Who can argue that London is one of the most fascinating cities in the world? The UK capital is the world’s most visited city and undoubtedly an important cultural hub. As I often say, nobody should visit London only once. To fully appreciate the immense amount of attractions it has to offer as well as to get the real feeling of this magnificent city one needs to keep going back. So did we. Our first visit to London was one cold December a couple of years ago. So, we decided to go back and see how this vibrant global city glitters under the summer sun. In our effort to learn as much about our beloved metropolis as possible, we decided to explore the most important part of the city’s past: the Victorian era. That’s why we took the Life & Death in Victorian London, with Special Access Highgate Cemetery Tour.
This tour is offered by Walks, a company that specialises in small group tours in various cities around the world. The first time we took a tour with them was during our wonderful trip to Venice. We liked it so much that we decided to also see Victorian London with them.
Victorian London historic background
The city as we know it today has its roots in the famous Victorian era. The latter lasted from 1837 to 1901. During this period, London saw rapid changes as the city’s population grew from 1 million to 6.2 million. Furthermore, railways were built and landmarks such as the Big Ben and the Tower Bridge were constructed. Victorian London was the ultimate super power of the time and the most important trading capital. Yet, while the city grew into a wealthy financial and political centre, Victorian London was also a city of poverty. Overcrowded and insanitary slums existed in the shadows of brand new impressive architectural wonders.
Victorian London walking tour
The Life & Death in Victorian London, with Special Access Highgate Cemetery Tour began inside King’s Cross Station for a reason. The success story of Victorian London is closely interlinked with the construction of railways. King’s Cross Station and neighbouring St Pancras Station alongside the beautiful Renaissance hotel narrate the exciting story of how railways transformed Victorian London as well as the stories of the buildings themselves. Still in awe at the splendor of these buildings we then moved on to the dark side of Victorian London. Our guide recreated for us a day in the lives of the millions of souls living under unbearable conditions in the slums surrounding the shining train stations.
Our next stop was one of the oldest sites of worship for Christians in England. The quaint St Pancras Old Church and its graveyard. There, our guide shared with us fascinating yet hair-rising stories about life and, mostly, death in Victorian London. Taking in the peaceful surroundings of the quaint little church while listening to horrific details from the past was our first taste of the unique experience the Highgate Cemetery would offer us shortly.
A short ride on the tube and we were at Highgate. After a pleasant uphill stroll, part of which was through a wonderful park, we reached Highgate Cemetery. This would be the ultimate highlight of our Victorian London tour. Highgate Cemetery is divided into two sections, east and west. Everyone can visit the East Cemetery on their own. However, the West Cemetery can be visited by guided tour only.
The Highgate Cemetery guide met us at the gate and he first took us to the West Cemetery. He offered us the most atmospheric tour possible. As we strolled along the peaceful cemetery alleys totally covered by the thick foliage above and marvelled at wonderful sculptures and marble monuments, our guide narrated us stories of famous Victorians as well as details of the cemetery itself and its superb architecture. We then followed our guide to the East Cemetery. There, we saw the resting places of many famous people, Karl Marx’s being the most prominent one.
The Life & Death in Victorian London, with Special Access Highgate Cemetery Tour ended right where it had started, at King’s Cross Station. The tour lasted about 4 hours and it was an invaluable history lesson on the rise of Victorian London. It included a wealth of exciting and rare information we wouldn’t easily have found on our own. Most of all, it provided us with a better understanding of the UK capital as we know and love it today.
At this point, I would like to thank both our Walks guide, Fabian and our Highgate Cemetery guide, Peter. They were both extremely knowledgeable and, most of all, super fun to be with.
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Disclosure: Walks kindly offered us the Life & Death in Victorian London, with Special Access Highgate Cemetery Tour free of charge but, as always, we express nothing but our very own and honest opinion about the experience we had.
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Check out Walks – London Tours for more guided tours in the UK capital.