There has never been such a feel-good factor in the capital than now, so what a great time to book your next group trip to London, as Brenda Watkinson discovers.
This year has certainly been a year to remember, no less so than in our capital city London. But even though the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and both the Olympic and Paralympic Games are now over, London can still revel in the legacy that remains. Even if your group could not attend any of these events, there is so much still to enjoy. The city is packed full of history, heritage and culture, all waiting to be explored.
LONDON’S MUSEUM AND GALLERY SCENE
London can boast some of the finest museums in the world and the British Museum, founded in 1753, definitely falls into that category. Although general admission is free, for groups of 20 or more, it is certainly worth arranging a guided tour for an additional fee.
In the heart of the city and telling the story of the Bank of England from its foundation in 1694 to its role today as the UK’s central bank, the Bank of England Museum offers a variety of talks and presentations for groups of between 15 to 50 people. These are all free of charge but must be booked in advance. It is also worth noting that the exhibition ‘Gold and the Bank of England’, which examines the part gold has played in the bank’s history and the relationship it has with gold today, has been extended to January 2013.
In Lambeth, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) London tells the stories of those whose lives have been shaped by war. A major exhibition, ‘Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War’, which reveals the designer’s less well-known career as an official war photographer, is currently running until 1st January 2013.For groups, ‘Breakfast with Beaton’ packages are available offering a chance to enjoy breakfast followed by a view of the exhibition before it opens to the public. Once the exhibition finishes, the IWM London will then close for six months for a major redevelopment. Other IWM sites available to visit in the capital are the Churchill War Rooms and the warship HMS Belfast.
To discover all aspects of science and technology, why not arrange a trip to the Science Museum, located in South Kensington. General admission is free but charges apply for the IMAX cinema, flight simulator and some special exhibitions. Open until summer 2013, the new ‘Codebreaker’ exhibition is dedicated to exploring the life and legacy of pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing. This exhibition is free to visit. Groups can request a special interest tour and also special catering packages.
Opened in 1972 on the historic site of Hendon’s London Aerodrome in Colindale, the Royal Air Force Museum London is located just six miles from central London. The site is vast and it would be impossible to see everything in one visit. There are over 100 aircraft on site including a life-sized model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, not on display anywhere else in the world. A good starting point to explore the museum is the exhibition hall, ‘Milestones of Flight’, which gives a comprehensive insight into the history of aviation covering the great achievements of the first 100 years of flight. There are high viewing areas, and the use of state-of-the-art technology further enhances the visit. Although general admission to the museum is free, groups of 10 or more should pre-book their visit. Specialist guided tours can also be arranged in advance. These are charged per guide with a maximum of 12 people per guide. For groups of 20 or more, a choice of catering packages is also available on weekdays. Coach parking for groups of 20 or more is free of charge.
For an insight into the world of cricket, the Lord’s Tour takes you behind the scenes at ‘The Home of Cricket’ in St John’s Wood. Beginning in the Pavilion with the legendary Long Room, the tour continues to the Dressing Rooms where you will see the famous honours boards before visiting the MCC Museum, home of the Ashes Urn and over 400 years of cricket history. Tours can be tailored to suit your group, with rates on application. For specialist groups, Architectural Tours can be arranged for groups with an interest in the buildings at Lords while Art Tours focus on themes drawn from the fine and decorative arts held in the collection.
In the heart of London’s West End, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is home to 700 peculiar and amazing exhibits displayed over six floors. Highlights include learning about the Chinaman Ching Foo of Shensi born with a blue face, dinosaur eggs and shrunken heads. Visitors can celebrate all things British by heading to the upside down tea room to view a selection of bizarre portraits such as Princess Diana made from lint, HM The Queen created from pennies and a vision of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, made entirely from lipstick kisses. Meanwhile, to further embrace the hype of 2012, visitors can see original torches from previous Olympic Games including Beijing in 2008, Sydney in 2000 and London in 1948. Guided tours can be arranged for groups on request, for a small additional charge, to really bring the exhibits to life and help your group understand the extraordinary life of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! creator, Robert Ripley. Audio guides are also available. Discounts apply to pre-booked groups of 10 or more. Snacks and meals are available in the Ripley’s café or you can choose to book a joint package combining your visit with lunch at a local restaurant such as the nearby Rainforest Cafe.
The Rainforest Cafe brings to life the Amazon rainforest through a combination of a jungle theme, indoor waterfalls, tropical fish tanks and a now famous cast of life-like animatronics and a thunderstorm! If you are visiting London anytime from 28th November and throughout December, the Rainforest Cafe is offering a special three-course festive lunch or dinner menu. By popular demand, it will also be bringing back its Santa’s Grotto for a fourth year from 1st December. Set amongst all the trees, animals and foliage, a doorway leads to the magical grotto, where Santa meets the children. The grotto package includes a personalised invitation, a welcome from the elves, meeting Santa in his magical grotto, a present and a two course meal in the restaurant. Bookings for Santa’s Grotto need to be made in advance and for groups booking before 29th November, a 15% discount is available.
Moving to the art world, in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery houses the nation’s collection of Western European paintings from the 13th to 19th centuries. For adult groups of between 10 to 25 people, a tailor-made tour around the collection or an illustrated talk can be pre-booked.
Also offering a variety of tours and talks, the National Portrait Gallery, opened in 1896, features portraits of the most famous people in British history. Popular with groups, the ‘Highlights Tour’ looks at six centuries of history from Elizabeth I and Henry VIII to Shakespeare, Dickens and Churchill.
Focusing on contemporary art from 1990 to the present day, Tate Modern on the South Bank offers free general admission. Exhibitions and events are chargeable although groups of 10 or more are eligible for a discount. Private tours can also be arranged including a general highlights tour or a tour focusing on a specific artist or movement. Tate Britain on Millbank features the organisation’s more traditional collection of art.
One of the most dramatic sights along the River Thames is Sir Christopher Wren’s twinned domed architectural masterpiece, the Old Royal Naval College. In 1997, Maritime Greenwich became a World Heritage Site, a place recognized by UNESCO as being of ‘outstanding universal value’ and the Old Royal Naval College is a great place to start exploring this area. Housed in the Pepys Building of the Old College, the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre takes visitors on a journey through over 500 years of history through a permanent exhibition and a programme of temporary ones too. Other highlights at the Old Royal Naval College are the Painted Hall and the Chapel. General admission to the Old Royal Naval College is free. For groups of 15 or more, guided tours and group packages including catering can be arranged.
Other important attractions in Greenwich include the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, which joined together under the new name of the Royal Museums Greenwich in 2012.
Another World Heritage Site, Westminster Abbey, dates back 700 years. Guided tours can be accommodated during normal opening hours, provided the group does not exceed 26 and is always accompanied by a Blue Badge guide. For parish groups of up to 50 people, pilgrim tours led by the Canon Steward are available on Wednesdays.
With views of up to 40 kilometres, as far as Windsor Castle on a clear day, the EDF Energy London Eye takes about 30 minutes for a capsule to make the full rotation. To qualify as a group, you must have a minimum of 15 people. The EDF Energy London Eye has teamed up with other Merlin attractions in the capital, the SEA LIFE London Aquarium, Madame Tussauds and the London Dungeon to offer a mix of combination tickets too.
The famous Victorian bridge designed by Sir Horace Jones, Tower Bridge is another iconic London attraction offering stunning views from the high level walkways. The Tower Bridge Exhibition gives an insight into the inner workings of the bridge. Personal guided tours and introductory talks can be arranged in advance for an additional charge as well as evening tours and behind the scenes tours. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more.
With its world famous dome, St Paul’s Cathedral is also high up on the must-see list of London sights. With its three galleries (Whispering, Stone and Golden), the cathedral has introduced a Group Tour System that allows guides to communicate via a microphone and transmitter directly to each of the group members’ receivers.
Another heritage highlight is the Houses of Parliament, tours of which can be booked on most Saturdays throughout the year as well as six days a week during the summer recess. A guided tour includes the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen’s Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall.
The centrepiece of any visit to London is the Tower of London, which houses the intricately made Crown Jewels. These have been held for safekeeping at the Tower for over 600 years. Other attractions at the Tower include the ‘Royal Beasts’ – the story of the imperial Royal Menagerie – and ‘Fit for a King – The White Tower’ with displays of fine armour and arms create over a period of 500 years. Discounts apply to groups of 15 or more.
Also operated under the Historic Royal Palaces umbrella, Kensington Palace’s new permanent exhibition, ‘Victoria Revealed’, opened at the beginning of 2012. It explores Queen Victoria’s life and reign through her own words, focusing on Victoria’s first day as Queen at Kensington Palace, the romance of her early relationship with Prince Albert, moments of family life and aspects of Albert’s involvement in the 1851 Great Exhibition. Discounts apply to groups of 15 or more.
Continuing on a Royal theme, The Royal Collection’s Buckingham Palace offers tours of the State Rooms during the summer months. Popular with groups, the State Rooms and Highlights Garden Tour is also available combining a visit to the State Rooms with a guided tour of the most remarkable features of the famous garden. Discounts apply to groups of 15 or more.
ANIMAL ATTRACTIONS AND ARCHITECTURE
Probably the world’s most famous zoo, ZSL London Zoo opened to the public in 1847. Located on the north side of Regent’s Park, the zoo is home to over 720 animal species, plenty to keep your group fascinated for the whole day. Groups of more than 10 people receive a 20% discount on ticket prices purchased online in advance and a 15% reduction if you buy at the gate.
With over 500 species, 14 themed zones and more than 2 million litres of water, SEA LIFE London Aquarium is home to one of Europe’s largest collections of global marine life. This year, a new experience, ‘Explore Shark Reef Encounter’, opened, featuring 16 sharks. Groups of 10 or more can benefit from a 20% discount, with even more savings when booked online.
At the Natural History Museum in Kensington, hundreds of exciting, interactive exhibits can be found in one of London’s most beautiful landmark buildings. Highlights include the popular ‘Dinosaurs’ gallery, ‘Mammals’ with its unforgettable model blue whale and the spectacular Central Hall, home to the museum’s iconic Diplodocus skeleton. General entry is free but groups benefit from a 15% discount for temporary exhibitions when booking online.
Located at the south east of Hyde Park Corner, English Heritage’s Apsley House is a fine Georgian building designed by Robert Adam and built between 1771 and 1778. Home to the Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, the interior of the house has changed very little since the days of the Iron Duke. The ‘Aspley House Highlights’ guided tour can be booked in advance. Wellington enthusiasts may also be interested in visiting the spectacular Wellington Arch opposite Apsley House, also run by English Heritage.
Another English Heritage property, Eltham Palace and Gardens, is a magnificent Art Deco mansion within a medieval palace setting. Built by the wealthy Courtauld family next to the remains of the childhood home of Henry VIII, it is among the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in England. The period garden with its medieval bridge and moat is attractive throughout the year. Guided tours of the house or a tour with the Head Gardener can be arranged. Discounts apply to groups of 11 or more at all of these English Heritage properties.
The National Trust property, Ham House and Garden near Richmond, is considered one of Europe’s greatest 17th century houses. Its historic collection of textiles, furniture and paintings has remained in the house for more than 400 years. Discounts apply to groups.
Another impressive National Trust property is Osterley Park and House in Isleworth, one of the last surviving country estates in London. Once described as ‘the palace of palaces’, Osterley was created in the late 18th century by architect and designer Robert Adam for the Child family to entertain and impress their friends and clients.
ON THE RIVER
The River Thames is one of the oldest trade route rivers in the world and a river cruise has become a popular choice for visitors to the capital to soak up the sights and explore its wealth of historical significance.
Offering scheduled lunch and dinner cruises, Bateaux London takes your group on a leisurely sightseeing cruise of London. With a commentary highlighting key attractions, the brand new MV Harmony, in particular, passes many of the iconic landmarks of London including the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and the EDF Energy London Eye. At night, a dinner cruise offers live entertainment followed by after dinner dancing. Bateaux London also hosts Shared Festive Dinner Cruises on selected dates, giving groups with as few as six guests the opportunity to join in the festivities and combine with other groups. Shared Festive Lunches are also an option for those groups wanting to incorporate a cruise as part of a full day of activities, and there are a variety of options that include entry to other London attractions. For groups of 65 or more, private hire of the Naticia is also available.
City Cruises also offers sightseeing cruises on the Thames and gives groups a number of options. All sightseeing cruises feature a live guided commentary, providing an engaging insight into the history of the river. Lunch cruises and tea cruises are particularly popular with groups. Twenty or more people are offered a discount.
WEST END MAGIC
The West End of London is famous around the world for its fantastic performances. For GTOs, there are a number of ticket agencies who value the custom of the groups market and offer competitive packages.
One such agency is Encore Tickets, which offers a one-stop-shop for group organisers making theatre, restaurant, river cruise, attraction, and event and exhibition bookings. For instance, bookings are already underway for Scrooge the Musical based on Dickens’ classic story and starring Tommy Steele, which will run from 24th October until 5th January 2013 at the London Palladium. As well as group discounts, Encore offers show and dinner packages based on a clear view upper circle seat. It is also possible to add on an attraction such as St. Paul’s Cathedral if time allows. Another group package from Encore is a ‘French Fairytale Feast with Sleeping Beauty’, which includes dinner at the Boulevard Brasserie before the performance of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at the Sadler’s Wells. From 4th December until 26th January 2013, groups can also combine a visit to Kensington Palace with this package.
For groups of eight or more, Ticketmaster Groups is currently offering a number of group meal deal packages with Planet Hollywood when booking to see The Bodyguard, Thriller or We Will Rock You. Excellent rates buy top price tickets and give you the opportunity to dine at the iconic Planet Hollywood in Haymarket, with its menu of not only classic American favourites including burgers, wings and speciality cocktails, but also authentic Asian and Italian cuisine and a special Kids Menu. Pre-theatre menus are only available when booked directly from Ticketmaster Groups.
Inspired by the glamour of Hollywood, Planet Hollywood can accommodate groups from 10 to 340 for lunch, dinner or late night dining. Its Haymarket location is especially ideal for group lunches as part of their sightseeing itinerary as well as for pre- and post-theatre group dinners, and a range of group menus is offered to cater for all budgets, as well as partial or total private hire of the restaurant. Movie memorabilia and props are displayed throughout the five Hollywood themed areas of the restaurant and 18 screens feature up-to-the-minute films trailers and music videos. There’s also a fully stocked merchandise shop offering a variety of souvenirs.
For festive entertainment, Raymond Gubbay’s Christmas Festival at the Royal Albert Hall will run from 13th December until Christmas Eve and will feature some of the UK’s most foremost orchestras, choirs, soloists and special guests. The promoter is currently offering GTOs some excellent discounts for parties of 10 or more along with catering and accommodation packages if required. Some of the highlights of the Christmas Festival include ‘Handel’s Messiah’ sung by a choir of 500 massed voices (14th and 15th December), five performances of the popular ‘Christmas Carol Singalong’ (16th, 20th and 22nd December), ‘Christmas Classics’ (18th December), and the tradition of ‘Glory of Christmas’ (21st December). New for 2012, ‘Jingle Bell Christmas’ (15th and 19th December) will feature a popular array of classic all-time favourite hits from Christmases past and present. Finally, leading right up to Christmas Eve are five performances of the sublime ‘Carols by Candlelight’ (16th, 22nd, 23rd and 24th December) as Steven Devine returns to direct the UK’s most elegant ensemble, dressed in 18th century costume. Look out too for Carmen, running from 21st February to 3rd March 2013 at the Royal Albert Hall.
Following the excitement of their performance with Rowan Atkinson at the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games playing the iconic anthem, ‘Chariots of Fire’, the London Symphony Orchestra is looking forward to a new 2012/13 season at the Barbican Centre, where they perform over 50 concerts a year. More and more people are enjoying classical music and the LSO offers groups of 10 or more some excellent incentives. These include a 20% discount on tickets and free concert programmes, and a dedicated group booking hotline through which groups can reserve seats without any obligation until a month before their selected concert.
NEW IN 2013
For groups planning to visit the capital in 2013, a number of new attractions are set to open. On 1st February 2013, The View From The Shard will open and visitors can already book tickets in advance. This iconic landmark building at 310 metres high was designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano and will offer fantastic views of the city.
Another panoramic view will be on offer from the top of the Arcelor Mittal Orbit, the tallest art structure in Britain at 115 metres high. Located in Orbit Circus in the south of the Olympic Park, an elevator will whisk visitors up to the 85-metre high viewing platform. This attraction is now due to open in late 2013.
The Olympic Park will also re-open as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park next year, providing a variety of venues and spaces for sports, cultural events and temporary enterprises.
We will give you more details of these attractions as they are announced.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Louisa Jackley, London & Partners, 2 More London Riverside, London SE1 2RR
Telephone: 020 7234 5818
Fax: 020 7234 5752