When it comes to historical tours, there seems to be an old-fashioned view that they can be stuffy, academic and…well, sometimes quite dull. But looking beyond that outdated stereotype, there are some amazing ways to explore historical city sights through innovative technology, great storytelling and a focus on the truly fascinating and human elements that bring buildings and locations to life.
The Lost Palace definitely does that.
Winner of the Museums and Heritage Award for Innovation 2017, it’s been over a year in the making. It’s a tour, but not as you know it – combining audio theatre, interactive technology, live performance and architectural street installations. And guys, it’s really, really awesome.
Picking up our wooden ‘guides’ and headphones, we stepped back in time, to learn all about the ‘lost palace’ of Whitehall. In an area that’s now populated with tourist attractions and government buildings, there once stood the largest palace in Europe. It contained over 1500 rooms, and stretched from Trafalgar Square to Big Ben. Huge, huge palace! The Lost Palace tour takes visitors on a journey through what happened in the palace’s heyday, and why it’s no longer part of the London landscape.
The tour begins in Banqueting House – the only surviving building of the original palace – with an impressive technology bringing a simple, empty room with only a wooden palace. The history of the palace is told through the headphones by a recording of your ‘tour guide’, a lively and engaging female voice who delivers a succinct explanation as projected visuals around the room illustrate the words.
After the introduction, it’s out onto the streets of London to explore…
One thing that’s seriously impressive is the use of binaural sound throughout the tour. That’s where the sound is recorded using two microphones, to create a sound that’s as if the sound is happening in the same space as you. If you turn around, the sound continues to come from the same direction.
It’s actually REALLY awesome…even though it did freak me out when it first happened, and I was looking around the room for the source!
It may just look like a piece of wood, but the controller really is the key to the whole experience. It’s location-based, so will tell you where to go next, but it’s also SO much more than that. Around the short distance of the tour, there are wooden objects that you place it onto to activate narration and the voice acted scenes. There’s one particular section, where you point it in different directions and hear different scenes played out, which I loved.
The stories told are interesting and engaging – the technology used allows for a much broader experience than simply a tour guide reciting historical facts.
As I mentioned above, the audio theatre scenes are what that really bring the area’s history to life. There’s interaction (although I felt a bit silly doing this on the street…) and also some laugh out loud moments. There’s even a point where you question whether something’s part of the show or not…
Some of the tales told include Henry VIII’s ‘Cockpit’ (yes, we laughed immaturely. I think the tour creators wanted us to…), the execution of Charles I and the fire that devastated the palace in 1698. The tour ends in Banqueting House’s main hall, which is STUNNING.
There are beanbags provided, so we took a seat and stared up at the intricate ceiling whilst our ears were filled with tales of lively celebration in the same very room.
In terms of audio guided tour, The Lost Palace is hands down the best, most engaging I’ve ever seen. The area covered is quite small, but the amount you experience and learn in that short distance is huge. There are seats for one of the longer sections halfway around, and the bean bags at the end, which is a really great touch for those who might struggle to be on their feet for too long.
Intrigued? You’ve got until the 5th September to check it out. There are daytime family-friendly tours, and evening ‘lates’ for adults. Tickets for the adult tour are £15 each, which is well worth it for the quality of the tour! The daytime tour tickets are £12 adults, £6 children. Snap up your tickets now!
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we signed up, but what we got was an incredibly well thought out and slickly put together experience. I found the stories fascinating, and the interactive elements really engaging. The use of technology brings history to life, and as long as you don’t mind walking the streets of London looking a little bit odd at times, you should definitely give it a go while it’s on.
*We were invited along for a complimentary tour, and I genuinely had a REALLY good time!
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