In 2015 alone, around 31.5 million people visited London. Of those visitors, we’re willing to bet that the vast majority of them hit up the usual tourist haunts alongside swells of fellow visitors lining up for hours for tickets. Topping their list of sights was the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, The British Museum, The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye, crossed off one by one.
As they rushed by with strict itineraries in hand, it’s doubtful they even saw what interested them the most… did they even stop to enjoy a quiet pint somewhere? It’s easy to get swept away and overwhelmed by London’s sights and sounds. That’s where a tour guide comes in handy.
Touriocity is the easiest way to book tailor made tours in the world’s greatest cities. Touriocity matches you with the best guide, provides transport and purchases skip the line entrance tickets, leaving you to do the fun stuff.
Photos courtesy of Touriocty.
Pulling from his background in travel writing and theater, Touriocity Guide Rob Humphreys takes visitors around London to see sights slightly off the beaten track along with those that are really worth the fuss. Specializing in art and culture-centric tours that offer up a chance to see what makes London so unique, Rob proves himself in engaging visitors to get excited about London’s smaller, less known treasures. Rob originally hails from North Yorkshire– but having spent the last 25 years in London, he is a Londoner at heart.
We interviewed Rob about his favorite places in the city, his thoughts on London and where you can sneak a peek at something a little different. To make things easy for your trip, check out our Google map here to see where you should be going.
Planning a trip to London? See our picks for our favorite places to stay from the hipster hotel abodes in Shoreditch to Family Friendly stays here!
On the London sights that are actually worth seeing
The Tower Of London
“The Tower of London, despite all the ‘heritage’ shtick, is still an amazing place with an amazing history: you know, Ravens, Crown Jewels, Beefeaters, executions, et cetera.”
Hampton Court and Kensington Palace
“Hampton Court Palace is amazing, with a lot of Baroque art and stuff. Kensington Palace is a really interesting place as well.”
On London sights you shouldn’t miss even though you might
Photos by brent flanders and Scott Wylie CCBY
The Wallace Collection
“Rather than going to Buckingham Palace, you could see beautiful 18th century French furniture, paintings and masterpieces, plus it’s free. It’s really amazing and just off Oxford Street.”
Sir John Sloane’s Museum
“Just like the British Museum in miniature but without the crowds.”
Inns of Court
“Just strolling around the Inns of Court, which you’re perfectly at liberty of doing, can be great. They are these sort of secret Oxford-type colleges where people study law.”
“The Courtauld Gallery, for example, has nothing like the crowds of the National Gallery and it’s much less exhausting.”
On London sights you can skip
“I’m not a great fan of the obvious, expensive sights like Madame Tussauds and the London Dungeon and I’m talking as someone who’s been to them a lot of times. I went just last week with my nephew, because as a teenage Londoner, it’s a rite of passage to go to the London Dungeon, so I took him there but I must say that for 20-odd pounds, it’s not a very thrilling thing.”
“I often joke with my clients that we’re a bit strange in this city because the museums and galleries are all free and we make people pay to visit the churches; all the big ones like Westminster Abbey are actually quite expensive to go and see. ”
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
“The number of people who want to see the Changing of the Guard is surprising. I always have a laugh with my clients because I’ve been there so many times now, yet I would say that 90% of Londoners have never seen it. This comes as quite a shock to the tourists because it’s usually in their top 5 of things to do while they’re in the city.”
On art in London
“We’re very lucky because at any given time there are a number of outstanding exhibitions that are worth going to and in fact one of the complaints people have, especially Londoners, is when an exhibition opens and you think ‘great! I really want to go see that, it’s on ‘til April’ and before you know it it’s the last week of the exhibition.”
The Tate Modern
“The Tate Modern has to keep itself cutting edge and edgy because it’s under a huge amount of pressure and competition in that sense from the rest of the art scene. There’s stuff happening in East London that is making the Tate say ‘we have to up our game.”
On Street Art in London
“One of the things I like about doing Street Art tours is that people just don’t see it and without a guide they just walk past it. Until it’s pointed out to you and someone tells you a bit about it, you don’t really get it. And I was once the same, don’t get me wrong.”
“Hackney reaches down into the very epicenter of the street art scene in Shoreditch. When I take clients on my street art tour, they often ask “is this legal?” and basically there are various “shades” of legality concerning street art and London actually has very strict planning regulations, even if, as is more often the case nowadays, artists can get permission to paint something.”
“If it weren’t for Banksy, street art wouldn’t be so popular and most street artists do sell prints of their work. ”
Photos courtesy of Touriocity
Where to see the best street art
“Shoreditch and the Brick Lane area are the epicenter so to speak of the London street art scene. Apart from that, Camden is pretty good and Brixton is not bad either. Those are the main areas I would visit if I were going just to see street art.”
“The great thing is, it does exist everywhere…For example, the other day I was walking through Mayfair, which is probably the least likely place to find street art because it is a very wealthy area, but there is in fact a Banksy half way up a tall block of flats. It depicts a shopping cart falling down the side of the building with a child hanging on and I think it says “shop ‘til you drop”, which is why he put it there, because it’s very close to Bond Street. But if you know where to look, you can find street art pretty much everywhere. ” (location: Bruton Lane)
“Blackall Street probably has more street art than any other street in London.” (Shoreditch)
On what makes London stand apart from other European cities
“I know a lot of English culture seems very conservative with a little “c”, but there is also another whole side to the English, which is very maverick and eccentric and very open to ideas from elsewhere. Certainly in terms of fashion, music and art, it’s a lot more exciting here.”
“The obvious one would be diversity. I believe London now ranks alongside New York in having the largest proportion of people who were born outside not only the city but also the country. That has a huge energizing effect on the city.”
On how London is changing
“It’s happening at the moment. I live in Hackney and it started with the scene moving to Shoreditch and then it moved to Dalston and then to Hackney Wick and now we’re on the edge of the Eastern borough of Hackey and the next bit it will go across the marshes and over to Waltham, but how far can it go? Basically at the moment, economically, if you see a bare patch of land or a disused building in London, turn it into flats and you will make a large amount of money.”
Where to “get away” from London while still in London
Photos by Davide D’Amico and Cristian Bortes CCBY
“You can arrive quickly and if you visit during the middle of the week, you feel like you have the whole place to yourself.”
“If you walk up the Thames to Richmond, you immediately run into a field of cows, which the locals loved so much that when the farmer recently said he would get rid of them because it made no economic sense, there was a big outcry. I believe the council now subsidizes those cows because people just love the whole feeling that you get when you walk up there and see the cows and there are these woods and you really feel like you’ve left London.”
On why visiting London with a tour guide is better
Photos by Jörg Engelbrecht CCBY
“The thing about London is it’s a really big place, it’s very busy… I think you just get so much more out of it with a guide, because he can show you some specific highlights based on your interests and you can see them for longer, learn a lot more and feel much more connected with the place than if you were on your own. ”
“I can take people somewhere they think they’re not actually going to enjoy or perhaps something they’ve never really thought about and you kind of reveal to them this whole world.”
Thanks to Rob and Touriocity for the interview!
Tip: If you’d like to keep Rob’s London recommendations handy on your drive, click the ⭐ icon next to the Maps title to save it to your own Google Maps!
Need a hotel in London? See our picks for our favorite places to stay here!
*Cover image by Berit Watkin CCBY