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The best London tours

Speedy boats, trundling double deckers, bicycles and trips that will whisk you away – it's all in Time Out's guide to great London sightseeing tours

Written by
Time Out editors
Rhys Thomas
Camila Karalyte
Talia Stanton

London is a city begging to be explored. Yeah, you could roam the streets yourself, but guided by a local means you'll be educated and get all the inside goss of the city. 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. Here's our pick of the best London tours. Put down your guidebooks, it's time to explore the capital like a local. From the tops of buses to bikes to speedboats, your point of view of the big smoke will be forever changed. 

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RECOMMENDED: look out for the 50 best attractions in London

The best tours in London

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

Seven books and nine films down the line, the world has lost none of its appetite for all things Harry Potter-related. Which is why Warner Bros are keeping the Hogwarts magic alive with their special exhibition, ‘The Making of Harry Potter.’ The props, sets and costumes have been lovingly maintained, and the whole site is shrouded in behind-the-scenes secrets that any fan would love to know. Step into the iconic locations: the Great Hall at Hogwarts, Diagon Alley and, of course, Platform 9¾. You can also get your chops around a flagon of butterbeer (don’t worry, it’s kid-friendly), and if you fancy taking a souvenir home with you, you can purchase a wand. Also if something comes up, don't worry – chillaxiarmus – you'll get a full refund if you cancel 24 hours (or earlier) in advance. 

Don't miss: They have an events calendar featuring a Halloween feast with floating pumpkins and a 20th anniversary extravaganza. 

Buckingham Palace
  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • The Mall

Fancy having a look around His Maj’s HQ? See the royal sites of central London, beginning at Clarence House before making your way to St James's Palace and the crowning jewel of the tour: Buckingham Palace. Tickets include skip-the-line access to Buckingham Palace Royal Mews or State Rooms (depending on the season) so you can get straight to soaking up the history of this iconic institution. 

Don't miss: Keep an eye out for the royal Foot Guards on duty at Wellington Barracks. 

Ghost Bus Tours
  • Attractions
  • Trafalgar Square

All aboard the bus of nightmares for a journey to hell… er, we mean the Houses of Parliament and other well-known London landmarks. With a lick of black paint, an old-school Routemaster has been given a suitably ghoulish makeover for the Ghost Bus Tour, which will whisk you around the capital on a whistle-stop adventure of London’s most malevolent spots. You'll see some of the grizzly sites; Tower Bridge and Tower of London, for example. All the gothic architecture. Spooky stuff folks. Suitable for ages 5+ though, so suck it up, maybe. 

Don't miss: Ghostly sightings at Fleet Street, Southwark Cathedral and more. 

Shoreditch Street Art Tours
  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • 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 all the knowledge on the classics you walk past on the daily. Bring your camera though, the gram won't have seen half of these East End beauties. It'll take you a couple hours, just fyi. 

Don't miss: Ask your tour guide as many questions as you'd like – he's a certified urban art and graffiti expert. 

  • Sport and fitness
  • Stadiums
  • Highbury

You don’t have to be a Gooner to enjoy this experience, but of course, it 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.

Don't miss: Another lovely bit is being able to step inside the room (ok, a replica of) the room where the post-match interviews happen. 

  • Attractions
  • Victoria Embankment

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 sale at the end of the tour. You'll begin at Temple tube station (outside Temple Bar Restaurant next to the station exit) and end at Kings Cross station. Stop off at top Potter spots like Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Diagon Alley and Platform 9¾ – just don't try and run through the thing. You muggle. 

Don't miss: The trolley-through-the-wall photo op at Platform 9¾.

  • Attractions
  • Ships and boats
  • 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. It only takes 50 minutes anyway, and how else do you want to experience the big river in the big smoke? Exactly. Strap up, have fun and get into viewing the London scenery in a brand new way. 

Don't miss: Prepare for a photo stop at Tower Bridge and a James Bond soundtrack playing throughout. 

Big Bus Tours
  • Attractions
  • Victoria

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. You can also hop on and off wherever you like for the entire day, so it doesn't have to just be a whistle-stop drive-by London that you get to enjoy.

Don't miss: There's Wi-Fi on the buses, so you can plan on the move. 

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Hampstead

This testament to the lasting beauty of modernist architecture is the former home of brutalist architect Ernö Goldfinger. And yes, he is the Goldfinger who inspired Ian Fleming's Bond villain of the same name. It's facts like this and more that you'll discover on one of the guided tours of 2 Willow Road, or you can wander freely round the place between 3pm and 5pm. The home has remained exactly the same since 1939, so that's you trip down memory lane sorted right out. If you're into architecture and interior design, of course, it's an absolute win. Who doesn't love a nosy around a nice house? 

Don't miss: Take a moment to appreciate the bespoke furniture, like his black laminate-top desk, featuring unique pivoting drawers.

10. 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. 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. 

Don't miss: Sam also offers self-guided virtual tours if you'd rather walk around without a chaperone. 

London Bicycle Tour Company
  • Travel
  • Public transport
  • 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, the Globe Theatre and more. Whichever route you take, you'll be able to pedal and learn – good for the body, and mind. There's endless bits of history too – it's perfect pub quiz prep if nothing else. 

Don't miss: If you're lucky, you'll be able to catch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. 

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