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

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

Written by
Time Out editors
Contributor
Rhys Thomas
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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. It's time to see the capital in a whole new way. No guidebook needed. 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 fans will be in heaven here. 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. Petrificus totalus! (It renders targets immobile, apparently.) There's butterbeer about too if you need to refresh yourself after a hard day's touring (magic some alcohol in there if you're of age and responsible). Also if something comes up, don't worry – chillaxiarmus – you'll get a full refund if you cancel 24 hours (or earlier) in advance. 

Buckingham Palace
  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • The Mall

Fancy having a look around Her Maj’s HQ? All year long you can get a butchers 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). The bucks, a classic blighty gaff, innit. There's a royal picnic option too, though we can't guarantee Queenie herself is popping down with a mimosa. 

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Ghost Bus Tours
  • Attractions
  • Trafalgar Square

All aboard the bus of nightmares for a journey to hell… er, we mean 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 brave it up maybe. 

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 see half of these East End beauties. It'll take you a couple hours, just fyi. 

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  • Attractions
  • 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. If you want to know your juniper from your potatoes (you'll see) and generally have a look around this wonderful old-school and functional building, you'll just have to step in and take the tour. Cheers. 

  • Sport and fitness
  • Stadiums
  • Highbury

You don’t have to be a Gooner to enjoy this experience, trust me (even a spurs fan writing this enjoyed) 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. And now that Wenger's retired, it's a great time to pop back in - even if you've already been. Another lovely bit is being able to step inside the room (ok, a replica of) the room where the post-match interviews happen. You know the ones, with the sponsers wallpapering the background. Practice your best "trust the process". 

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  • 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 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. Lovely stuff. Magic. You'll be stopping 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. 

London RIB Voyages
  • 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, get into viewing the London scenery in a brand new way. 

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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 whistle-stop drive-by London that you get to enjoy. There's Wi-Fi on the buses too, so you can plan on the move. 

Original London Sightseeing Tour
  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • 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. There's something both unique and iconic about seeing the big smoke from this perspective – four meters up with the wind blowing. It has to be done at least once. Even if you're a local. 

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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. Unfortunately, public tours are off the table for now but Sam does still offer private tours – give him a shout to find out more (details on his website). If you find you love the tour, keep an eye out for this book Ghost Signs: A London Story which is due to be published in November 2021. There were also remote tours in lockdown, you could enquire as to whether they're still happening if you need to. 

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. Classic London, that. Or check out the capital in all its glittering glory on a night ride past St Paul's, 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. 

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  • 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 (11am, noon, 1pm and 2pm), 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. The furnishing is as beautiful as the structure itself. Who doesn't love a nosy around a nice house? 

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