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Seven brilliantly revealing backstage tours in London

See some of the capital's famous institutions in a new light with these revealing backstage tours in London

By Andy Hill
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Somerset House
Somerset House
© Kevin Meredith

Somerset House: Historical highlights

Art Galleries Aldwych

Get down at the handsome neoclassical palace, with an enlightening historical tour of its amazing light wells – plunging stone crevasses which run along three sides of the famous central courtyard, two storeys below ground. Brave souls can also poke around the spooky subterranean ‘Deadhouse’, which feature preserved seventeenth-century gravestones. 

Thu 1.15pm and 2.45pm; Sat hourly 12.15pm-3.15pm. Free.

Royal Opera House

Music Classical and opera Covent Garden

Nip backstage at the stunning Covent Garden institution as it gears up for an evening performance. Watch stagehands grapple with props, sets and costumes, get a feel for luxury in Her Majesty’s box, and – if you time it right – sit in on a rehearsal with the uber-fitties of the Royal Ballet. 

Various days, 10.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm. £9-£12. 

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Sipsmith Distillery

Attractions Chiswick

Take the gin lover in your life – it can be you, we won’t judge – behind the scenes at Sipsmith’s Chiswick distillery. Grab a sloshed selfie with Prudence, Patience and Constance (their three giant copper stills) and learn all the gory history of London’s chequered relationship with Mother’s Ruin.

Mon, Wed, Fri, 6.30pm-8pm. Selected Fri 4.30pm-6pm. £25. 

Sea Life: Snorkelling with sharks

Attractions Zoos and aquariums South Bank

That’s right. For £130 you can pop on a pair of goggles and plop in the water with such amiable diving chums as the black tipped reef shark, the sand tiger shark and the lesser spotted dogfish. It’s all very safe (though probably keep your hands inside the cage anyway). Bring a towel and cossie.

Mon-Fri, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm. £130 (includes access to aquarium and behind-the-scenes tour). 

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Best buildings in London: Freemasons Hall
Best buildings in London: Freemasons Hall
© Mike Dickson

Freemasons' Hall

Things to do Event spaces Covent Garden

The secretive society has been exchanging esoteric handshakes (we imagine) on the site of this 1930s art deco treasure for more than two centuries. The hall boasts luxurious marble flooring, stained glass, polychrome mosaics, bronze sculptures and a particularly impressive two-storey library and museum. Plus it’s ‘free’ to look around.

Mon-Sat when hall not in use. Tours 11am-4pm. Free.

Emirates Stadium

Sport and fitness Stadiums Highbury

Pitch up for an in-depth tour of Arsenal FC’s north London fortress. Savour the match day build-up from the dressing rooms, players’ tunnel, dugout and more. If you shell out an extra fiver, ‘Legends’ like Lee Dixon (no less) will walk you around the hallowed stands in person. Real fans are Gunner love it. 

www.bookings.arsenal.com. Various times. Match day tour £35. Legends tour £40. 

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