No crowds, no queues: it's armchair tourism

Can't escape London's seething hordes? Dominic Cavendish seeks help on screen

you don't have to stand outside the Tower of London, and be submerged in a sea of Coke cans, chips and half-eaten ice-cream cones, to realise that most tourists only know about half a dozen landmarks in our glorious capital - Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Tower Records. This can either be put down to sheer laziness or being inadequately briefed or both. But now the familiar, rather unsightly, face of modern tourism is set to undergo extensive cosmetic surgery with the launch of "the most exciting series of guides ever".

As one of seven regions to get the Heritage Guides to Great Britain treatment, London will be made more accessible, a) by a pocket-sized guide packed with information about places off the tourist route - of interest, we are told, even to Londoners, but more importantly, b) by an accompanying video appetiser presented by the star of ITV's The Travel Show, Anne Gregg. This two-pronged attack could be welcomed on the grounds that, if successful, it will either, a) redistribute unsightly tourist bulks over a wider surface area, making our attractions, paradoxically, "attractive" again, or more importantly, b) keep them from coming here in the first place by sating their appetite with the video. However, since our economy depends on a high-level consumption of chips and 99-Flakes by tourists, the makers of Heritage Guides have cleverly made the London video so irritating that few will be able to resist the call of the great urban outdoors. A couple of examples will suffice.

"Everyone works hard at selling the romance of the past," says Gregg, as she meanders off the tourist trail and into Covent Garden. Too right. Keeping up the same, dreamy smile for the duration of the 40-minute programme must have been hard work. Shown the armoury at Hertford House, she remarks: "It looks terribly violent, I'll go and have a look at a nice picture or two" (The Wallace Collection). Phrases that you turn a blind eye to in a guide-book stick in the throat when spoken out loud: "If London traffic doesn't scare the living daylights out of you, then this will" (the London Dungeon); "Like it or not, you certainly can't ignore it" (the Lloyd's building)... However, apart from some misleading visuals (no member of the public has been allowed up the Lloyd's building for at least two years), it is better shot than your average cheap and nasty tourist flick and redeems itself with a few worthwhile suggestions: the Sir John Soanes Museum, Fenton House and No 18 Folgate Street - literally a real find, as the guide doesn't have a map showing you how to get there.

Situated within spitting distance of Spitalfields Market, No 18 is a private house belonging to one Dennis Severs, who has arranged the place to look as though it is inhabited by an 18th-century exiled Huguenot family: no modern lighting, heating or sanitation. Although on the vid you see Gregg being admitted after a polite tap at the door, in fact prospective visitors have to ring and group-book in advance, but it repays the effort. Each candle-lit room is set as though the Jervis family has just left: real half-eaten pomegranates lie on the cluttered drawing-room table, bits of plate are scattered on the floor, testament to a recent argument; in the attic, there is an utterly authentic smell of urine emanating from the chamberpot. "Mr Severs slept in every room in the house to feel the different energies and discover how they should look," my Dutch guide told me, over a piped ambient soundtrack of passing carriages, birdsong and street children. "It's not a musem, it's a still-life drama, an emotional journey. Sometimes you get Americans who want to hire it for dinner, and you know at once that they are not right for the house."

Sometimes American tourists need help. Standing outside the Tower of London the other day, I asked a couple if they knew where the (Heritage Guides-listed) All Hallows by the Tower was (one of the oldest churches in London, place where William Penn was baptised etc) - it was but a few hundred yards away. They pored over their guide book and scratched their heads, "No, it's not here. Sorry, can't help you son." Their loss, no doubt, is Heritage Guides to Great Britain's gain.

Heritage Guides to Great Britain £16.99, available from 20 Mar.

To visit 18 Folgate St, call 071-247 4013

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform