Free walking tours are so commonly organized around the world that it is practically a right of passage for an avid adventurer. Carrying on the ancient tradition of storytelling, you are shown the places where people made history and left a mark on the community. London seems to be completely dominated by the walking tour company called Strawberry Tours. I personally became a fan because they offered a huge variety of walking locations besides the standard popular tourist destinations. Here are my top five.
#1 The Harry Potter Tour
The story of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration is revealed on this tour, which is incredible for die hard fans like me. You are shown the actual areas where she modeled certain places to her story. My two favorite locations on the tour had to be real life streets that inspired Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. Diagon Alley is a small, bright, lively street filled with little old shops. It felt like a matter of time before Ollivander would approach me with my wand. I was surprised to learn that Knockturn Alley was just around the corner, exactly like it is in the books. Knockturn Alley definitely emanated a more sinister quality, with its dark brick walls and outwardly curved windows. I was brimming with joy and gratitude to walk the same streets that inspired my literary hero.
#2 The British Museum Tour
This tour was a real treat because I usually get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of artworks in a large and well-known museum like this. It was a relief to be able to see the most famous and infamous pieces of the collection. My favorite piece had to be a series of marble sculptures depicting an Athenian wedding scene, where centaurs were invited, got drunk, and started terrifying the guests. The Athenians fought back and triumphed over evil, making these works a symbol for fighting for what is right and fair in the world. This is apparently one of their more controversial art pieces because Greece has actually asked for it back and it is clearly still on display in the British Museum. I personally believe that it should be returned to it’s rightful owner or, at the very least, shared between the two countries as a diplomatic solution.
#3 The Soho Walking Tour
Even before I went on the walking tour, I wandered around Soho and enjoyed the lively atmosphere and the streets adorned with rainbow flags. When I found the walking tour, I was so excited to learn more. It is the heart of musical talent and home to the red light district. My absolute favorite place that we visited was the Trident Studios. Insanely epic music legends have recorded here including: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, and David Bowie, just to name drop a few of the greats. I just about flipped out when I realized Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded in the very walls of a building in November of 1975. It completely humbled me and blew my mind at the same time. To be able to say that I have walked the same streets as these giants was life changing.
#4 The Jack the Ripper Tour
I enjoyed this tour because it honored the deaths of the five women that the infamous Jack the Ripper murdered. This serial killer was rampant in 1888 in the Whitechapel district of London, which was coincidentally a couple of blocks next to where I was staying at the time of my visit. Most of the victims were prostitutes living in poverty, who were the most vulnerable people in that society. The St. Botolph’s Aldgate church was nicknamed the “Church of Prostitutes” because it was a shelter and a way for the women to protect themselves while avoiding getting arrested. The victims’ bodies were found in the streets, mutilated in horrific ways. It was a very sad part of London’s history and the scars of that time are still felt to this day.
#5 The Street Art Tour
Located in the East End of London, this tour introduces you to the epic graffiti works of art. Even though graffiti is technically illegal, it is subtly encouraged in this area of the city. The East End has a peculiar freeing atmosphere to it. As far as tagging walls, anything goes. I loved how each artwork had a strong message behind it. The work that spoke to me the most was a beautiful picture of a black woman with her eyes closed and tears rolling down her face. She is also holding the future. It is a little bit bleak, but maybe the artist was called to create this because of the pain or uncertainty they feel towards the future. I relate to it because that is how I feel about the way we treat the environment. It shows that we have a lot to learn and we need to keep working for a better future in which we all respect the Earth.
So definitely go outside and enjoy a fun, free walking tour where you can make new friends and listen to modern day storytelling. Keep an eye out for the blue circular plaques on random walls of the city because they immortalize famous events, people, and places that were previously there.