Walking, riverboat and bus sightseeing tours are the best way to explore the UK’s most historic cities. Angela Youngman rounds up some of the tours available
This city of dreaming spires offers lots of walking tours, covering everything from university and college history to Inspector Morse, Tolkein and Harry Potter. Oxford Walking Tours and Oxford Official Walking Tours have an extensive amount of themed tours, as well as daily university and city tours. Among the unusual tours are Magic, Murder and Mayhem, Downton Abbey Era, Gargoyles and Grotesques and a Stained Glass tour. City Sightseeing operates a hop on hop off bus tour of Oxford city, which passes all the major locations, whilst providing an audio commentary. With the River Thames and River Isis passing through the historic city, there are some stunning boat trips run by Oxford River Cruises. These include picnic cruises, luxury boat trips and sightseeing tours along the University Regatta course from Folly Bridge or down past Port Meadow.
Smaller groups can be accommodated in punts operated by one of the many punting companies on the river.
Cambridge Walking Tours are the best way to discover the university, colleges and historic centre of Cambridge. Many of the tours take visitors into some of the colleges and Trinity College Chapel.
Punting tours offer an unrivalled view of the college ‘backs’ and are led by experienced guides, often students at the university who provide visitors with an insight into what life is like at the university. A City Sightseeing Bus operates around Cambridge, visiting 19 different locations.
Each full tour lasts an hour and twenty minutes and has an audio commentary providing a light-hearted and informative view of Cambridge history.
Cathedral Quarter Photo Walks offer an unusual opportunity to explore the city and get some photo tuition along the way. Other tours offered by Visit Lincoln include High Street Tea and Tour, Roman Lincoln Tea and Tour, as well as guided walks of the cathedral quarter led by green badge guides.
The Tour Lincoln Sightseeing Bus has 11 stops around the city and also hosts an occasional ghost tour. On the river, the 60-minute boat trips on board the Brayford Belle are very popular with groups, as it provides an interesting introduction to Lincoln and its river, both past and present.
Mercats, Sandemans and Edinburgh Tour Guides are the biggest companies, with walks that can be tailored to group requirements covering everything from shopping, the Enlightment, medieval history to body snatchers, and Harry Potter. Eat Walk Edinburgh has unusual food and drink tours, complete with quirky history. There are several hop on hop off bus tours run by different companies including City Sightseeing, Green Tours and MacTours, which transport visitors on a vintage bus. The Maid of the Forth runs boat tours offering views of the Forth bridges, a stop on Incholm Island and the opportunity to see porpoises, puffins and possibly dolphins.
York Walks and Footprint Walks offer a range of walking tours covering everything from colourful histories, Romans, architecture and buildings.
Special walks include the Henry VIII Trail, Richard III Trail, Jewish heritage and hidden places. Evening sightseeing cruises along the River Ouse offer a different view of the city. Passengers aboard York City Cruises can listen to a commentary, while watching the scenery from an enclosed saloon or open top deck. For groups requiring a bus tour around the city, City Sightseeing covers all the major locations, as well as a York Ghost Bus Tour, which uses a classic Routemaster bus staffed by a creepy conductor telling tales of York’s dark and terrible secrets.
There is a full programme of blue badge walking tours available in Norwich, with topics ranging from a Pub for Every Day of the Year, Dandies of Gentleman’s Walk, Elm Hill, the Cathedral Quarter and Architecture and Architects. City Sightseeing provides a hop on hop off bus service travelling as far as Mousehold Heath, with superb views across the city. Boat trips along the River Yare to Surlingham are available from City Boats. For small groups, there are also guided tours by punt and ghostly torch lit tours at night.
Walking tours covering most aspects of Cardiff’s history are provided by Cardiff Walking Tours while exploring the beautiful Bute Park, city centre and world famous arcades.
It is possible to link a guided walk with a connecting Cardiff Boat waterbus, enabling groups to see the sights of Cardiff Bay and the River Taff.
Brit Movie Tours enable fans of Doctor Who to visit over 30 filming locations around the city and hear tales from people who have been extras in the show.
Walking tours focusing on Jane Austen are always popular in Bath, but there are other topics available including Hidden Gardens, Treasures of Bath and Bizarre Bath – a unique evening walk involving an irreverent look at the city.
For keen walking groups, there is a fantastic city and country guide walk linking the skyline of Bath with the town.
For less energetic people who still want to enjoy the spectacular skyline, City Sightseeing run two separate bus tours around the city and its outskirts.
The Lady Lena canal boat tours are a relaxing way to discover river heritage, while Bath City Boat trips provide an unrivalled opportunity to see the spectacular Pulteney Bridge and Weir up close.
Exeter’s underground passages were originally designed to provide drinking water for the city. Now they are the venue for an exciting underground walking tour, complete with an interpretation centre and interactive displays.
The Red Coat guided tours follow routes above ground through the city to discover the historic quayside, city walls, churches, cemeteries and catacombs and its forgotten hidden secrets. Torchlight tours of the catacombs are extremely memorable. StuartLine Cruises offer unusual guided bird watching cruises, tours of the oldest working shipping canal in Europe through locks and under the M5 motorway bridge, as well as a gentle cruise on the River Exe where wildlife is prevalent.
TOP 5 GHOST WALKS
Travel deep underground into a network of alleys, lanes and vaults that have long lain forgotten below modern Edinburgh. With a history of plague victims, grave robbers, populations that lived in utter poverty and misery; it is no surprise that ghost tours of Edinburgh’s underground world are spine chillingly popular. Both Mercator and City of the Dead operate extremely popular tours of this lonely, scary world in which malevolent ghosts stalk dark tunnels and tell dark stories of a world where damnation ruled.
With a history dating back to Roman times, it is no surprise that York has long been a hive of ghostly activity. At night, the city is full of eager ghost hunters keen to find out the ghastly stories hidden in the snickleways and alleys of this historic city. There are several ghost walk companies covering different routes, with one of the most dramatic being The Ghost Hunt of York starting from the Shambles. Each night, whatever the weather, a Victorian gentleman complete with Gladstone bag, top hat and frock coat rings his death bell to summon the latest batch of ghost hunters.
The ghostly stories are leavened by humour and practical jokes, such as the presence of body parts at Caesars Restaurant.
Haunted buildings abound in the capital city of Wales, allowing Cardiff History and Creepy Cardiff to offer some spellbinding walks. Tales of war, plunder, disaster and hauntings by a witch like demon, ghostly children and a faceless man are heard amid the ancient buildings surrounding Llandaff Cathedral. There are also torch lit tours of Cardiff Castle complete with tales of a spectral coach and a clock tower where the Marquess of Bute talked to the dead, or a ghost tour around St Fagan’s Open-Air Museum.
Starting from the haunted Adam and Eve pub in Norwich, the ‘Man in Black’ has become a fixture on the Norwich walks scene. His ghostly tours tell stories of burnings, witches and murders galore, with the occasional ghostly character appearing in person. Different walks are undertaken each night of the week. On Halloween, vast crowds come to the ‘Man in Black’s’ performances along the banks of the river. These Halloween walks have to be pre-booked and feature ghostly tales, apparitions and ghostly happenings, including one memorable time a ‘body’ hung from a bridge.
From butterflies to poltergeists, Bath is full of fascinating ghost stories.
Ghost Walks of Bath provides an entertaining and informative exploration of the city’s hidden secrets. The laid back approach of the guides make the stories even more scary as you are escorted around the streets of Bath.
It is very interactive, with opportunities to find a face in a tree, stand where a ghost has been found, discover the secrets of the duelling ground and the truth behind some native Roman soldiers.
For more Halloween themed ideas and inspiration see Group Travel World’s online directory at www.grouptravelworld.com/directory