One of my goals for the summer is to become more cultured. As I’ve talked about, I don’t love museums because they’re not engaging enough for me, so I tend to skip learning a lot of important knowledge about the places I’m visiting. Certain aspects of history and culture absolutely fascinate me, like Greek mythology and World War 2. However, I most enjoy learning about these things through novels or movies (i.e. Anne Frank, Hercules – the Disney one, of course). I just find it tiresome to read a laundry list of dates and names that don’t give me a feeling for what life was like and who these people were. What I want is personal stories and special insight into the history of a location.
When Context Travel reached out to me about a partnership during my trip to London, I took a quick look at their tour offerings and was immediately sold: what better way to kick off my Euro-trip than a private walk through lesser-seen historical sites in London, run by a PhD student who likes history more than I like ice-cream (just kidding, that’s not possible). I selected the Portrait of a City tour for my sister and I; since we’d been to the city before it would give us a deeper look into some of the places we didn’t explore while still going back over the highlights!
We met Julia at a very easy-to-find sundial outside Tower Hill station and set off for a journey into the depths of the City of London’s long and storied history. There’s no way I can cover all the fascinating things we learned and gorgeous places we saw without writing a novella, but here’s a look at my personal highlights.
I have become extremely fixated on bridges. I feel like this is a pretty common thing, but when I first start planning a trip I immediately check whether there’s a bridge I can walk across. New York has the Brooklyn Bridge, Prague has Charles’ Bridge, and London has many bridges: Tower Bridge being my uncreative self’s favorite. I loved hearing Julia’s opinions on each bridge and which ones Londoners liked the most: she explained the history of each bridge and showed us pictures of their various incarnations, one of which totally looks like Volantis’s bridge in Game of Thrones.
Londoners’ Opinions on Modern Architecture
When you briefly visit a city, it can be hard to get a feeling for how locals view tourists and what they think of the attractions that we find so compelling. As a long-time Londoner, Julia had tons of insight into the various sights in London and what the general opinions of them are. I found her thoughts on buildings like the Shard, the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie particularly fascinating: they’re icons of London, and most Londoners seem to have very strong opinions about their effect on the city skyline.
I’ve never been religious, so I usually feel pretty uncomfortable going into churches unless they’re crazy famous and I’m certain that I’m supposed to go in – think Notre Dame. Julia took us into churches down tiny alleys that I never would have walked down, and I certainly wouldn’t have felt like I could just go in the churches. She showed us the coolest ones and the Roman ruins they housed, helping to satisfy my sister’s fascination with everything Roman.
I think the best part of the tour, for me, was being shown the place where DIAGON ALLEY was filmed. My sister and I are both excessively obsessed with the world of Harry Potter, and if we had a second day in London would certainly have made our way to the Leavesdon Studios outside London – this was a nice substitute. The alleys and market streets were beautiful and pretending I was shopping for my first day at Hogwarts was glorious. Wow, I’m so cool.
View of St. Pauls
To finish off our incredible afternoon, Julia showed us a view that most tourists don’t see: from the rooftop of the Stealth Bomber Building. The view of St. Paul’s could not have been better, and looking at a panorama of London never gets old. And in such an expensive city, how could you not love the fact that something so beautiful is free!
My sister and I both had a fabulous time on our walking tour of the city of London with Context Travel. I think this was an awesome first step to learning more about history and becoming more cultured – I genuinely enjoyed hearing about the events that have shaped London and gaining insight into how this enigmatic and globalized city operates. Julia was the best tour guide we could have asked for, giving us breaks when our feet started to hurt and answering any and every question that crossed our minds.
I’m starting to figure out what my philosophy is for spending money on travel: there are certain things I’m happy to pay a premium for. Accommodation is NOT one of those things, but Broadway and/or West End musicals are one – and perhaps walking tours might become a part of my travel style. If you want to get a deeper understanding of a city, check if Context Travel operates there and look into their walking tours: you’ll leave smarter than you were before!
This tour was complimentary courtesy of Context Travel, but I am not being compensated for this post. I also wasn’t required to write a review, much less a glowing one! This is my honest opinion.