An edited version of this article was originally published on the Quintess Collection Travel Blog.
As the successful 2012 Olympics and the 2013 opening of the Shard skyscraper have proved, there is always something new and exciting to see in London. With a rich history spanning 2000 years and a huge range of cutting-edge art and entertainment to enjoy, the only problem the British capital poses to visitors is deciding where to start!
One of the best ways to get to grips with London’s fascinating history and culture is to tour with a local, licensed guide. One company in particular, Context Travel, has been working diligently for a decade to become the international leader in sophisticated tours for the incurably curious traveler. Context’s tours take an intellectual approach (they call them ‘walking seminars’) and are led by ‘docents’, licensed guides with solid academic credentials in history, art or architecture. Offering private or small group walks, Context allows visitors to get off the beaten track with an expert at their disposal to truly engage with the character of the city.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and one only needs to follow a Context walk around Westminster Abbey to get an idea of just how indispensable the services of an expert guide can be. The Abbey, with its 1000-year history and almost two million annual visitors, might not seem like the best place to discover anything new, but a tour with Context docent Sarah-Jane Kitching goes way beneath the surface, decrypting the many important symbols and architectural styles of the Abbey and telling the story of its life as a linchpin of British culture since 1066. From the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, 1000 years of history is crystallized into an entertaining, friendly and enriching few hours.
But if tours led by university academics sound too stuffy for the kids, think again. Context has developed an innovative program of engaging and fun tours for families, with docents trained in up-to-the-minute children’s teaching techniques to nurture an intellectually curious approach to travel and tourism. Paul Bennett, co-founder of Context and father of three, understands the pressures modern, independent travellers face and hopes that Context’s family program can respond:
‘Our aim at Context is to help parents expose their kids to items of significance and to fall in love with travelling for learning. We know that a vacation is precious time carved out of busy family life, so our aim is to really knock it out of the park for every one of our clients.’
In London, where the museums are already well-prepared for family visits, Context has devised child-friendly tours of the British Museum, National Gallery and Kensington Palace, as well as a Second World War Blitz walk and a hands-on art class with a local professional artist.
If Context in London sounds exciting, be sure to check out their program in other Quintess Collection destinations such as Barcelona, Paris, Florence and New York.