During my first visit to London, Laurence and I did a full-day London walking tour with City Wonders to get a good orientation of the city and see some of the most iconic sites. The tour takes you through the heart of the capital city and during the day we saw so many recognizable landmarks, including the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. In addition to seeing all these iconic London sights, we also got to visit and partake in some fun London experiences, including a visit to the Tower of London before the crowds, a short boat ride on the River Thames, witnessing the Changing of the Guard in front of Buckingham Palace, and savoring a formal afternoon tea in a London hotel. We’ll share what we saw and did during this City Wonders Best of London walking tour, everything you need to know to book this tour yourself, and our overall thoughts on this tour.
Basic Information on City Wonders Tours
City Wonders is a tour operator that began in 2004 leading small groups on walking tours of Rome, Italy. After becoming a major tour operator in Italy, the company has now expanded to include a number of additional cities, including Venice, Milan, Paris, and London. The company focuses on creating high quality tours with knowledgeable guides, delivering tours in only one language on each tour, small group sizes, and excellent customer service. If you are in Rome, you may want to check out their Vatican tours as they are currently one of only three companies that is an official Vatican Tour Operator partner and can offer some really interesting special access tours.
What tours do City Wonders offer?
City Wonders currently offers guided tours in Venice, Florence, Rome, Milan, Paris, and London with a notable number of tours in Rome and within the Vatican. The list of available tours is evolving and expanding as the company continues to grow. They are also happy to customize a private tour, just contact them via their website.
How much do the tours costs?
Tour costs vary widely depending on the length of the tours, any needed transport costs (e.g., a bus ride), and attraction entrance fees for the places visited. For instance, tours within London currently range from USD $32/person to USD $170/person for adults. The “Best of London” tour we did was a full-day 9-hour tour and is currently $170/adult. Reduced prices are generally available for children on most tours and free for infants. A great thing about these tours is that they are all generally all-inclusive so all costs (attraction tickets, transportation, food costs) are included in the cost of the tour.
Who should take these tours?
It really depends a lot on the specific tour, but generally many of the City Wonders tours are geared to show visitors either the highlights of a destination (e.g., Paris, London, Rome) or for more in-depth exploration of the most visited attractions (e.g., Vatican, British Museum, Versailles, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge). All tours are provided in only one language (the majority of tours are given in English), but some tours are also available in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German. Many tours are not suitable for those with physical disabilities who need the assistance of wheelchairs, scooters, etc. (please read tour information carefully before booking or contact the Customer Service staff); however, private tours can be arranged that are suitable for those with disabilities. On tours that include food, gluten-free and vegetarian options are normally available, but please check before booking.
How do I make a reservation or contact City Wonders?
The easiest way to make a reservation is online at their website: http://www.citywonders.com. You can also call them at any of their international locations or send an email to [email protected] You can also find them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Our Best of London Walking Tour Experience with City Wonders
Surprisingly, my first visit to London took place only last Spring! Laurence had grown up in the United Kingdom and lived in London for a couple of years, but for me it was my first time experiencing this famous capital. We thought it would be a great idea to do a London walking tour so that I could get my bearings of this large city and see some of the highlights. Therefore we were happy to choose this particular walking tour when City Wonders asked to work with us as travel bloggers. Now, this Full Day Best of London walking tour is actually a combination saver tour of two separate tours offered by City Wonders: Best of Royal London tour and the Highlights of London Walking Tour with English Afternoon Tea with a two-hour break in between the morning and afternoon sections of the tour with time for lunch on your own. From London, we had previously done a London day tour to Bath, Stonehenge, and the Cotswolds with City Wonders which you can read a full review of on Finding the Universe, so we already had a good experience with this tour company.
Booking a tour through City Wonders is easy to do online or by phone, and we received a confirmation voucher via email with the tour information and meeting time and place. Laurence and I left our London apartment rental in Kensington and arrived around 8:15am outside the ticket office for the Tower of London. We were greeted by our friendly tour guide named Shabby who we quickly learned was quite the entertaining character, and we were also joined by two young coffee-toting American ladies. Admittedly, the weather was not great during the morning (lots of cloudy gray photos sadly) but we felt very lucky to have such a small group of only four people (typically groups are larger)! Our tour began promptly at 8:30 with an introduction to the day’s itinerary and more about the history of the infamous Tower of London.
Given that our tour was almost 7 hours long over the course of 9 hours, I will spare you all the details and share only our highlights from the tour below:
Tower of London
The Tower of London was the start of our London walking tour with City Wonders and probably the highlight of the tour for us. This UNESCO world heritage site has served as a fortress, prison, armory, Royal Mint, and place of execution among other uses during its long history. It currently holds the Crown Jewels which have been housed in the Tower of London for centuries. Our group was among the first people let into the Tower of London that morning which is a special feature of the tour. Shabby, our guide, did not accompany us into the fortress but gave us information about the Tower outside and then gave us tips to guide our visit inside since people had different priorities in what they wanted to see. Laurence and I were the first to see the Crown Jewels that morning which often require a patient wait behind a long line of people. The Crown Jewels are definitely the most popular thing to see, but you could spend all day visiting the various exhibits, buildings, and museums within the complex. For instance the White Tower (oldest part of the complex) built by William the Conqueror is a must-see place and you can also see and learn about the Tower’s famous ravens, visit the Medieval Palace, take a short guided tour with one of the Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters), walk sections of the medieval walls, learn more about the executions at the Tower, or visit the Fusilier Museum which provides the history of the British infantry regiment. Obviously, you won’t have time to do all these things on the walking tour. We saw the Crown Jewels, visited the White Tower, and saw the Tower Green and execution site during our time. This is definitely a place I’d like to return to soon!
Boat Ride on the River Thames
After our visit to the Tower of London, we walked a short distance to catch one of the boat shuttles that goes up and down the River Thames. Although it was a relatively short boat ride, it gave us some time to relax while Shabby pointed out notable sights along the way to our next destination. During our Thames ride Shabby explained to us that we would be spending our time in Westminster, which is a distinct section of London that constitutes its own city: the City of Westminster. Westminster contains many of the most famous London tourist attractions, including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Piccadilly Circus, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Hyde Park. This was a new fact for me!
Buckingham Palace & Changing of the Guard
Probably the most famous place in the United Kingdom, Buckingham Palace serves as the current primary London workplace and residence for the reigning sovereign of the United Kingdom. It was originally built as a private residence by the Duke of Buckingham (hence the name) in the 16th century, but was later acquired by British royalty and expanded over time. During our visit Queen Elizabeth II was not in residence, as indicated by the flying of the Union Flag instead of the Royal Standard above the palace. However, we were not able to actually visit Buckingham Palace during our time in London as the palace is only open for public visits for about 8 weeks per year (generally August and September), but I would love to visit next summer! Depending on the day you book (as well as weather and security conditions) you will see either the Changing of the Queen’s Guard at the forecourt of Buckingham Palace or the changing of the Queen’s Life Guard at the Horse Guards Parade. The space in front of Buckingham Palace is always crowded during the time of the changing of the guard and so Shabby took us to a spot in front of St. James’ Palace where we got very close to some of the regiments, including the Nepalese Brigade of Gurkhas that were part of the Changing of the Guard ceremony that day. After the changing of the guard, we were able to get a much closer look at the palace and then we also visited the Royal Mews (royal collection of historic carriages and coaches) next door during our tour break since we had a 2-day London Pass.
The second half of our tour began with a walk to Trafalgar Square. This famous public square contains Nelson’s Column, built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar, at its center which is guarded by the four famous bronze lion statues. Here we learned from Shabby a bit about Trafalgar Square and some of the famous sights that surround the square, including the National Gallery, St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, and the Strand. We then took off down Whitehall street, learning about the famous former Whitehall Palace along the way (the largest palace in Europe!), towards another famous London square with a brief stop to look at the Horse Guards and to take in the official residence of the British Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street (there is not much to see to be honest except for an unimpressive facade and a door)
Perhaps the most famous square in London, this green square is surrounded by a number of iconic sites as well as a number of administrative buildings, including Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, the Supreme Court, and many government buildings of Whitehall. The Palace of Westminster, also know as the Houses of Parliament, is the meeting place for the British Parliament (both the House of Commons and the House of Lords) and most recognizable for its Elizabeth Tower, better known as Big Ben. Few visitors actually know that Big Ben is actually the name originally given only to the large bell within the clock tower while the tower itself is officially known as Elizabeth Tower. Parliament Square also contains a number of statues of famous people, including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Nelson Mandela.
At the end of the day, Shabby led us to the St. Ermin’s Hotel. This beautiful four-star hotel was originally built as a mansion block in the late 1800’s and later turned into a hotel. The hotel has a notable connection with the UK secret intelligence agencies that you’ll learn about on the tour. It was here in the hotel’s Tea Lounge that we had a traditional English tea, complete with tea sandwiches, pastries, scones, jam, and clotted cream. After being seated and talking a bit with Shabby about the tradition of afternoon tea and reviewing our day, she left us to enjoy our tea experience for as long as we wished. A nice ending to a full day of touring London!
Overall Thoughts on our Best of London Walking Tour with City Wonders
The full-day Best of London walking tour with City Wonders definitely delivered on showing us the highlights of London. We saw so many of the most famous landmarks and sights in central London, from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey. A highlight for us both was touring the Tower of London and it was great to have early entry since it can get quite crowded there, especially around the Crown Jewels. It was also great to have the experiences of doing the short boat ride on the Thames, seeing the changing of the guard, and the afternoon tea included in the tour rather than just walking from building to building. Our guide, Shabby, was quirky, knowledgeable, and friendly and she definitely made the history of the places we saw come alive. She was also quick to answer our questions when she could and give us additional tips for our time in London. If I had more limited time and had to choose from either the morning or afternoon portion of this tour, I would definitely choose the morning Best of Royal London as it includes the visit to Tower of London, river cruise, and Buckingham Palace. Overall, we both really enjoyed this tour and I think it is a great tour for any first-time visitor to London as it gives you a great overview of central London and a look at so many of London’s iconic attractions. I can’t wait to return to London to spend more time inside the Tower and do a guided tour inside Buckingham Palace!
Have you taken a London walking tour? As always, feel free to share you own tips and advice about walking tours in London or ask us any questions about our own experience with City Wonders tours or anything else related to visiting London.
**Disclosure: We were invited to go on a complimentary tour by City Wonders in order to review their tours and provide feedback; however, this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. We were not financially compensated for this post.**