It’s been such good weather in the last weeks. When the sun is shining, London just asks to be explored and is showing her best sides.
While there are many ways to just start exploring, a favourite of mine are (treasure) hunts.
When you google “London Treasure hunts”, there will be a multitude of hits, ranging from humble “print out the sheets yourself” to full- fledged organised events that do not even quote a price on their website (which I always find highly suspicious….:))
In this post, I would like to introduce you to two organised hunts and I can recommend them both. At each, you’ll be entertained for at least 2 hours (possibly even longer), you get to know many new places even in neighbourhoods you thought you knew, but its all a bit more independent and lighter than a classical walk or guided tour.
The two companies / hunts I will introduce below are called “A door in a wall” and “In the Hidden City”.
If you have any questions about any of them or (even better) if you have even more experience, let me know! Other than that, I hope you’ll enjoy hunting London as much as I do!
A door in a wall
A door in a wall is not a classical treasure hunt company – its rather a mix between interactive theatre (or something like “Secret Cinema” and a treasure hunt. They organise usually one to two events a year, which run a whole month (daily, twice on weekends). In May 2014, they organised “The Diplomatic Corpse” around King’s Cross. We (a team of 3, but can be up to six) were invited to the embassy of Paudaguay where (after passport / immigration control) we were handed a booklet and were briefed on the Death of their Ambassador. After the 30 min introduction, including possible suspects and motives, there were two hours to visit six locations around King’s Cross. In each, a set of clues and tasks was to be followed. This involved finding clues in shop windows, calling from disused phone houses, entering back-alley smugger locations and making Paudaguayan Gold, disarming a bomb (which still killed a herd of innocent sheep in Paudaguay as we found out later). During the way, we met many actors dressed up as Paudaguayan (or enemy) spies, or a host of other people who interacted us in this hunt.
In order to find the clues, good knowledge of the Kings Cross / Bloomsbury area and a smartphone was needed (some clues were on the internet with dedicated content). The clues were often difficult and we were warned in advance that the time was not enough to solve all clues (which was true).
After time was up, we had about half an hour left at the embassy (BYO was strongly encouraged) to puzzle together all our clues and to present our suspect. Then the riddle was solved. All in all a fantastic evening!
So, why am I writing this? Because its soon May 2015 and they are organising their next game “The Life and Death of Paul Marrane”, which will take place in the very wild part of East London (starting point near “All Saints” DLR station. They Promise that this game is even more out and exploring and less sitting at the table than the previous games.
I am very much looking forwards to doing this game with my friends and I highly recommend getting some tickets. The tickets cost £30 per person.
In the Hidden City
I stumbled across “In the hidden city” when I was planning on organising a treasure hunt for my birthday. I was too lazy to prepare everything myself or print out 100s of clues and then knowing the solutions already, but at the same time I did not want to pay the massive amounts of money and have the very high dedication level with a organised event.
The costs are really decent, usually 25£ per team, with a few special hunts a bit more expensive (but at those you often get a few freebies during the hunt).
The young team around “in the hidden city” offer a good middle ground. They offer mobile-based hunts in London and other cities (Machester, Brighton, York)
You sign up online, giving your phone number and choosing the number of teams (suggested 4 people per team but for most hunts no limit), entering a “team captain” with a phone number for each team. The hunt is a set of clues sent by SMS. Once the hunt is started (which can be anytime within 28 days of purchase, with different starting slots per hunt), clues are sent per SMS. First, you need to find the location they are hinting at, and then, at the location, you have to solve a question where the answer will be in the location. When you text the right answer, the next clue arrives. When the answer is wrong, you get 10 penalty minutes added to your final time (one wrong answer is allowed without penalty). There are two types of hints (first one always free, after that penalty of 10 minutes per hint) – location hint (when you can’t find the location) or answer hint (when you are at a location, but cannot find the answer). So let’s say, you know that you have to be in a certain pub and find the answer in a picture there, but you can’t find it, you can request a hint.
The hunts usually last between 10 and 25 hints, cover an area of 2-5miles taking 2-3.5 hours (depending on how much time you spend in pubs…). Each hunt has at least one, sometimes even two breaks, which are usually in pubs or bars (often, you get a clue involving a free little drink to get to an answer) and last 30 minutes.
Depending on the hunt, you will have to visit local shops (hence a limit on how early / late you can start some hunts), museums, churches etc.
I have done 4 of their hunts so far – for my own birthday, as a company event, and twice with friends and we have always been very satisfied.
My favourite hunt is the “Guardian East London Explorer Trail” – this is the first time I ever went to Hackney Wick and totally fell in love with it. This trail also lets you explore parts of the canal, Victoria Park and Hackney / Bethnal Green. For most of those areas, it was the first time there and a door-opener to come back to the area (I recommend taking some notes otherwise its hard to remember where you went!!!)
With friends we have done the “Enchanted Mirror “ trail, which is set up in collaboration with “Time Out” and leads from within the V&A to many places in Kensington.
Last but not least, there were two different hunts both starting around South Bank and then venturing into Covent Garden. Both also managing to showcase some smaller “Off the beaten track” locations in this very touristy hustle- and- bustle area.