Tourist Tracks specialize in MP3 audio walking tours which can be downloaded from the Tourist Tracks web site or, if like me you don't have an MP3 player yet, they can post a CD to you. (Note: they can only post to a UK address, but it can be a hotel address.) Waygate offer this tour as a GPS (satellite navigation) walking tour, available from the Waygate website.
Tourist Tracks have produced the audio walking tours in partnership with Visit London. This is a review of the City of Westminster tour. Check out the highlights of the tour at Westminster Walking Tour Photos.
The audio CD comes with a simple, but clear, map of the area covered in the walking tour. (Note, the Millennium Wheel on the map is another name for the London Eye.) The CD starts with 1.5 minutes of instructions about how to use the audio tour. I would particularly recommend taking heed of the advice to "be aware of your surroundings". London is a busy city with lots of people and lots of traffic. Make sure when you stop to listen to the tour details you stop against a wall and not near the curb. And when it comes to crossing the road, do use the designated pedestrian crossings. You may have to wait a few minutes but when you see the green man all the traffic must stop.
The directions to help you find the next audio point are easy to follow.
Walking Tour Tips
- A bit obvious this, but do wear comfortable shoes.
- Take a bottle of water and maybe a snack. You won't pass many shops for the first hour of the tour so take all the refreshments you might need. You may like to take a picnic and stop in St. James's Park for lunch.
- Take spare batteries for your CD player or MP3 player.
- Don't forget your camera - and some spare batteries!
Good Points and Bad Points
- Good for independent travelers
- Good information and history at each audio point
- Don't have to wait for other people
- Can always hear the guide
- Can walk at your own pace
- Can stop anywhere you choose
- 'Tour guide' has quite an expressionless voice
- Can't ask questions like you can with a 'live' tour guide
- Can't share the experience with others
The Tour (Part 1): Trafalgar Square to St. James's Palace
The tour starts in Trafalgar Square outside the National Gallery. I had never heard the National Gallery referred to as "London's cruet set - mustard, salt and pepper" because of its three roof domes, but I like the description. And I like the tip to go in Canada House to see the free exhibitions.Whitehall & Horse Guards
Next I headed down Whitehall and learnt lots about the history of the street. At Horse Guards I went into the square and took a great photo of the guard. The guards are used to having their photo taken, but it is always polite to ask permission first and to say thank you afterwards. You know us Brits and our thing about manners!Downing Street
The audio point at Downing Street really interested me as I didn't realize Downing Street used to be open to the public. It was only back in 1989 that Margaret Thatcher closed the street and put up the gates for security.
The 'tour guide' had quite a few ideas on how Big Ben got its name. I like the story about the champion prizefighter called Benjamin Caunt. Have a look at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry website for more Big Ben history.
The audio tour explains about the fire on 16 Oct 1834 that destroyed nearly all of the Palace of Westminster, apart from Westminster Hall. The 'tour guide' gives very good directions to help you recognize the Hall.St. James's Park
I really enjoyed walking through St. James's Park and being told the history of the park, the surrounding area, and even the trees. This is a great place to stop and rest your feet as it's about halfway through the tour.
There's a good tip on the tour - stop on the bridge at audio point 8,in the middle of the park, and you'll get a great view of Buckingham Palace. I agree!
Listen to audio 9 before crossing The Mall onto Marlborough Road. I found it hard to concentrate while waiting to cross. Any way, once on Marlborough Road you'll see Friary Court, where royal proclamations have been made, and The Queen's Chapel, before reaching St. Jame's Palace. I was lucky enough to see the guards changing shifts (it was at 10am but I don't know if this is their regular time).