The best audio tours to try during lockdown that conjure up cities, castles and country villages

Hotspots that now sound even better: How audio tours can conjure up cities, castles and country villages and bring them to life wherever you are

  • Sir Ian McKellen shares personal stories in the Theatreland Tour of London 
  • BBC newsreader Huw Edwards can be your lockdown guide to Cardiff Castle
  • The official Quayside Adventure audio tour digs into the Bristol’s pirate past

Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: Audio tours to try during lockdown.

Staying at home doesn’t mean completely missing out on Britain’s best-loved sightseeing spots. Audio tours can conjure up cities, castles and country villages and bring them to life wherever you are.

Download a tour to a mobile phone or computer and expert guides (and some famous names) will bring history alive.

Brought to life: BBC newsreader Huw Edwards can be your lockdown guide to Cardiff Castle

Brought to life: BBC newsreader Huw Edwards can be your lockdown guide to Cardiff Castle

Sir Ian McKellen is the host of a Theatreland Tour of London that includes 60 stories ranging from lavish events at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to his own debut as a jobbing actor at the Arts Theatre.

He also mentions easy-to-miss extras that you can track down at a later date, such as the mousetrap on Agatha Christie’s memorial – a reference to her West End play, which has become the world’s longest-running show – and the twisting Bridge of Aspiration that connects the Royal Ballet School to the Royal Opera House. Listen for free at voicemap.me.

If you fancy learning about life in an ancient fortress, then BBC newsreader Huw Edwards can be your lockdown guide to Cardiff Castle. His commentary describes long-lost Roman ruins, grounds designed in the 18th Century by Capability Brown and a series of keeps, clock towers and wartime tunnels. Download the free tour by searching ‘Cardiff Castle’ in any app store.

Across the Severn Estuary in Bristol, the official Quayside Adventure audio tour digs into the city’s pirate past and describes historic pubs and places said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Find the free tour, plus the Brunel Mile and City Docks tour, by searching ‘audio tours’ at visitbristol.co.uk.

For something a little different, tune in to the new generation of audio tours from Vidi Guides.

Instead of a single guide describing each sight, there’s a professional, podcast-style conversation between local experts and enthusiasts. These include a Shakespeare-lover and an actor joining forces to bring Stratford-upon-Avon alive as they chat about everything from the Bard’s birthplace and his burial spot, the mysteries of his life and the conspiracy theories surrounding his work.

The Bridge of Aspiration, that connects the Royal Ballet School to the Royal Opera House, features on a Theatreland Tour of London

The Bridge of Aspiration, that connects the Royal Ballet School to the Royal Opera House, features on a Theatreland Tour of London

In Cambridge, recent graduates team up with local historians in a series of four entertaining chats including an ‘inventions tour’ that takes in the university’s biggest discoveries and the unexpected tales that lie behind many of them. London, Edinburgh and Oxford also have clever, conversational tours describing the key sights. Prices start at £5 at vidiguides.com.

Manchester is also hoping to woo more tourists when the pandemic ends. Its official audio tour, which costs £5.10, starts with stories of the grand, Gothic Town Hall which has doubled as the Houses of Parliament in a number of TV dramas. You’ll also hear about the Midland Hotel, where Charles Rolls met Henry Royce, as well as stories of canals, Roman forts and the cobbles of Coronation Street at the Granada Studios. Search ‘MP3 Manchester’ at visitbritainshop.com.

Another treasure trove of fun can be found at pocketplaces.co.uk. Music, sound effects and local accents add to the sense of place in a collection of bite-sized recordings that transport you to Bath, Belfast, York, the Cotswolds and more.

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