Following London’s Most Famous Detective on a Sherlock Holmes Tour

June 20, 2013 by

City Tours & Sightseeing, Europe, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Very few characters in literary history are as heavily linked to their city as Sherlock Holmes is to London. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first short story, A Scandal in Bohemia, which mentions Charing Cross Station, Edgware Road and Bakers Street, to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film in which Holmes, played by Robert Downey Jr., tricks his enemy from the top of Tower Bridge, the adventures may change, but one thing is consistent – London.

Whether you’re a fan of Doyle’s books, Ritchie’s films or Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of the character on BBC’s Sherlock, London is your destination for all things Sherlock Holmes. And the best way to experience the city like Holmes is to actually walk in his footsteps.

“We like to be on the streets rather than driving by on a bus,” says Roeanne McCaulley of Tennessee, who went on the tour with her daughter, a Sherlock Holmes fan. “She’s read all the books and of course we’ve seen the American movies.”

The Sherlock Holmes Film Location Tour is a two-hour walking tour that includes not only film locations, but also places named by Doyle in his four novels and 56 short stories about the fictional detective and landmarks in the author’s career.

The tour starts, where the story of Sherlock Holmes starts, at the Criterion in Piccadilly Circus. The restaurant, which was established in 1874, is where Doctor Watson first meets Sherlock Holmes in Doyle’s original novel, A Study in Scarlet. Tour guide Celia Wright points out that the restaurant has been on screen in other films as well, like The Dark Knight (2008).

Sherlock Holmes tour of London

The London Library is used in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, a Sherlock Holmes short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Dr. Watson visits the library to gain expertise on Chinese pottery.

From the Criterion, Celia leads our 20-person group to the Royal Academy of Arts, which was featured in the 1979 film Murder by Decree. However, this location was portrayed as the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, about a mile away, in the film.

“How did they fool audiences?” Celia asks us. “They just put up a sign for the Royal Opera House.”

Next, we visit St. James’s Square which actually has three stops on our tour. One is Chatham House, which served as the residence for three Prime Minister in England’s history. Celia explains an interesting link between one of PMs and Gladstone, Dr. Watson’s bulldog in Ritchie’s film adaptations.

Visiting film locations is something anyone with the internet can do, but Celia’s knowledge of all things Sherlock Holmes is what makes this tour special. At each stop, she not only points out the relevance of this location in the history of Holmes and shows photos of the place on screen, but also mentions tricks in filming and little things people on tour may or may not have noticed while watching the TV series and films, in a fun and quirky manner.

Sherlock Holmes tour of London

Celia shows the group what this part of St. James’s Square looks like in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.

Sherlock Holmes tour in London

Celia points out to the group a few shocked faces in a scene from BBC’s “Sherlock” that was filmed in Trafalgar Square.

Sherlock Holmes tour of London

This building on Carlton House Terrace was used for filming Mycroft Holmes’ Diogenes Club in BBC’s “Sherlock”.

The stop that receives the most chuckles on our tour is Trafalgar Square. This iconic London sight was used in an episode of BBC’s Sherlock. While most of the series is filmed in Cardiff, Wales, places like the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which Holmes and Watson visit in an episode, can’t possibly be recreated anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, BBC didn’t have the budget to shut down such a popular area for filming, so they filmed Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, two very popular and noticeable English actors, amongst the general public. Celia points out the looks on a few people’s faces in the scene, stares and smiles, after spotting the two English actors.

“Most of my interest started with the BBC series,” says Emma Beasley of Minnesota, who was on the tour with two friends she studied abroad with in Scotland. “It’s nice to have extra historical information and information on other films too. Now we don’t have to do a movie tour.”

One Sherlock Holmes location that is mentioned a lot in London tourism is 221B Bakers Street, the address Doyle gives for Holmes’s home and office, which is now a museum. Some might be surprised to find that it’s not included on this tour, but it’s replaced with a place of equal importance.

Sherlock Holmes tour in London

The Sherlock Holmes on Northumberland Street houses a permanent collection of memorabilia. The tour ends not far from here, giving people the option to return for a drink.

Instead, Celia takes people to The Sherlock Holmes pub and restaurant. Originally known as Northumberland Arms, the theme and name of this proper English inn changed in the 1957 when it became the permanent home to the first Sherlock Holmes exhibition, which was put together for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Here you’ll find several Sherlock Holmes collectibles and artifacts, including Dr. Watson’s old service revolver, as well as a replica of the duo’s sitting room and study.

Somerset House

This is all of the Somerset House that appeared in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”. It’s a staircase that leads to offices but was used for a jail scene in the film.

Lyceum

At the Lyceum where “Sherlock Holmes”, the play, made it’s London premier in September 1901, Celia explains how the play became a co-production between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and American actor William Gillette and came to linked with the deerstalker cap and a pipe.

Sherlock Holmes tour in London

Celia holds a post card with the original poster used for “Sherlock Holmes”, the play.

A few more stops on the tour, including the Lyceum, where Doyle’s only Sherlock Holmes play made its London premiere in September 1901, and the former offices of The Strand Magazine, the publication where Doyle’s short stories first appeared, and we finish at Somerset House. You’ll be surprised to find that this stunning location was actually used for a prison scene in Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.

Celia packs a ridiculous amount of knowledge about a character with over a century of history and countless stories into just two hours and one and a half miles. She mentioned at the start that this tour most focuses on BBC’s Sherlock, but it’s really an all-around in-depth tour of one of the world’s most famous detectives.

By the end, you’ll understand Doyle’s inspiration and thought-process more, you’ll learn why Holmes wears a deerstalker cap meant for the country in the city and yes, you’ll even understand Holmes, one of the most mysterious and unpredictable characters in history, a bit better.

Read more about Movie and TV tours

 - Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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One Response to “Following London’s Most Famous Detective on a Sherlock Holmes Tour”

  1. Renan Ferrer Says:

    Beautiful photos. Beautiful colors. London remains excellent! The Sherlock Holmes @ Northumberland Street houses have amazing snacks input. Garlic Mushrooms is my favorite requested. And to drink? hummm no comparisons! Giotto Merlot! Thanks for sharing with us! Cheers Renan Ferrer

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