Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Christmas Walks - alternative office parties

Dare I say it but it is that time of year that people are starting to think about what to do for their work Christmas party.

How about a Christmas Lights themed walk through the West End?

The walk starts in a cosy Sam Smiths pub in Marylebone (with a fire) then meanders through the back streets of the West End (where the best lights can be found), through Mayfair and into Soho. The walk includes hidden passages, posh shops (usually with the best decorations) and lots of historical snippets along the way. As with most of my walks there is a food/drink theme plus Christmas traditions and decorations throughout. The walk finishes in Soho close to Piccadilly Circus tube in a freehouse that serves hot toddies and also does very good food.  

This walk lasts 1 hour 45 minutes and unusually can be done in reverse. There are plenty of eating establishments in both Soho and Marylebone if you would like to finish with a meal.

Email westminsterwalks [at] yahoo.co.uk for more details.

Photo courtesy of  https://www.flickr.com/photos/denis57/sets/72157628338866113/

Or maybe my Culinary Gaslit Tour of St James's would fit the bill:

St James’s is one of London’s most exclusive areas and is particularly pretty at Christmas with decorations along Jermyn Street and in the various arcades. It is also gaslit which makes for a very atmospheric walk. Famous for its gentlemen’s clubs which were originally coffee and chocolate houses St James’s also houses one of the oldest and most expensive restaurants in town and Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant not to mention the Queen’s grocery store and a 200 year old cheese shop. We will hear about the Jamie Oliver of the 19th Century, the cook that inspired the TV series the Duchess of Duke Street and the man who invented the sandwich. 

There are two really good pubs in St James's so we could have a halfway stop in one if desired and finish in another or maybe finish at The King's Head just into Mayfair on the other side of Piccadilly which has a really good menu plus is currently offering a free glass of prosecco for each person in the party if you book  a Christmas meal by 1st November!

This walk is 1 hour 45 minutes without a pub stop.

I can take up to 20 people on either of these walks although the ideal size is around 15. For a group bigger than 20 I would need to bring in another guide. 

Email westminsterwalks [at] yahoo.co.uk for more details.  

Monday, 29 September 2014

FREE Walks - Local London Guiding Day - 11/10/2014

Save the date - Saturday 11th October is this year's Local London Guiding Day.  This is the fifth year running that London's four local guiding associations - City of London, Westminster, Clerkenwell & Islington and Greenwich have got together to offer a day of free walks on a specific theme.

This year's theme is The Georgians. Each guiding association has created an hour long walk in their respective area which they will repeat throughout the day from 10am until 4pm. No booking is required - just turn up!

The walks are free but there will be a collection for the Royal British Legion at the end of each walk.

You may need quite good eyesight to read the flyer below, so details of each of the walks are as follows:

City of London:  Georgian Life in the City
What was it like to live in Georgian times? Learn a little bit more about daily life in the City, see buildings from the time and hear stories of those who lived and made their mark while a George was on the throne.
Meet: Bank station, exit 3, Royal Exchange

Clerkenwell and Islington Guides: Bad, Sad, ... and Mad!
A fascinating walk through the Georgian streets and squares of Islington exploring the world of the Four Georges.
Meet: Angel station

Greenwich Tour Guides: Inheritance, Indulgence and Infighting
Follow in the buckled shoe footsteps of England's Hanoverian monarchs and their dysfunctional families amid more grand Georgian architecture than you can shake a powdered periwig at.
Meet: Cutty Sark DLR station

Westminster Guides: Through a Fanlight Darkly
Sometimes the most secret places are closest to the busiest streets. Join us to explore one such area and to meet its Georgian inhabitants.
Meet: the forecourt of Charing Cross station, in front of the hotel.

In the meantime like this page on Facebook with some tantalising teasers about the walks!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Twitter - A Beginner's Guide (Updated for 2014)

Twitter has improved in the 2 years since I wrote my original post so I have updated it (with screenshots this time thanks to the amazingly useful Dropbox).

I am rather obsessed with social media and I'm always going on about how Twitter or Facebook and of course blogging are good for getting your name (and business) known. You may wonder how Twitter can help you so much as you are limited to 140 characters per tweet but it is amazing once you know how.

Start off by going to the sign up page of www.twitter.com and creating yourself a Twitter ID. This needs to be l4 characters or less.

“WestminsterWalks” was too many letters so I am @WWalks. You don’t have to put your real name on the sign-up page but whatever you put will appear next to your Twitter ID on your tweets. “WminsterGuides” is “Westminster Guides” but my Twitter page “WWalks” has my real name next to it. If you use your real name in this way people that don’t know your Twitter ID will still be able to find you.

Once you are signed up create a short profile stating what you do and ideally include a link to your website. It is also preferable to have a photo to show you’re serious about Twitter. You could maybe use a logo if you don’t want to use a personal photo.

How to start

Even before you are following anyone and have no followers it’s best to do one or two tweets introducing yourself so potential followers can see who you are.  You could just say something about a walk coming up or have a link to your website. If people look at your profile and you haven’t tweeted yet they are unlikely to follow you.

If you click on “Home” you will see a picture of a quill pen on the far right hand side. Click on this and a box comes up. You can then type, add photos and even add your location.

What to Tweet

I tweet about walks coming up but I also tweet about things I find of interest in London and think worth sharing. Reply to others’ tweets (the option to “reply” is underneath each tweet), get involved and share information via the re-tweet button. If people realise you are willing to share they are more likely to reciprocate. There is also the option to favourite (ie like).


Links are automatically shortened so there's no need to worry about their length.


Click on the picture of the bell and you will see who has re-tweeted you, followed you, favourited you etc. I have set it up so that I receive a text too which is useful if you are away from internet access. Click on the picture of the cog to the left of the quill and then click on "Settings" to choose your notification preferences.

Who to Follow

As you start following people they will in most cases follow you back. However don’t automatically follow everyone that follows you. Check out their tweets first – are you interested in what they have to say or could they be useful to you. It’s also worth checking when they last tweeted – anything more than a few months ago means their account is probably dormant.  

I started off by following lots of museums, London themed websites such as Ian Visits,  Londonist and London Historians, hotels, London enthusiasts and also fellow Westminster Guides. As my walks are mainly food and drink themed I also follow lots of cafes, cocktail bars and restaurants. Since Summer 2013 I have been doing local walks too so now follow lots of Walthamstow and Chingford based businesses.

People use Twitter in different ways. I dip in and out, others try to read every single tweet in their timeline. This is impossible. Yes I do follow over 2000 accounts but I have managed somehow not to get addicted to constantly reading my timeline.


Have you ever seen adverts with a “#” in front of a phrase and wondered what it meant. Well, this is a hashtag and is a way of categorising tweets. If you are attending a talk or conference there is likely to be a specific hashtag so all tweets about the event that include that hashtag will be grouped together. I now can't watch TV without following comments about that programme on Twitter at the same time!  More info on hash tags is here.

The one that you will see the most is #FF – this means “Follow Friday” and the Twitter user will list a number of Twitter accounts he/she is recommending.


An automatically generated email is sent to Twitter users each week which usefully lists your best performing tweets. It is sometimes surprising what is the most popular and therefore helps improve your output.

This morning via Twitter I discovered an even more useful tool where from the moment you sign up your tweets are analysed.  Details are here

This tool only works for tweets written after you sign up to the service which is why my statistics are so low at the moment.

There is also a separate page where you can analyse your followers ie where they come from and who they follow ie 82% of my followers are from the UK and 30% follow @LondonHistorian (a very worthwhile organisation to follow and to join -  but I digress).

Dos and Don’ts

Do share other people’s tweets by re-tweeting. 

Do send thank you tweets to organisations but on the other hand don't send thank yous when people follow you. If you’ve enjoyed the theatre, a walk or an event of some kind (even if not related to your business) send the organisation a tweet (although make sure you don’t start your tweet off with their ID* ) and you will find that in 9 cases out of 10 they will re-tweet your tweet to their followers which should hopefully give you wider exposure. You can then do the same if you receive similar tweets!  I once tweeted about a production at Wilton's Music Hall remarking that the actor looked like Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. The actor (unfortunately not Colin Firth) re-tweeted it and thus brought more people to me.

*You need at least one character (even just a dot) before “@[name] otherwise your tweets will only get a very limited audience.

Do Favourite other people’s tweets. This is like a bookmark which you can come back to. People looking at your profile can also see your favourites so know more about you.

Do tweet at varying times of the day about an upcoming walk/event but don’t repeat too many times which is boring for your followers.

Don’t just promote yourself. This is boring for your followers and they are likely to unfollow you.

Don’t send a series of the same tweet to lots of individual organisations. Your other followers will see this same message over and over again and are likely to unfollow you. I see this mistake time and time again. It is extremely annoying for your followers and those that you are targeting are likely to ignore you as you are spamming them anyway!

Don’t say thank you individually to all your followers for following you. This has actually put me off following people as the majority of their tweets are acknowledgments for following them!

Don't just re-tweet other people's tweets. Give yourself a voice, have something to say. I personally am unlikely to follow people who don't have their own identity.

Protected or not protected

Twitter is a public forum. Anything you tweet can be found by anyone whether or not they are on Twitter themselves. If you are not keen on this you can make your tweets protected. This would mean that only your followers (who have all in this case been individually approved by yourself) would see your tweets. To my mind this defeats the object of Twitter which is to gain a large audience in a short time. However if you do want to find out more about protecting your tweets details are here.

As a result of my original post back in August 2012 a Westminster Guide @GWinLondon joined Twitter and  is now a prolific tweeter with more than double the amount of followers I have!

Good luck and if you have any tips to add please put them in the comments below.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End of London. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.  
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Geneva - an unexpected treat

Until a friend moved to Geneva earlier this year the city didn't have a place on my "to visit" list.  It had been somewhere I had passed through on my way to various ski resorts but I had never thought to stop. However after a 4 day visit last week my opinion has changed and I would definitely recommend a trip.

Geneva is an expensive city but many of the museums are free and the biggest bonus of all is free transport for tourists which surely cancels out some of the other expenses incurred.

Free transport for tourists

All travel on the extensive network of buses, trams, trolleybuses and even taxi boats on various routes across the lake is free as is transport to and from the airport by train (around 6 minutes). When you check into your hotel/hostel/campsite you are given a dated card for the duration of your stay.

Getting around isn't limited to these forms of transport either as from mid April to October you can hire bikes for free (up to 4 hours) too.

You might wonder how you can initially get from the airport to your hotel for free.  In the baggage collection hall is a ticket machine that dispenses free transport tickets valid for 80 minutes. There is a big sign saying "Public Transport to Geneva - Free Ticket" but I witnessed several tourists paying for tickets at the machine next to it.  Scroll down on this link for a picture so you know what to look for.  All you need to do is press the button and a ticket will emerge from the slot.

You can even use your free transport card to go over the border into France but don't forget to take Euros.

There are two things that you need to be aware of in Geneva - firstly that the Old Town is at the top of a very steep hill (although bus no. 36 can transport you up there should you wish). Secondly the town is sometimes on two levels which makes reading a one-dimensional map difficult.

What to see

Whenever I go abroad I tend to seek out the smaller attractions rather than the big museums which in some instances are similar to those we have in London.  After enjoying Secret London and Secret Brussels I bought a copy of Secret Geneva which gave a lot of historical details about some of the odder things around the City.  You can read my review here.  One thing that I didn't get to do was count up exactly how many statues there were in the city which depicted people in the nude - there certainly seemed to be a lot! For other suggestions of things to do in the City this website (which also covers other cities) was useful too.

Maison Tavel

This was my first museum visit in Geneva and was definitely my favourite.  It is the oldest house in Geneva and houses the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life. The museum is free but it is definitely worth investing in 5 CHF for an audio guide which really enhanced my visit.

The tour starts outside where you gaze up at the mysterious heads on the outside of the building. I have never seen anything quite like this before.  These heads are replicas, the originals were removed to prevent further decay and can now be seen within the museum.  No-one knows exactly why they are there. I would love to be able to go back in time to find out the real story.  It was incredibly hard to get a good picture of the outside as it is a very narrow street but if you scroll down to the last page of this booklet you can see where the heads are situated.

Every single floor had something of interest to me and it really was a place full of surprises.  The vast cellars are from the original house pre-1334 which destroyed the rest of the building. Originally these cellars wouldn't have been connected to the main house; access was via a set of enormous doors from the street.

The other highlight from the house was the amazing Magnin relief map which showed the City prior to the removal of the defences in 1850. I spent at least 10 minutes looking at this model in all its intricate detail.

Before you leave it is definitely worth watching the video about the history of Geneva from the Ice Age onwards which lasts 12 minutes.

The museum is in the Old Town and bus no. 36 stops nearby if you want to avoid the steep climb up the hill.

Museum of Art and History

There were two reasons I wanted to visit this museum the first of which was to see a number of rooms that had been transported from Lower Zizers Castle - quite bizarre.  Again my photos aren't up to much but hopefully they will give you an idea.  Within these rooms were some enormous china central heating structures complete with a seat on the top!

The second reason to visit this museum was to see the exhibition on Geneva and English Satire which is on until the end of August.  I discovered that it was in a separate building in Promenade du Pin which I eventually found when I discovered that I was on the wrong level and looking at a park on the map that didn't seem to exist in real life - there was several lanes of traffic where the park should have been - until I discovered that the park was actually above me!  I didn't quite succeed in getting my head around this aspect of Geneva.

Both exhibitions were free.

The building housing the Cabinet d'arts Graphiques was quite anonymous looking and seemed to be deserted. However I soon discovered the exhibition was on the 3rd floor. The exhibition compared the satirical cartoons of London and Geneva; it was fascinating for me.

Ariana Museum

Visiting this museum on my last morning in Geneva, I didn't quite have enough time to do it justice. It is an amazing building.  It was built to house the collections of Gustave Revilliod and today holds an amazing collection of ceramics and glass.  There is a small tea room with a lovely balcony too.  I got there via tram no. 15 from Gare du Cornavin to Nations the last stop on that route, right next door to the United Nations building.

I was a bit anxious about getting back in time for my flight so I really must return at some point in the future for a proper look.

My second to last recommendation is to visit the tower of St Pierre Cathedral.  It is free entrance into the cathedral but well worth paying 5 CHF to go up to the top of the tower.  Quite by accident I ended up halfway up the tower at 12 midday and it was amazing to hear all the bells of Geneva chiming out of sync. If I had been really organised I would have been at the top of the tower where I could have seen the bells too.

When I came back down from the tower I went to the back of the Cathedral and down a steep flight of steps - Passage des Degres-de-Poules which emerges opposite the Lutheran Church which doesn't look anything like a church from the outside.  The reason why is in the Secret Geneva book but I don't have it to hand at the moment.  I was at the church for one of their regular free lunchtime recitals. On the way down I passed a shady garden.

Finally, whilst unexpectedly taking a black cab from London City Airport right through Central London to Heathrow at the start of my trip (as my flight to Geneva was cancelled)  I couldn't help but share a few London tips with my fellow passengers. In exchange I discovered that there was free live music at sunrise at the Bains des Paquis by the lake in Geneva and free outdoor cinema too. Unfortunately I ran out of days to do either of these things but they are definitely on my to do list for next time.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End of London. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.  
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Monday, 26 May 2014

Soho Summer Strolls

When I started working as a tour guide I tended to avoid Soho with its narrow streets and busy pavements. However over the past 18 months or so I have developed a couple of foodie themed walks and now love guiding in the area. It is busy - especially on a Saturday afternoon - but some streets are quieter than others and Soho has such a fascinating history that it is now one of my favourite places in Central London.

Last weekend I led a new walk for Walk London* entitled The Real West End which was in the vicinity of the Jubilee Walkway and included parts of Covent Garden and Soho.  Taking up to 50 people on a walk where previously I had only led half that number (and in a less busy part of town) initially filled me with trepidation.

However I purchased an amplifier (a bargain at £5) and planned the walk so we only stopped at places where there was enough room for us and  passers by without anyone having to step in the road.  It meant a bit of forward guiding eg talking about the House of St Barnabas before we arrived there - but there were also places where we were able to stand with a big group opposite the building in question and everyone could hear me too.

Over the course of the weekend I led the walk 3 times and from the applause at the end together with some tips plus two 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor it was a great success. 

There were a couple of challenges to overcome on the walk - Seven Dials was busier than normal with a shopping day and people picnicking in the middle of what is normally the road, meeting another tour group halfway along Goodwins Court (a very narrow passageway that links St Martin's Lane with Bedfordbury - see picture below), and a disinterested elderly man on the 3rd (and hottest) walk of the weekend who in retrospect I now wonder if he had signed up for the walk by mistake and was really one of the film extras that we encountered at the beginning of the walk - the co-ordinators there were similarly dressed to us.

Goodwins Court WC2. Photo by Jenny Pedler
After the success of last weekend's walks my Foodie History Tour of Soho this coming Saturday for up to 15 people (especially finishing at Imli Street with some Indian-inspired cocktail samples) should be a doddle!

* Walk London organise free walks 3 times a year - Spring into Summer (just finished), Autumn Ambles (27 & 28 September 2014) and Winter Wanders (usually January).  Bookmark their website to be kept informed of walks coming up.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.  
Both the foodie walk mentioned above and the Soho pub-themed walk can be booked for private groups
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook