These London museums and galleries all offer BSL tours

John Wilson leads the BSL talks at ZSL London Zoo. © ZSL London Zoo

British Sign Language (BSL) is a recognized language used primarily by people who are deaf/deaf* or hard of hearing. People using BSL often cannot access guided tours in the same way as other people – whether it’s a tour led by a live guide or a pre-recorded audio tour – because they don’t can’t hear them. Fortunately, some institutions now recognize this and offer BSL tours of their collections.

Here are some museums, galleries and other attractions in London that cater to BSL users. Planning to visit somewhere not listed? Check with them in advance, as they can also offer BSL interpretation. As venues become more aware of the need to provide access to visitors with different needs, such adaptations are rightly becoming more common. We also recommend that you join the Guided tours for the deaf and BSL talks about the UK Facebook group – this is not London specific, but London locations appear regularly and are co-hosted by John Wilson, a prolific London BSL guide who leads some of the tours listed below.

A BSL tourist guide signing in front of a group of about six people, in front of the windows of the Postal Museum.
Guided tours in British Sign Language of the Postal Museum © The Postal Museum

BSL tours at the Natural History Museum

Every two months, the Natural History Museum offers BSL behind-the-scenes tours of its Spirit Collection, led by guide John Wilson. The Spirit Collection is generally off-limits to the public and allows viewing of specimens collected by Charles Darwin and an 8.6-meter-long giant squid, among other items.

BSL tours of the Spirit Collection at the Natural History Museum. £25, see website for upcoming events.

Guided tour with BSL at Tower Bridge

A guide accompanied by a BSL interpreter
© Tower Bridge

On the last Saturday of each month, Tower Bridge offers guided tours with BSL. Tours are led by one of the expert guides who lead all tours at Tower Bridge, and an interpreter is provided to ensure that D/deaf and hard of hearing visitors can understand everything that is said. The interpreter also gives BSL users a way to communicate with the guide, ask any questions they may have and get answers.

This tour follows the usual Tower Bridge tour route, visiting the bridge’s iconic towers, high-level walkways with glass floors and the Victorian engine rooms below. For an additional fee, a private tour with a BSL guide can be booked for groups of up to six people.

Guided tour with BSL at Tower Bridge. Included in the price of admission, takes place on the last Saturday of each month.

BSL tours of Kew Gardens

Exterior of the Palm House conservatory at Kew Gardens, against a cloudy sky, with orange, yellow and red flowers in formal flower beds in front of the building.
Photo: Philippe Gras via Unsplash

Once a month, usually on a Sunday, Kew Gardens organizes walking tours of the gardens in British Sign Language, led by specially trained guides and offering insight into the history of the gardens, as well as their current operation and works scientists. takes place here. Tours last around an hour and you can then continue to explore the gardens on your own.

British Sign Language tours at Kew Gardens. Free (includes free admission), check website for upcoming dates and to book.

BSL Days at ZSL London Zoo

A tour guide signs in BSL to a group, outside the Penguin Pool at London Zoo.
© ZSL London Zoo

Once a month, ZSL London Zoo organizes British Sign Language Days, with two-hour BSL tours offered twice on these days. Tours are run in BSL by guide John Wilson (who runs the Facebook group mentioned above) and include information about the zoo’s animals and ZSL’s conservation work around the world. Each D/deaf or hard of hearing visitor can be accompanied by a companion free of charge.

British Sign Language Days at ZSL London Zoo. Included in the price of admission to the zoo, check the website for upcoming events and to book.

BSL tours of the Postal Museum

A guide stands in front of a historic postal car at the Postal Museum, using BSL to communicate with visitors.
© The Postal Museum

The Clerkenwell Postal Museum offers BSL tours that combine an overview of the museum with a ride on the underground Mail Rail. Deaf guide John Wilson leads the tours again, and your ticket includes admission to the museum’s current exhibits anytime on the day of the tour.

BSL tours of the Postal Museum. £3.50 (includes museum entry), check the website or join the mailing list for upcoming events.

BSL tours at the RAF Museum

Guide John Wilson is a very busy man as he also offers BSL tours to the RAF Museum in Hendon. Events take place semi-regularly and offer a glimpse into the museum’s Battle of Britain exhibition, which houses Battle of Britain aircraft alongside other bombers, seaplanes, trainers and helicopters, including a Spitfire and an Avro Lancaster.

BSL tours at the RAF Museum. Free, check website for upcoming events.

Supreme Court BSL Tours

Few people know you can take a guided tour of the Supreme Court, and even fewer know about BSL tours of the building. They follow the usual tour route, visiting three of the courtrooms and the Judges’ Library, with impressive artwork and stained glass thrown along the way. It is possible to ask questions via the BSL interpreter at the end of the visit.

Supreme Court BSL Tours. £10, check website for upcoming events.

BSL tours in historic royal palaces

A beefeater talking to a group of tourists at the Tower of London, with some of the Tower's historic houses in the background, and The Shard towering over them.
The Tower of London offers BSL tours – although sadly these are not beefeater run. Photo: Kayla Koss via Unsplash

The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace are all operated by Historic Royal Palaces and all offer BSL tours.

At the Tower of London, tours take place twice a day on selected dates and are led by a BSL interpreter and qualified guide. The tour can be tailored to what you want to see, whether it’s the usual tour route of the tower or any other specific attractions inside the tower.

Hampton Court Palace generally has BSL interpreters and guides (although the service is currently suspended). All you have to do is make yourself known at the Information Center when you arrive. Guides can provide comprehensive BSL guided tours of the palace, while interpreters are available to interpret presentations and performances taking place in the palace and to help you communicate with other staff.

Kensington Palace offers two separate BSL tours – one of the lavish King’s State Apartments, used by King George II, and the other of the permanent Victoria: A Royal Childhood exhibition – offering insight into your surroundings (think the sculptures of Grinling Gibbons and impressive tapestries) as you go. These tours are currently suspended, but when in progress must be booked with at least two weeks notice.

BSL tours at the Tower of London. Included in the price of admission, check website for upcoming dates. Booking is recommended.

BSL Tours at Hampton Court Palace. Included in price of admission, check website for upcoming dates – although currently suspended.

BSL Tours at Kensington Palace. Included in admission prices, check website for upcoming dates. Mandatory reservation.

Other BSL events to know:

A living room with pink striped wallpaper, a freestanding lamp and an armchair.  Dozens of letters with wax seals float in the air, as if by magic.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour provides BSL interpreters upon request. Photo: Finn via Unsplash

  • Although it does not specifically offer regular BSL tours of its collections, the V&A Museum does occasionally offer BSL interpreted lectures, events and exhibition tours – Watch this place.
  • In the same way, the Design Museum does not offer regular BSL tours of its permanent collection, but schedules them for each temporary exhibition.
  • Whitechapel Gallery also offers free BSL guided tours of most of its exhibitions — browse upcoming events.
  • Warner Bros. Studio Tour will provide BSL interpreters to muggles and wizards at no extra cost, although you must book the service at least 14 days in advance.
  • Barbican occasionally features events performed by the BSL, including dance, music and theater performances. Upcoming BSL events can be found on the site.

*According to modern convention, Deaf with a capital D is used to refer to people who have been deaf all their lives, or since before they started learning to speak. The tiny ones are for people who have lost their hearing later in life. According to deaf health charity Signhealth, “This is an important distinction, as deaf people tend to communicate in sign language as their first language. For most deaf people, English is a language second, and understanding complicated messages in English can be a problem.”

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