I know, it sounds crazy, over-the-top extravagant. But let me tell you about our experiences hiring a private guide.

Henrietta with the crew, explaining who-knows-what in the cloister at Westminster Abbey.

In 2014 we took a trip to London during the summer high season. We expected crowded sites to be overwhelming, so to help us plan our trip we hired the completely delightful Henrietta Ferguson for a few days in the city. The first morning she met us at our house. I loved her immediately when she asked if she could just “pop in” and take a look at our Victorian townhome. She had our day’s itinerary worked out to introduce us to London on the first day, and then to see the major sites in a way that would hopefully be efficient on the rest of the days.

We began our day at the Churchill War Rooms and continued to Westminster. As we were making our way to another museum, the insanely huge London Gay Pride parade and a lot of rain got in our way. Henrietta had seen in Westminster that we had a basic but incomplete knowledge of English history. So she changed up the plans and ducked into the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery is arranged in historical order, so Henrietta was able to give us an history of England by going from face to face. It was an amazing way to get our historical bearings for the rest of the trip. Brilliant.

The Tower of London, before we went to see the Crown Jewels…

The next day Henrietta met us very early. We were going to the Tower of London and needed to beat the big groups. As we neared the Tower we could see groups massing on its flank. She tossed a “Let’s run for it!” over her shoulder and broke into a sprint. We trailed behind her, passing group after large group, and managed to get to the group entry point before the most massive groups. By using a tour guide, we could bypass the “individual” ticket line, and by using a private guide she was able to maneuver us around the big groups. We were able to walk right in to see the Tower Jewels–no line! By the time we got out the line wrapped completely around the turnstiles. Brilliant!

…and after we saw the Crown Jewels.

Henrietta was already booked for another portion of our trip, so a colleague of hers took us to Bath and Cambridge. David introduced us to the most charming town we have ever been to. Paige talks about it even today as the place she would most like to live. (I hesitate to name it because it is so cute!) We enjoyed a perfect pub lunch that day under a lovely blue sky. While David wasn’t responsible for the sky, he gets full marks for the pub. We have had incredible results eating with our private guides–not the only reason to hire them, but a definite bonus.

One amazing lunch thanks to our guide.

London was our first experience with private guides. We also hired guides this summer in Rome and Florence, and would still highly recommend the experience.  As a matter of fact, we “worked our network” and used recommendations from Henrietta to find our amazing Roman guide Giancarlo. He may have been our kids’ favorite guide ever.

Giancarlo discussing Roman history with the kids in the Forum.

Most of our guides were very successful for us because they were good matches for our family. Here’s what I think you should consider when hiring one:

  • What are you most interested in? A particular site? Or just getting the overall flavor of the place? Maybe you are very interested in art, or have absolutely no interest in history. Make sure you tell your guide up front.
  • Ask for references. Some people are wonderful guides, but you want guides who have experience with children. Especially on a hot day, a patient guide needs to understand the need for frequent gelato (or bathroom) stops.
  • How much can you realistically fit into your tour? Here, you need to trust your guide. Be up front about how much or little you like museums. Henrietta saw right away that we like to linger in museums, so quickly into our tour she explained how she was changing our itinerary and why. We ended up see fewer things in London with her, but I don’t think any of us would change our experience.

Do you have a favorite guide story? Or does hiring a guide make you nervous? Share your thoughts!