Exploring London with Context

When I hear travelers throw out the word “tour,” I roll my eyes and begin a slow, silent creep out of the conversation. I slink away and wander off on my own, exploring the city at my leisure and my lonesome. Just the way I like it!

I hate tours. To be clear—I hate the crowds, the crackling PA systems, and the sad, boring scripts the guides prattle out for the tenth time that day.

But when I saw an opportunity to explore London with Context Travel, I decided I had to give the “tour” another try. Why? Because Context identifies their product as “Small group tours for the intellectually curious traveler.

Here’s what I liked about the sound of Context Tours:

  1. SMALL GROUPS: Thank goodness. If I have to jump over heads to see anything of interest the whole tour, I’m not a happy camper (or tourer).
  2. NO SCRIPT: No rote memorization for these guides. This is due in large part to the fact that the tour leaders are highly educated “docents.” These aren’t your typical guides on a gap-year picking up part-time work. They’re smart, knowledgable, and often native to the area.
  3. OPPORTUNITY FOR DIALOGUE: If there is no script, that means improv! Or rather, that I can ask questions to my heart’s content, knowing that the tour only gets better with curiosity.

With that, I’m ready to take my city-walk to another level.

Tottenham Gate Sundial

The sundial at Tottenham Gate is a great way to refresh your rusty High-School European History. “A Portrait of London” begins here.

On what was my second visit to London I was looking for a new way to dive into this city. This desire lead me to find Context Travel. I wanted a closer look into this city where crumbling history and groundbreaking modernism live side-by-side. So I looked to Context Tours to show me a glimpse of London that not every visitor might see. Specifically, I looked to “A Portrait of London,” a tour exclusive to Context Travel.

The Gerkin London

The Gerkin, an iconic part of the modern London skyline, juxtaposed against Old London.

My docent for this tour was Emily Knight, a Masters level Art History student and London local. From the start of the tour at Tottenham Gate I was at ease with Emily’s easygoing demeanor.

The rest of our tour soon arrived (just 2 more people! Professors from Berkeley), and we began our three hour walking journey of London. We ventured to some of London’s oldest standing constructions, while also stopping to learn about the new additions to London’s skyline. Emily was an expert on London architecture.

The London Wall

Emily telling us all about The London Wall, the oldest standing section of the defense of the Roman Londinium.

Throughout the tour Emily was open to questions (no matter how obscure) and even deviations (“Anyone want a cup of tea?”). The tour felt uniquely mine (ours, really. I became great friends with our group before tours’ end!).

Roman Ruins London

Context doesn’t dabble in the typical tour jargon. Like I said, guides aren’t guides–they’re “docents.” Tours are tours–they’re “narrative seminars.” To call the intellects who lead you through Context tours simply “guides” would be underselling them. With terminal degrees in their field and local knowledge of their city,”Docent” is the only word fitting for these experts. Context tours are a journey, an immersion, a create-your-own-story type experience.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”The Context vision is to create an atmosphere—a context, if you will—for curious travelers to engage with local experts; to give them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight to the casual visitor.”[/perfectpullquote]

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral. Old juxtaposed against the New, a common theme in London.

I could give you a blow-by-blow of exactly WHERE we went, and in what order…but I won’t. I won’t because I’m not here to write you an itinerary; I’m here to tell you to leave that to someone else, leave it to Context Tours. They do it better.

Leadenhall London

It’s not wonder that Context Tour’s Twitter hashtag is #DeepTravel. It’s what they’re all about; a deeper travel that takes you out of the role of tourist and into the role of intellectual roamer, inquiring wanderer, curious traveler. Push yourself beyond the boundaries of “tourist,” and become a local inquisitive, wandering the streets with all the know-how of its denizens (possibly more).

Vulture Pub London

The George & Vulture; a pub that once housed a live vulture in a cage outside its doors….But not anymore.

After my “Portrait of London” tour with Context Travel, I quickly began planning my return trip around the tours I still need to take.”Charles Dickens: Storyteller of Victorian London” appeals to the English Major in me. “From Shakespeare to Globe: The Evolution of Theatre in London” has my performer side begging for a return trip. And I don’t know what in me is so drawn to “Ales and Pubs: Sipping the History of British Beer” but I’m willing to go on the tour to find out. A sacrifice I’ll make for everyone reading. You’re welcome.

Pudding Lane London

Can you name the historical significance of this road?

Beyond London, Context offers tours throughout Europe, South America, North America, and Asia. Their offerings are vast, but I find myself crafting my next travels around tours that sound right up my alley. Now who wants to go “Shopping in Paris: Exploring Fashion, Design, or the Flea Market”?

*I was a guest of Context Travel during my visit to London. But all opinions here are my own.


About Kelsey

Kelsey is a dancer, wandering this world as performing artist and writing about it. She's skilled at forgetting her umbrella, getting lost, and eating too much cheese. Wend is her platform to share her nomadic lifestyle, and all the moments of beauty, grace, and hilarity that happen along the way. Join her as she finds her place in the world while dancing whenever she can.

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