: 3 hours. Cost: £59 adults, £39 youth (13-17), £19 children (5-12). Book online.
5. Harry Potter Walking Tour of London
You might recognise a few of London’s streets and buildings from blockbuster movies like James Bond, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, or Doctor Who. If you want to really explore the filming locations from your favourite British movie, I recommend booking a walking tour with Brit Movie Tours. I met my guide Michael and group of around 25 at Westminster Underground Station for a 2pm Harry Potter Walking Tour.
Nothing to do with Harry Potter, but pretty amazing all the same – yes, there’s fire coming out of the tuba!
Michael also shared juicy stories about the movies’ filming process and pointed out sites relevant to star actors, like Daniel Radcliffe’s old school.
This walking tour includes a 5-minute tube ride so make sure you have an Oyster Card or contactless credit or debit card to pay for your fare.
Duration: 2.5 hours. Cost: Adults £12, Children (under 16) £10. Book online.
6. Life & Death in Victorian London, with Special Access Highgate Cemetery Tour
Maybe you’ve been to London a few times, so you’re not interested in the typical tours. Then this is the walking tour for you. Delve into the underbelly of London in the 1800s with Take Walks’ Life & Death in Victorian London tour. We met our guide Fabian and small group of 10 at Kings Cross Station. Fabian set the backstory for the cultural upheavals experienced during Queen Victoria’s reign induced by the industrial revolution.
Kings Cross and neighbouring St Pancras Station were two of the first major rail stations in London and drew in thousands of men to work in factories. Today, we know placing too many people in confined spaces with limited hygiene is going to cause serious health problems, not counting the coal dust caused by nearby coal transport and steam engines. But this wasn’t common knowledge in the turbulent early 1800s, so diseases spread quickly and many sadly died. Fabian guided us past buildings used as working-class housing developments, infirmaries, and Oliver-Twist-style work houses. We stopped at inner-city churchyard St Pancras Old Church, where he explained the working class’ poor living conditions that resulted in mass death and overcrowded graveyards.
Our fantastic guide Fabian
To deal with this overcrowding as well as the problem of body snatching, Parliament passed an act in 1836 to construct new cemeteries outside the city centre. We caught the underground to visit one of the largest Victorian burial grounds, Highgate Cemetery, where volunteer guide Brittany helped Fabian show us around. Brittany pointed out some of the cemetery’s oldest and most notable “residents” and explained different types of burials according to factors like the deceased’s class and religious beliefs. Several gravestones have been knocked over by trees or reclaimed by vines, creating a nature-centric atmosphere, a bit like Planet of the Apes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Some of the 200,000 graves in Highgate belong to pretty significant people including several war heroes, author George Elliot, and the father of modern communism, Karl Marx.
Duration: 3 hours 45 minutes, Cost: £49 per person. Book online.
The Bottom Line
There you have it! The best walking tours in London, from the iconic to the weird to the bits you just didn’t know about.
While I’m all for independent travel, and love exploring a new city, London is one of those places that a little local guidance goes a long way… especially if it’s your first or second visit.
Simply too much has happened here in the last 2000 years – invasions, inventions, plagues, fires, religious turmoil, death, discovery, revolution, and of course, an abundance of drama.
All of which is distilled into tasty bite-sized anecdotes on these expert guided walking tours.
And if you missed any of those, then it would be a real drama.
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