Guided Tours – Specialist Insights

Guided tours of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich include the hall itself, and go below ground to the Victorian Skittle Alley too. © Oliver Rudkin Photography

Guided tours of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich include the hall itself, and go below ground to the Victorian Skittle Alley too. © Oliver Rudkin Photography

In our annual guided tour feature, Val Baynton highlights attractions and venues that offer expert led visits. Discovering the secrets of an attraction or looking behind the scenes are ways to make your group outings even more appealing!

For groups with a specific interest there are many offering tours with specialists that will give your members insider knowledge.

Learn more about William Shakespeare on a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon taking in one or more of the five homes relating to the bard – Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Mary Arden’s Farm, Hall’s Croft and Shakespeare’s New Place. Each place has its own fascinating tale to tell but together they illustrate the complete Shakespeare story.

A range of VIP and special interest tours and talks are available exclusively to groups such as educational, garden tours, pre-theatre talks, behind-the-scenes tours of the historic museum and library collections and private after-hours visits including exclusive dining packages. Groups of 15 or more visiting the Shakespeare family homes can take advantage of substantial discounts when payment is made in advance.

Specific choices include Hidden Histories – your group will learn about Shakespeare’s legacy with exclusive access to a selection of treasures from the library, archive and museum collections. It includes items not normally on public display such as early editions of Shakespeare’s works and early printed books as well as production photos, prompt books and other materials from the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre archives.

After Hours & VIP Tours include a Birthplace Grand Tour of Shakespeare’s childhood home. After wine and canapés, there’s an exclusive tour with knowledgeable guides, and costumed actors will perform excerpts from Shakespeare’s works. Setting the Scene is a pre-performance talk examining the literary and historical context of your chosen play and its performance history before dinner in the restaurant at Hall’s Croft, home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, just a few minutes’ walk from the theatres.

Behind the scenes looking at gloves with a costumed guide from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Behind the scenes looking at gloves with a costumed guide from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Groups with an interest in art or architecture can gain specialist insights from expert guides at Maritime Greenwich a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College features outstanding decorative painting by Sir James Thornhill, dating from the early 18th century, and is now open for group visits after a two year £8.5 million conservation project to bring the stunning interiors back to life.

There are a variety of tours that GTOs can book to understand this wonderful building and how it was designed to celebrate England’s naval power, prosperity and monarchy, and its place at the heart of historic Greenwich surrounded by beautiful grounds.

Groups can join a public guided tour, subject to availability, use multimedia guides for a self-guided experience and also listen to talks in the Painted Hall, or book a private guided tour with a local expert. Out of hours guided tours giving exclusive access to the Painted Hall are also available. Groups of 10 or more people receive discounted rates and can also pre-book morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea.

St Paul’s Cathedral in London has a range of tours available for groups. These include multimedia handheld guides but the team of knowledgeable guides can also tailor a private tour to cater for the specific interest of your group.

Groups enjoying a guided tour at St Paul’s Cathedral. © Graham Lacdao

Groups enjoying a guided tour at St Paul’s Cathedral. © Graham Lacdao

Available for groups of between ten and 20 people (two tours can be staggered for larger groups) the ‘Triforium Tour’ can include areas such as the Geometric Staircase and an impressive view from the west end looking down the nave to the Quire and High Altar. The visit ends in the Trophy Room, where Sir Christopher Wren’s Great Model, based on an earlier design for the cathedral is on display. Private tours must be pre-booked at least two weeks in advance. The library is currently closed for refurbishment and there is no lift access to the Triforium level (141 steps).

Groups with an interest in embroidery and needlework can book a tour that will go ‘behind the velvet rope’ on a dedicated tour at the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) based at Hampton Court Palace London, with exclusive access to historic apartments and the opportunity to see world class embroidery. The RSN is famous for iconic embroidery projects including the wedding dress for The Duchess of Cambridge and the Coronation Robe of Her Majesty The Queen.

Each year, the RSN showcases hand embroidered pieces from their collection and contemporary work by students in a themed exhibition displayed in the Embroidery Studio – and the next, ‘Faces & Figures in Stitch’, will run from September until March 2020.

Groups can enjoy a talk followed by a guided tour of the exhibition (on set days only), and other options include an experience tailored to your group with a bespoke design to stitch, time to visit Hampton Court Palace itself and talks from the Curator.

Specialist visit to the Royal School of Needlework based at Hampton Court Palace

Specialist visit to the Royal School of Needlework based at Hampton Court Palace