In our annual spotlight looking at guided tours, Brenda Watkinson and Abbe Bates highlight some of the opportunities available for groups to book tours with experts or to explore ‘behind the scenes’.One way to enhance a visit for your group is to book an expert guide for part or all of the day. The knowledge the guide can share can be tailored to the interests of your group, and there’s often the chance to go ‘behind the scenes’ to learn even more, enabling the attraction or destination you are visiting to come to life.
We put the spotlight on tours available in historic properties and in gardens, look at inspiring themes for tours and highlight some ways to book an expert for your tour.
At the Houses of Parliament in London, ‘Private Guided Tours’ provide an opportunity to visit ‘out of hours’ and see behind the scenes. Tours usually take place in the morning as the Houses of Parliament are being prepared for the working day ahead.
Designed for small groups (up to 10 people), these tours can be tailored to your member’s interests and could include the Queen’s Robing Room, Royal Gallery, Lords Chamber, Members’ Lobby, Commons Chamber and Westminster Hall.
Meanwhile, the new ‘Vote and Voice: Women’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition runs until 6th October in Westminster Hall to commemorate the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918. The exhibition will cover the campaign for votes for women and the representation of women in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
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Designed for groups of up to 10 people, tours of the Houses of Parliament can be tailored to your member’s interests.
Other options here include guided and audio tours and you can add in afternoon tea, private early evening guided tours focusing on the art and decorative arts of the House of Lords and private guided tours of Portcullis House, which has a contemporary portraiture collection.
Groups visiting the English Heritage property of Wrest Park in Bedfordshire can delve into 2,000 years of English history on a behind the scenes visit of this magnificent property.
On the ‘Aladdin’s Cave Archaeology Tour’, your members can take a peek at some of the 153,000 historical artefacts, which are under wraps in a huge storage facility at Wrest Park. Highlights range from small fragments of 17th-century painted window glass, buckles, brooches and coins, to larger objects such as eight foot tall ‘bell jack’ figures of 16th century tradesmen.
Other guided tours include ‘Historical Wallpaper Tours’ focusing on the original hand painted oriental wallpaper on the walls of some of the rooms on the first floor of the mansion or ‘Garden History Tours’ looking at three centuries of garden design style by some of England’s most famous garden designers.
In Kent, Hever Castle & Gardens is famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I.
For smaller groups looking for something a bit different, ‘Hidden Hever’ is a new tour for this year offering adult groups of up to 15 people a behind the scenes glimpse inside the Castle.
They will see William Waldorf Astor’s study, the Astor boys’ bedrooms created by William Waldorf Astor, Lord Astor’s bathroom which is accessed via a secret panel and Lady Irene Astor’s pink bathroom – this was designed by Godfrey Bonsack and features gold fleurs de lis on pink raw silk wall coverings, a pink bath and gold swans on the taps and lights.
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The Hidden Hever tour includes Lady Irene Astor’s bathroom, featuring pink raw silk wall coverings, and gold swans on the taps.
Your members will hear stories and anecdotes relating to the rooms visited and discover more about the social history of Hever Castle. Following the tour, groups are welcome to stay in the gardens until closing. For larger groups, private guided tours of the Castle or gardens can be pre-booked.
With Windsor in the headlines with two Royal weddings this year, it is fitting that The Original Tour has launched Windsor open-top bus tours with audio commentary explaining the town’s heritage in different languages.
Groups of 10 or more can enjoy an open-top hop-on hop-off bus tour of this quintessentially British and Royal town with sights including Windsor Castle, which has been a home to British Kings and Queens for over 1,000 years and Eton College, whose famous alumni includes 19 British Prime Ministers, members of the Royal Family such as Princes William and Harry, and famous actors such as Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston.
To extend your visit to Windsor, groups can include a French Brothers 40-minute boat cruise down the river Thames, offering passengers stunning views of the traditional English countryside, as well as the Castle from this unique vantage point.