A round-up of the best Theatreland walking tours!

London is a fascinating and sometimes chaotic city that can only truly be discovered by walking its streets. From mistresses to murderers and gruesome ghosts to warring writers – uncover the secrets of the West End’s Theatres and back alleys this summer with a London Theatre walking tour.

Secret London

Our personal favourite is Secret London Walks / Official London Theatre’s Diane Burstein. Diane is a registered Blue Badge Guide and she regularly shares her wealth of knowledge on BBC London Radio.

Diane Burstein: Miss Marple meets Matilda
Diane Burstein: Miss Marple meets Matilda

Think Miss Marple with a dose of Matilda thrown in – what Diane doesn’t know about the West End is no-one’s showbusiness.

Diane offers a range of tours, each of which lasts for about two hours. In that time, some of the fascinating things you might discover include…

  • Sex, nudity and the Lord Chamberlain’s blue pencil.
  • Mysterious tales of a severed head and a ‘strangler jacket’
  • How Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore got away with murder
  • Creepy criminals, ladies of the night and a secret passageway under Catherine Street
  • The Shakespearean knight who wanted to sing in a musical
  • The Alcazar Music Hall’s “X Factor” – where the audience literally voted with their feet
  • Where you can try on Meryl Streep’s Iron Lady costume

Tours meet by the tkts booth in Leicester Square and embrace the sights, sounds and smells of Chinatown, Shaftesbury Avenue and the magic of Covent Garden.

Buy online through the Official London Theatre website or
phone 020 7557 6700 (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm).

Insider London

Also highly recommended are Insider London’s walking tours. They’re not specific to Theatre, but they do offer a unique insight into aspects of the West End and its surrounding neighbourhoods including:

  • Pubs & Drinking
  • Tube & Underground London
  • Street Art
  • Quirky London
  • Death and Debauchery
Death and Debauchery and plenty of it!
Death and Debauchery and plenty of it!

The Death and Debauchery tour (well, you can’t not…) meets outside the Dominion Theatre opposite Tottenham Court Road tube station and runs weekly on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You’ll visit one of the most haunted theatres in the West End and discover its connection to Charles II’s lover, the actress Nell Gwynne.

To book, call 020 7183 1055
or email contact@insider-london.co.uk

Shakespeare & Dickens

English Literature has two truly towering figures. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens took inspiration not only from the rich diversity of life in London, but also the splendour and squalor of its princes and paupers.

Two truly towering figures: Shakespeare and Dickens dominate London's literary past, present and future.
Two truly towering figures: Shakespeare and Dickens dominate London’s literary past, present and future.

Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ London – the Old City offers a captivating stroll through a city ravaged by time, bombs and great fires every Wednesday at 11am and Sundays at 2pm. There’s no need to book and you’ll see everything from magnificent half-timbered Elizabethan dwellings to the breath-taking early 16th-century gatehouse where Shakespeare took his plays to the offices of the Elizabethan Master of the Revels.

Walks last about 2 hours and start from St Paul’s tube station (exit 2).

Cost £10 or £8 concessions
Enquiries tel; 020 7624 3978
Email: london@walks.com

Also well worth a look is London Walks’ Inside Covent Garden

Museum Walks

The Museum of London also offers an excellent Shakespeare Tour.

It’s a little pricey at £20 but comes with a knowledgeable Museum of London guide, starting from Silver Street in a picturesque setting you might recognise from the silver screen, through to riverside Theatreland and the City streets that inspired Shakespeare’s plays.

To book, visit the Museum of London online.

London Ghost Walks

If you thrill to the chills of the Woman In Black or can’t get enough of Ghost – The Musical, you’ll love London Ghost Walks’ Ghosts of the West End.

Richard Jones: London Ghost Walks guarantee a spooky look at Theatreland
Richard Jones: London Ghost Walks guarantee a spooky walk through Theatreland

Explore the gas-lit alleyways, tucked away courtyards and hidden recesses where the spectres of London’s Theatreland are known to lurk. The tour currently operates for private bookings only – which we think rather adds to the thrill.

To book, call 020 8530-8443 (Mon-Fri 10.30am to 4pm).

Behind the Scenes

All the walks mentioned above go ahead come rain or come shine, but If the sun hasn’t got his hat on, London has some truly memorable backstage tours to enjoy. Our personal favourites include:

DIY Walks

Nothing beats the experience of a real live human being who can bring to life the myths and magic of Theatreland, but if you’re on a Dickensian budget then there are still options for walking the West End.

Take a look at londonforfree.net’s Theatre Walk which covers many of the West End’s great playhouses.

Alternatively, The V&A’s Diaghilev London Walk is designed to take in the London theatres in which Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes performed and other landmarks on the way.

Discover the legendary and fabulous Ballets Russes
Discover the legendary and fabulous Ballets Russes

The tour starts at Covent Garden tube station and takes about one and a half hours.

Pub Theatre

Off the beaten track and away from Theatreland, real Theatre buffs won’t want to miss the Guardian’s Islington Pub Theatre walk which offers a fascinating glimpse into London’s rich history of Fringe Theatre.

Best books and resources

And finally…when you’re all walked out, why not read all about it over a coffee or two in the Theatre Café on Shaftesbury Avenue? We’d recommend London Theatre Walks which covers 13 dramatic tours, or maybe Paul Ibell’s excellent Theatreland: A Journey Through the Heart of London’s Theatre – and after all that, you’ll probably need a good lie down!

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