Tour buses, London
Do people really enjoy these sightseeing buses? I did one years ago.... I hated it.... I kept wanting to get off and go and have a proper look at the sights. I suppose if you are not up to long treks through the city then they are ok - but otherwise - walk! You will see so much more!
Unique Suggestions: If you have to do the bus sightseeing thing - at least have some idea prior to the tour of what you are looking at. I get the impression the guide says "take a photo..........NOW!" and everyone does - without really knowing much about the sight they are seeing.
Fun Alternatives: There is a tour bus company who allow passengers to hop on and off at lots of different stops - this seems like a good idea.
The Original Tour
There are a couple of companies running these tours - Big Bus and Original London bus tours where you pay a fee for a ticket that lasts 24 hours.
The current price is around 20 pounds so not cheap for something that can be achieved via a 5.20 Transport (Tube & Bus) day pass.
During the winter months your HOHO bus pass extends to 48 hours so you can see quite a bit if you can stand the cold weather. The bus companies will provide plastic poncho's to help combat the rain if the weather report is not favourable.
Unique Suggestions: If you only have one day in London and just want to see as many things as possible then these tours may actually be of benefit to you. If you do get a ticket make sure you get on early and take the included Thames cruise and maybe the Buckingham Palace changing of the guard. My mother really enjoyed both of these options.
Last time here it rained a bit so the open top buses were not a very good option at all!!
Fun Alternatives: Do a bit of planning and use a combination of the Tube & Double Deaker buses. You will get to specific places on the tube and a view from the bus if that's what you are after.
Last time here I took the #14 bus through the middle of London (between Tottenham Court Rd and Harrods) as an alternative so got the view though the trip took a very long time due to the traffic!! The cost will be only 25% of the cost of the HOHO bus though no commentary.
The hop on, hop off buses in London are a real rip off!!! (I never took one!!!) They are very expensive and not really worth the amount they charge for one day trip!!!
Unique Suggestions: Only worth it if you are there in London for just one day and you want to just take a cursory look at everything from outside!!! HAHAHA!!!
Fun Alternatives: It's better to take a one day travel card and use the tube and bus combination to go anywhere you please at a fraction of the cost!!!
I didn't go much for these sightseeing tour buses. They were popular though as each one was always full, and they were everywhere.
Somehow the 20 pound ticket didn't seem worth it.
Fun Alternatives: As an alternative I chose buying an all day underground ticket. This enabled me to go anywhere all day from 9am.
A tip here is to get there before nine as there will be long lineups.
This ticket also allows you to travel the buses for free. So for only 4.60 pound it was a real bargain.
I suppose if you had extremely limited time in London (perhaps only one day) the tour buses which abound may offer a service. they follow set routes, and have a hop on / hop off policy so you can get off as and when you like. they do also offer either a live or recorded commentary.
At a typical priice of £20 per adult for a 24 hour ticket (Big Bus Company) it is certainly not a cheap option. A little research done before you come to London will net you the same experience for a fraction of the price on ordinary public transport.
Unique Suggestions: You don't have to do it. See my alternative suggestion.
Fun Alternatives: The alternative is to buy a travelcard for London Transport, either bus and / or tube. This has the advantage that you can also visit the numerous less visited attractions that are not on the standard bus tour route, so you also get to see a bit more of the city that way.
Have a look at my London transportation tips (specifically the "Plan it" tip) for a link to a complete route planner.
Dont be a sheep...
These things are an extraordinary rip-off. They are often 25 quid or more for a ticket and the quality of the commentary is variable to say the least. Some don't even have a live guide - but a rather anodine and formulaic tape.
They market themselves as a time-saving service and one that will save you money by not having to fork out for transport between the things you want to visit. This also amounts to false advertising in my book.
Unique Suggestions: Only do this if you are making a flying visit and only have a few hours. That way you can take in the entire route and get an overview of the city.
Fun Alternatives: Just get a one-day travelcard for crying out loud ! it will get you everywhere and you can use it in the evening as well.
On the buses, Route 11, inparticular will connect up many of the poiunts of interest or RV1(see transport tips) that is specifically designed to connect up central London tourist destinations.
As a half way house compromise look at City cruises who operate a hop on-off service to Greenwich in tandem with the Docklands light railway (DLR) for about 10 quid.
A good way to get your bearings if it's your first time in London is to jump on the famous double-decker bus tours. But, for those traveling on a budget, the £15.00 charge for these automated (not live guided) tours can be a little steep.
Unique Suggestions: Try to find a tour with a live guide. The tinny audio records are horrible to listen to for hours as you're stuck in traffic.
If you do go, of course you must sit up top!
Fun Alternatives: Buy an Underground map and orient yourself to the nearest Tube stations. You'll spend only about £5.00 on an all-day ticket (only £6.00 for the whole weekend) and be able to see all the famous sites at your own pace.
We were given an Original Bus Tour ticket as part of our package.
IMHO this bus tour company, even though it was "original' was far inferior to the Big Bus that we were on before. I was quite disgusted with it in the end. The Big Bus had three routes - red, yellow and blue, and there were significant transfer points. The Original had red yellow and blue all right, but they also had a little green route and a grey route and it was most confusing.Some of them were just very short excursions.
Except for the original route, they just had a canned and pre-recorded tour and not a live guide. It was difficult to get the headsets to listen to them. Sometimes the driver did not turn on the tape.
Our hotel was on the blue route which stopped running (according to the ticket seller) at 6, although the other lines did not stop until 8 or 10. So we rode the blue route around until we could transfer to the yellow route which was listed as the 'original' route and was the only one with a live guide.
We bought the tickets one afternoon, and when we went back the next morning, the bus stop around the corner from our hotel was 'inoperative' because they'd started work on the street in the next block. There were no directions as to where to go to get the bus. We took a taxi to Buckingham Palace.
When Yellow Route bus finally came, it stopped (for no apparent reason) for about 10 minutes at Victoria Station. By the time it was close to 12 when our tour was to end, we'd only ridden the bus for about a hour including that stop.
So out of the 24 hours advertised (which is actually really only about 12 hours when you consider that they stop at night), we rode the bus for about 4.5 hours and did a short boat trip. The ticket sellers and bus drivers also seemed kind of indifferent. I tried to ask about an extension because of the bus stop being closed, but they either didn't understand or didn't want to understand.
Unique Suggestions: The Big Bus tour was VERY much better. I would see two or three Big Buses for each Original Bus. They had a stop right AT Victoria Station.
There were just three routes which overlapped and a clear and understandable fashion. They were on the road for longer each day.
The guides were knowledgeable and you could also pick a recorded tour in a specific language or a live guide.
Fun Alternatives: Both bus tours include a ride in a boat and I think they are about the same price. They both offer tickets to various attractions.
After your 24 hours runs out, then take the regular double decker Routemaster buses.
The hop-on, hop-off bus is the best way to see London because it covers every possible place you might want to see in the city. We have a wonderful stay in London and found the people very friendly, but it is unfortunate that the only rude people we encountered were from the employees of The Original Bus Tour. Our experience with the bus drivers and ground staff ranged from indifferent to unhelpful to downright rude. One person (ground staff) raised his voice against my husband and one of the drivers got vocally annoying when we got onto the wrong bus by mistake. It's really a shame that they had the 'couldn't care less' attitude about helping or guiding us.
If you're in London, you might quite possibily take a trip on the Open Top Bus Tours. The tickets are quite expensive, (+/- £14.00) so you need to make the most of them. From when you purchase the ticket, it is valid for 24 hours. So, it's better to get up early and make the most of it. The ticket also includes a River Cruise. The cruise goes up the Thames River to Greenwitch. Once there you can get off, walk around and then get be boat back to where you started. This can be a good time to relax and rest your feet for an hour or so. If you don't do the cruise and decide to do it another day - it'll cost you an extra £8.00 So, save your money!.
Unique Suggestions: Make sure you go on the boat trip on the River Thames.
Lots of tourists do this, go on the double decker tourist buses. They go past all the major attractions in London and you can hop on and hop off. My personal opinion is, they charge too much for this, it is between £12 and £14 for 24 hours. I would recommend taking the local buses or walk around. Recently there was a programme on TV about the ticket touts for these companies being extremely aggressive towards tourists and using underhand methods.
Open top bus tours. There are many of these in London, most can be started at Trafalgar Square. They do have advantages, but London being such a big city most of the tour companies have broken down the tours into many small routes, and if you start early enough you can see them all, but pick one or two of interest and use them as a starting off point, to get yourself familiar with the city and its layout. Just don't go on a rainy day, it's no fun if you can't sit on top.
It may seem like a tourist trap, but the big red double decker buses that offer a city tour really are a great deal. The hop-on hop off type are the only way to go, that way you can get off and explore something that turns your crank, and they usually give you about 24hrs on your ticket. There is no way to see everything in London without loads of time and money so this is a good way to get a general overview and see most of the major sites, and learn something about them too, since they also have a headset, often in different languages. The one we used last time I was there also offered a discounted ticket to Madame Toussards, therefore avoiding the huge line-ups there. The price was about 20 quid(sorry, no pound sign on my computer!!). More Recently, they have offered a River Cruise with the Bus ticket as well, so at least they make it seem like you are getting more for your money!
Fun Alternatives: It is a great way to get an overall look at London, and I found that there were quite a few different companies just waiting for pick ups all around Trafalgar Square. There is also one waiting outside the Charing Cross Train station, handy if you are just coming off the train or the tube.
If they are offering the River Cruise with the ticket, be sure to take the river cruise. It gave me a whole new perspective on my favorite city. The Thames as the city's life line, its effect on its development over hundreds of years, its phenomenal!
Tourist Buses: Unless you have very limited time in London, avoid the tourist buses. They are quite expensive and you will find yourself getting caught up in massive traffic jams most of the time. It's best just to walk around or get the underground if you are travelling longer distances.
It is such a waste of money... If you want to experiance sitting on a London Double Decker, just buy a normal bus ticket or Day Ticket. It is much much more cheaper. And the tour bus is too fast to really admire any attraction that you must really go down the bus... so better to just purchase a normal ticket...
Fun Alternatives: Really, just purchase a Day Ticket...