Billed as a mix of escape room and historic walking tour, Mystery City – Outbreak London was originally due to open in March 2020. Unfortunate timing for any event, never mind one which tells the story of an outbreak of disease in London. In this case Cholera in Soho.
Mystery City is a recent walking tour puzzler imported from Amsterdam. Combined with the brains behind Bring Them Home and Werewolf Live, Jon Gracey.
Check our interview with original Mystery City designer Geert ‘Ben’ Sillevis and Mystery City Outbreak London collaborator Jon Gracey below.
The booking was made, the time and date provided, and I arrived in London ready for some puzzling history. Our team of adventurers arrived at The Crystal Maze Experience, starting point for this walking adventure, at the appointed time and were immediately told that we were VERY late… a scrabble of confusion followed, where it became clear that the rather brusque receptionist at had no idea what mystery city was. A teething glitch that will no doubt be very quickly ironed out, but not the most auspicious of starts.
Eventually we were handed a rucksack and sent on our way. No briefing or instructions wer given – and given the audience this seems best suited to (more on that later) this could prove to be a sticking point. However, unperturbed we scurried around the corner to open the bag.
Inside we found a beautifully printed map and a series of wooden boxes, each bearing a number, the name of a location nearby, and shut tight with a combination padlock requiring a 4 digit code.
The map instructed us to head to a nearby location, just a few minutes walk away, and visit a website to retrieve the code to open the first box. This is the only time tech is required unless you want more clues, or if you get lost and need to consult a map (as beautiful as the included map is, it can’t compete with a real time ‘you are here’ function).
A collective “ooh” erupted from our group of 3 when the first box popped open. Spoiling as little as possible, the contents of the box explained the start of the cholera outbreak of 1854, and also provided the means to identify the code to open the next box. Rather than riddles or meeting characters, or looking up drain pipes for keys or codes, the answers were all to be found in the environment. The first puzzle involved looking around for something that corresponded with something in the box, and using a code wheel to get our four digits. Looking around us we soon saw what we were looking for and cracked the code.
I’ll admit we spent more time figuring out how to begin than we did on the first puzzle – it does VERY clearly say on the map to visit the website for the first code but we spent a good ten minutes entering any 4 digit code we could see… it had been a long time since we did an escape room ok? A little bit of a briefing before setting off could easily resolve this, even a ‘make sure you read what it says on the map’.
After momentarily feeling very silly, and a brief chat with a policeman who was intrigued as to what we were doing (must make a pleasant change for them), we followed the map down towards Trafalgar Square – fortunately there were no protests taking place. The next box popped open with the answer we’d gained by solving the puzzle in the previous box. Another “ooooh!” and more pieces, and more story were revealed to us.
Another one quickly solved (and one of our party stopping for a quick wee) and onto the next location. Road works meant a slight deviation from the map, but we soon found the next location. The box opened for more story and another puzzle. At this point we noticed that the puzzles weren’t providing much of a challenge, and largely needed only one person to solve them – it’s the classic escape room problem of not providing enough for everyone to do, but repeated over and over. There’s just not enough for everyone to do at the same time, and at £25 per person, it was starting to get hard to see the value proposition for a large group. It should be noted that children under 12 go free and also that we were having a very lovely time. Strolling around the city, spending a bit more time looking at the things around us. The way the puzzles are integrated with the city around us gave the game a different feel to others I’ve played; looking up and out rather than rushing around with laser focus to beat the clock.
On we proceeded and the next box had a minor quality issue; the story text was misaligned and overlapped the border of the wood it was etched onto – a small thing that can be easily fixed, but when you’re paying a premium, and when the quality is so high across most of the components, these things stand out.
Just over an hour after setting out, all our boxes had been opened, all the puzzles solved, and we’d reached the final destination on our historical tour of Soho. our game was complete and it was time to navigate our way back to the starting point to claim our prize, and we were done. A fun excursion and one unlike any of the numerous history tours or scavenger hunts we’d done. No reliance on typing words into phones, and no time limit (though I’m sure they’d be phoning to ask for their puzzles back if you were VERY late).
If you’ve spent time in and around London’s West End you’ll probably not be surprised by the locations, and the puzzles aren’t particularly challenging but for couples (2 feels like the ideal number for this experience), families ( kids aged 12 and under play for free!), and for tourists looking to do something a bit different, it’s a solid way to spend a couple hours. You could take your time, pop into some shops, stop for a bit of lunch along the way and make a day of it.
Mystery City – Outbreak London is a delightfully puzzling historical walking tour. It’s all very wholesome, despite the subject matter, so might be a bit too gentle for kids raised on Horrible Histories, but for a family day out that’s a bit different you could do far worse in Old London Town.
Mystery City – Outbreak London tickets are on sale now and it costs £25 per person, with a minium of 2 players. Kids aged 12 and under play for free.