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
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments