London’s rich and fascinating history, alongside its enchanting mix of impressive architecture and expansive green spaces, makes it the perfect place for a day, week, or even a lifetime of wandering. The city’s public transport system is pretty reliable, and there’s no shortage of the iconic London taxis to get you from A to B, but any Londoner will tell you that walking can be one of the best, and certainly the cheapest, way to see the city. For those who aren’t familiar with London’s geography and don’t feel comfortable freely roaming the streets, a guided walk is a great way to explore the sights whilst learning about the culture and history.
London Guided Walks
There are a huge range of tours available, from long, winding treks to themed walks that follow food stalls, historical figures, and even famous book characters, so there’s certainly something for everyone.
Harry Potter Tour
Was your childhood spent dreaming about roaming around Diagon Alley? Now’s your chance to make that a reality!
The must-see Harry Potter tour can be done in a range of formats, including as a guided group or on your own as a GPS-enabled audio tour. The free tour takes members around the various filming locations from all eight wizarding movies and is accompanied by an expert guide, while the self-guided walk offers a downloadable recording explaining all there is to know about the magic destinations.
City of London Guide
It’s a surprisingly little-known fact that London and the City of London are two different places. The former is the capital city and encompasses all of Greater London – 32 boroughs to be precise, including the City. On the ‘City Highlights’ walking tour you can learn all about the Square Mile (as it’s affectionately known) and its 2000-year history, stopping at all the main buildings along the way, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and Guildhall.
London Walks is one of the most prominent and well-reviewed walking tour companies in the city. They boast an extensive range of walks at a very competitive price – only £10 for students – with each one lasting approximately two hours. There’s the ‘Hidden Pubs of Old London Town’ walk, which unearths inns and taverns dating back to Roman times, or the ‘Oscar Wilde Tour’ which follows some of the writer’s most frequented hang-out spots. Whether you’re interested in literary icons or London’s criminal history, London Walks has something for you!
Locals Love: East End Food Tour
This tour is regularly updated to keep up with the East End’s rapidly evolving food scene. The stretch from Old Street to Shoreditch high street offers innumerable eateries of all different cuisines. Its six stops include the fabled Beigel Bake bakery, handmade chocolate truffles, and authentic Bangladeshi snacks. In addition to the food tasting, the expert guide will teach you all about the area’s rich history and diverse population.
10 Centuries in 1 Day
Beginning at the Tower Hill Roman wall and finishing at the Museum of London, the route and information pack for this free walk can be found on the City of London website. It stops at a surviving venue from ten centuries, and as a self-guided tour with no one else to hang around for, you are free to stop for as long as you want. If you haven’t been before we’d definitely recommend spending some time exploring the Tower of London and The Barbican Centre, although these are both expansive attractions in their own right, so your walk could well end up an all-day event!
St James’s Park Tree Walk
This is a great self-guided (and free!) walking tour for nature lovers who don’t fancy trekking too far across the city. The Royal Parks website has a downloadable guide for exploring the grounds over a 1.3-mile route, and it’s full of detailed information about the different types of trees found in the park. From the Horse Guards Parade to Duck Island, there are also plenty of places to stop and learn about London’s history and culture. The Changing of the Guard is an iconic British event, which you should definitely add to your walking tour if you haven’t yet witnessed it.
Blood and Tears Walk
Restricted to ages 12 and up, the Blood and Tears walk ventures across London’s East End and into the city’s dark history of notorious serial killers, public executions, and grave-digging criminals. It’s led by natural storyteller Declan McHugh, who makes no attempt at concealing the sheer horror and cruelty of London’s gory past. Tickets start from £15 and the tour departs most days at 7pm, so it’s a great evening activity for students looking to distract themselves from a busy day of studying.
Greenwich Heritage and Meridian
Greenwich Park and its surrounding area is a lovely spot to spend a sunny day out, and now the local tour guide association has introduced a new walking guide too – so you can really make the most out of this fascinating area. It meets outside the Discover Greenwich centre and trails across to the Royal Observatory, lasting approximately 1.5 hours. The latter is another symbolic London attraction, offering so much to see, do, and learn, so make sure to head over to South East London soon.
This free, self-guided walk is the perfect activity for London newbies. Starting at Westminster station it traverses the most significant bridges in the city, snaking east along the river Thames until coming to an end at Tower Hill. The online directions include a mass of information about when, why, and by whom the bridges were built, and this is available as a printout for just £2.
Sherlock Holmes Tour
Available to book with several different companies and guides, the Sherlock Holmes walking tour is a popular route for lovers of Conan Doyle’s eminent literary works. Most tours visit key places from the original series, like the Bow Street prison cell and the Royal Opera House, with several also including spots from the blockbuster film and BBC series too. This one would make a great gift for a literature student friend or sleuthing enthusiast, and you could even dress up for the occasion – many do!
Walthamstow Wetlands Free Walk
If you’re looking for an opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of London’s streets one weekend, but don’t want to venture too far out, head northeast of the city towards Walthamstow. Every Saturday morning between 11am and midday the local council holds a free guided walk around the nature reserve, an area which was only fully accessible to the public in 2017. There are over 13 miles of pathway in total, so you could take a picnic and make a full day of it. Easy way to get your steps in!
Venturing out across any city after dark isn’t the safest idea, but it’s undeniable that London at night can be a spectacular sight. Joining a guided walk is arguably the best way to see the city past sunset, and there are plenty available to suit your needs and keep you safe. The ‘Twilight on the Thames’ walk places you right on the river to watch the sunset over the magnificent skyline, while other routes are focused on a specific part of London history – like the ‘Jack the Ripper walk’ or ‘Ancient City by Night’.
Seven Noses of Soho
Certainly the most unusual walking tour mentioned in this roundup, and possibly even the strangest route available in London full stop, this walk follows the quirky art installation created in 1997 by artist Rick Buckley. On random streets located around the Soho area, you will find plaster of Paris noses protruding from the walls, which were initially erected in response to the introduction of widespread surveillance cameras across the city and beyond. There were originally 35 noses installed across London, but sadly only 10 remain.