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Behind the sprawl of modern London lies the secret history of the capital's most daring and controversial source of entertainment: the theater. During this London Theater Tour, we'll reconstruct London's historic stages, and come to understand the social and artistic forces that were born here and that still underpin entertainment in the western world. In particular, we'll explore the influence of one William Shakespeare, whose works, staged in London, continue to resonate throughout the world today.
Any discussion of the English theater (or theatre, if you prefer) has to start with Shakespeare. Thus we will begin our walk on the South Bank, not far from the Globe Theatre, the modern reconstruction of the playhouse where many of Shakespeare's plays were premiered. Starting here, on the banks of the Thames, takes us back to a time when the theater was a public arena, when plays were a part of everyday life. At the same time, as we explore the surrounding area, we will discover why the theater was feared for so long that it was banished across the river, to this dangerous and dissolute area that was then well outside the city walls.
Crossing the river, we will find ourselves transported two centuries forward, to an era when two great royal theaters, Drury Lane and Covent Garden, dominated London's social life. We will explore one of these theaters, both of which have a two-hundred-year legacy, and talk about a few of the legendary performances that gripped audiences in a way that no star could match today. However, as we walk around the area and uncover its history, we will also discover how strong the prejudices were that theaterfolk had to overcome: Both of these historic theaters were situated on the edge of desperate slums, in the midst of an infamous district of market stalls and bagnios that were infiltrated nightly by the demi-monde.
The story of how the theatre turned respectable is also the story of how London changed from an anarchic free-for-all into the proud, somewhat pompous Victorian capital that we see around us today. It is also the story of Shakespeare: of how an obscure boy from the English Midlands awkwardly and haltingly became recognized as the greatest dramatist the world has ever known.
For a broader range of walks in this area take a look at all our history tours of London.
At the end of our time together we'll emerge with a deeper understanding of English theatre as it unfolded in London, from the time of Shakespeare to the grand performances of the Victorian Age. We should also, if fancy strikes, be done in time for a show.
Do we go inside the Globe during this tour?
No, our walk includes a discussion of the Globe and the Swan theatre, but we don't go inside. The Globe offers group tours led by the theatre staff. However, we visit part of the Royal Opera House and Drury Lane Theatre.
What if it’s raining?
Tours operate rain or shine, but in the case of inclement weather, your docent will modify the tour so more time is spent indoors. It never hurts to have an umbrella on hand.
Is this tour good for kids?
Yes! We have some excellent family friendly docents who can appeal to the learning styles of children. Please book privately if you have children under 13. Feel free to provide us with information about your children such as favorite school subjects, and hobbies. This way we can match you with the best possible docent. Read more about a family experience on our walk.
Is this a walking intensive tour?
Generally, we cover about 2 miles at a gentle pace.
This tour is for lovers of Shakespeare including those who might have seen the film 'Shakespeare in Love' starring Gwenyth Paltrow. Your very own tour guide will walk you through the lanes of South Bank, which was in the time of Shakespeare a little bit like England's very own Las Vegas. It was the entertainment district with many pubs, brothels, theatres and churches standing next to each other!
You will get to see the actual site of the original Globe Theatre that opened in 1599 and in which Shakespeare himself had a share.
You will see where the Rose Theatre once stood, the Globe's competitor whose director was Ben Jonson - friend and colleague of Shakespeare's.
Venues on the tour include the ruins of Winchester Palace, the Anchor Pub as well as the magnificent Southwark Cathedral were the Bard worshiped and where his younger brother Edmond is buried. The Shakespeare stained glass window is beautiful. There is much to see on this guided walking tour that relate directly or indirectly to Shakespeare such as the Ferryman's Seat and an exact model of the Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake's little ship that circumnavigated the globe. The official in-house Globe Theatre tour is included in the tour and gives you an up-close and personal look at how Shakespeare's Globe must have been like. This was the dream fulfilled of American actor/producer Sam Wanamaker.
Make your way to Greenwich Pier, the London Eye Pier, Tower Pier, or Westminster Pier, then jump aboard your sightseeing boat to begin your tour. With cruises departing every 30 minutes from 10am throughout the year, enjoy the freedom to take to the water at your leisure.
During your Thames River sightseeing cruise, admire top London attractions such as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and Westminster Bridge from your vantage point on the river. All boats have toilets, bars to buy refreshment (own expense), confectionery, and snacks, and an upper viewing deck for photo opportunities.
Afterward, alight from your sightseeing boat in central London and visit the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre — the world’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition devoted to poet and playwright William Shakespeare.
During your visit, discover the secrets of Elizabethan special effects — from blood and gore to magic tricks — and enjoy live demonstrations including sword-fighting and costume dressings. Explore the theater — a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse first built in 1599 — and learn of the many Shakespearean plays performed here.
Step back in time to the London of William Shakespeare and follow in the footsteps of the world's most famous playwright on a two hour walking tour through the capital. Explore historic buildings that are connected to a writer who changed the world of literature and theatre.
Join us on this two hour walking tour through London, a city that was his home for the greatest part of his life.
Even though London has changed a lot over 450 years, especially after the Great Fire and the Blitz, you will still be able to explore the history and the city life of the world's most famous playwright, who is considered as the greatest English language author who ever lived.
Starting off at The Old Vic, a theatre associated with the world's most famous Shakespeare production, you will be guided along the South Bank area of London, where you will learn more about the life of theatre during the life of the author.
Along the way you will experience readings and learn about the 16th and 17h century London, that inspired Shakespeare and helped shape some of his well-known plays. Your knowledgable guide and actor will lead you alongside the River Tames, beautiful theatres and historic sites Shakespeare would have known been familiar with in his literature.
While you enjoy this beautiful side of London, you can listen to your guide illuminate the tour with speeches from Hamlet, As You Like It, Antony and Cleoprata, Henry V as well as visiting film locations from the film of Richard III, in which Ian McKellen starred in.
Visit the exciting and often dangerous world of Elizabethan London where in 1599, Bankside was the entertainment center of the capital packed with gambling dens, brothels, bear-baiting pits and theaters. Ordinary people flocked to see Shakespeare's plays and they laughed, cried, shouted abuse at the actors, ate and drank during the performances.
As a visitor to the Exhibition you'll discover how shows were produced in the theaters of Shakespeare's time, from writing and rehearsals to music, dance and performance. Learn about the traditional crafts and techniques used during the process of rebuilding the Globe and find out how special effects were produced in Shakespeare's time — from thunder and lightning to flying on stage and realistic blood and gore.
Listen to recordings from some of the most Shakespearean performances ever or join the cast and add your own voice to a scene recorded by Globe actors. Create your own Shakespearean phrases in the word jungle, watch a sword-fighting display and browse the costume collection, where you can find out about the extraordinary methods used in creating clothes 400 years ago.
A visit to the Exhibition includes a guided tour of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre where storytellers take you on a fascinating half-hour tour of the auditorium. Journey through time to Elizabethan London with their colourful tales of the 1599 theater experience as well as the reconstruction process of the 1990s and how the wooden 'o' works today as an imaginative and experimental theatrical space.
Afternoon Tea Upgrade Option
After visiting the Globe, you can upgrade to enjoy a quintessentially British afternoon tea — with a twist. Served at the Globe’s Swan restaurant, the tea is inspired by scenes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sip prosecco and your choice of tea, and indulge in a delectable selection of finger sandwiches, scones and cakes — many of which can be traced back to characters and food featured in the play. See the Itinerary for a sample menu.
Please note: If you’ve opted for the upgrade, please arrive by 11:45am (Monday to Saturday) or 10:45am (Sunday) to ensure you have enough time for the exhibition and tour before the afternoon tea.
Visit the home of iconic playwright William Shakespeare on a full-day tour from London. Be guided through historic Stratford-upon-Avon and the 12-room cottage and gardens where Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway lived, before enjoying a delicious box lunch en route to the Cotswolds. Here you will experience pretty English countryside and villages such as Bibury, described by poet William Morris as the “most beautiful village in England.” Then, relax as you are returned to London.
Make your own way to the tour starting point in Victoria, central London, to meet your guide and group. Hop aboard a climate-controlled vehicle and journey from the city into the English countryside.
Begin with a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, roughly two hours away. Explore the medieval market town and the half-timbered house where the legendary bard was born. Learn about Shakespeare's family from a fascinating collection of artifacts and experience how his extraordinary work is still relevant today.
Continue to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage & Gardens. See this historical English home — a thatched farmhouse containing original Tudor furniture — where Shakespeare courted his former bride. Meander the cottage’s gardens and grounds overflowing with fragrant blooms and traditional shrubs.
Sit down to a box lunch aboard your vehicle and gaze out at the rolling hills and storybook villages as you ride through the Cotswolds, a designated "Area of Natural Beauty."
Stop for photo opportunities in three of the region's prettiest villages, including Bibury, Burford, and Bourton-on-the-Water, often described as the “Little Venice.”
After a day of sightseeing, arrive back in London at roughly 6:30pm. Your tour then concludes with a drop-off at the original start point.
Meet your private guide in central London in the morning, or enjoy a handy morning pickup at your hotel. Then, take a seat in your vehicle for the onward journey out of the city to Stratford-upon-Avon — nestled in the Warwickshire countryside.
On arrival, explore sites of interest associated with Shakespeare’s life such as his birthplace and burial ground, the thatched cottage of Anne Hathaway — his wife — and the walled gardens of Hall’s Croft, where his daughter lived.
Along the way, admire fine views over the half-timbered Tudor houses for which Stratford-upon-Avon is famous, and gain insight into life here in Shakespeare’s day.
When your time in Stratford-upon-Avon comes to an end, return in comfort to your London hotel to conclude your tour.
Public payphones are disappearing everywhere in the mobile era, and of the some 47,000 phone kiosks remaining on British streets, fewer than 11,000 are that iconic, classic red phone box.
The two most popular variations of this British classic were designed in the 1920s and 30s by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott—same bloke who did the Bankside power station that now houses the Tate Modern. Its design and domed top were supposedly inspired by Sir John Soane's tomb in the yard at St Pancras Old Church.