Best London tours

Speedy boats, trundling double deckers, bicycles and trips to put the willies up you – it's all in Time Out's guide to great London sightseeing tours
Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station, London
Hans Jürgen
By Time Out editors |
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Often the best way to see a city is to be guided by a local, and London’s no different. Whether you want to hurtle down the Thames at nearly 30 knots (that’s fast, FYI), get up close and personal with some east London street art, or see the capital's sights and world-famous attractions on an open-top bus, only a fully-fledged Londoner has all the juiciest bits of city info.

Lucky for all soon-to-be sightseers, there's expertise and opportunity knocking around every corner - so London's got you covered. To get you started, here's our pick of the best London tours. 

Get ready to see the capital in a whole new way. No guidebook needed.

Recommended: look out for the 50 best attractions in London

The best tours in London

Attractions

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter

icon-location-pin Abbots Langley

For some proper British magic, wander on down to the studios where all eight Harry Potter movies were made. Saunter along Diagon Alley, gulp down butterbeer and step right into Hogwarts as if you just alighted the Hogwarts Express. Don't forget to explore the Forbidden Forest too - but heads up, arachnophobes, Aragog *may* drop in. Although this tour will delight diehard Potter aficionados (naturally), you may even find that it converts a few Muggles along the way, too.

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© The National Trust
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

2 Willow Road

icon-location-pin Hampstead

Fans of brutalist architecture – Trellick Tower in particular – will have a field day noseying around the home of its creator. Throughout his career Ernö Goldfinger designed numerous London buildings, including his own, 2 Willow Road. Now under the management of National Trust, the middle house in this modernist terrace is open to the public. Much of it remains the same as it was in 1939 and is an absolute must-see for any keen mid-mod admirer.

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Attractions, Sightseeing

Buckingham Palace

icon-location-pin St James's Park

Fancy having a look around Her Maj’s HQ? All year long you can get a nosey round The Queen’s Gallery, where you’ll find pieces from the Royal Collection. From February to November, the Royal Mews is also open, and the State Rooms are open throughout August and September (as well as for one-off tours during the year when the Queen isn’t home).

Attractions

Ghost Bus Tours

icon-location-pin Trafalgar Square

Roll up for a tour on a Routemaster painted black and redecorated in a gothic vein, to hear half-factual, half-fictional tales about the sinister side of London – delivered by a troupe of actors, stand-up comics and cabaret performers. Booking is recommended for these tours; families should take not that they’re not suitable for under-fives. 

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Things to do, Walks and tours

Greenwich Painted Hall Ceiling Tours

icon-location-pin Greenwich
icon-calendar

Join this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close to the ceiling of the Greenwich’s Painted Hall in this series of ceiling tours taking place while conservators restore 40,000 sqft of the ceiling’s painted surface. The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich is described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’. The paintings, drawn by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726, are considered to be the greatest Baroque decorative scheme in England. 

Ghostsigns Walking Tour

Anyone from history buffs to font obsessives will dig this old advertising tour. Expertly led by Sam Roberts, who founded the Ghostsigns Project, you'll discover at least 15 hand-painted adverts on the side of buildings and the like. The whole idea behind Roberts' Ghostsigns Project is to shed light on signage from a bygone era, sharing tidbits about the history of designs, the surrounding areas, and advertising as a whole. The tour lasts roughly two hours and kicks off from a post box in Stoke Newington.

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Things to do, Walks and tours

Shoreditch Street Art Tours

icon-location-pin Spitalfields

Explore the street art scene of this lively patch of east London, where work by local artists such as Banksy, Eine, D*Face, Sweet Toof and Pure Evil mix with international pieces. Photographer and tour guide NoLionsInEngland is an authority on the genre so expect to find some surprises – and bring your camera!

Things to do, Walks and tours

City Cruises

icon-location-pin Whitehall

Want to see the city in style? City cruises operate on a hop-on, hop-off basis and run from Westminster, Waterloo, Tower and Greenwich Piers with commentary along the way. All the departure points are convenient for the city’s various sights, with Greenwich Pier ideal for the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory.

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Attractions

Beefeater Distillery

icon-location-pin Kennington

The granddaddy of London gin traces its origins back to 1829, and has been distilling on this site since 1958. Amazingly, London’s oldest and most internationally renowned distillery is open all day to visitors from Monday to Saturday. Tours last around an hour, and start every 30 minutes. They cost £12, and a G&T is included. Obvs.  

Changing room.jpg
© Stuart MacFarlane / Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Sport and fitness, Stadiums

Arsenal Museum and Stadium Tour

icon-location-pin Highbury

You don’t have to be a Gooner to enjoy this experience, but it certainly helps. The thought of being guided around the stadium by a former footballer on the Legends tour (such as Lee Dixon, Kenny Sansom or Charlie George) and walking through the players’ tunnel must cause a flutter of delight in the stomachs of many a fan. And now that Wenger's retired, it's a great time to pop back in - even if you've already been.

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Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station, London
Hans Jürgen
Attractions

Harry Potter Bus Tour of London Locations

icon-location-pin Temple

Hop onboard a luxury minibus for a whistlestop tour of location sites for all eight Harry Potter films, along the way learning about magic and how the films were made. There’ll be a chance to get off the bus and take pictures, and Harry Potter merchandise is available for sle at the end of the tour. The tour begins at Temple tube station (outside Temple Bar Restaurant next to the station exit) and ends at Kings Cross station. 

Attractions, Ships and boats

London RIB Voyages

icon-location-pin South Bank

Bring your waterproofs, because the slick RIB (rigid inflatable boat) operation offers a high-speed ride on the Thames. It's a great way to discover how exhilarating it can be to swoop along the Thames at almost 30 knots – that’s nearly 35 mph, nautical novices! We're not sure how much you'll actually be able to see, but there are plenty more leisurely-paced tours for that sorta thing. 

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Things to do, Walks and tours

Original London Sightseeing Tour

icon-location-pin Trafalgar Square

An ode to traditional city sightseeing, this hop-on, hop-off, open-top bus tour covers most of tourist London. There's the choice of three different routes, commentaries available in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian and Japanese, and a ticket price that also includes a river cruise and two walking tours. Not only will you leave feeling informed, but your wallet'll thank you too.

Attractions

Big Bus Tours

icon-location-pin St James's Park

An open-top bus tour covering most of tourist London on two different, sometimes overlapping, routes. Commentary in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese, Russian or Portuguese, complete with music and sound effects, delves into London’s 2,000-year history. The ticket price includes a river cruise and walking tours, including ‘Royal London’ (10am), ‘Beatles’ (2.30pm) and ‘Ghosts by Gaslight’ (6pm), which all depart from Trafalgar Square.

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Attractions, Ships and boats

London Duck Tours

icon-location-pin South Bank

These semi-submersible vehicle tours start in a conventional fashion from Chicheley Street near County Hall, crossing the river via Westminster Bridge to travel around Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly. Then, it’s on towards Victoria past Buckingham Palace and on to the river by Tate Britain. Is it high-class travel? No. But it's a London institution. And it's got a duck mascot who wears a top hat.

Travel, Public transport

London Bicycle Tour Company

icon-location-pin South Bank

With the option to hop on six different routes in seven different languages, you're bound to find something you love with the London Bicycle Tour Company. The 'classic tour' is a popular one, passing the London Eye, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, among other landmarks. Or check out the capital in all its glittering glory on a night ride past St Paul's, Globe Theatre and more.

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