Spring time is a wonderful time to visit London before the hordes of tourists arrive in the high season of the summer months. However, as we all know the weather in London especially during the spring can be unpredictable and fickle. One moment it can be clear and sunny and the next moment the weather can turn wet, rainy and unpleasant.
So what do you do when it is pouring rain yet still want to see as much as possible of the city? Purchase a ticket for The Original Tour, a 24-hour hop on, hop off double decker bus ride that has three sightseeing lines which take you to over 150 top sights and destinations in London.
Those of you who are regular readers on my blog know by now that I prefer off the beaten path travel and most of the time would rather be hiking somewhere in the mountains. However, I also do love exploring big cities having lived in both Chicago and Paris during my younger years. When I’m in destination, I also tend to have an immense desire to see it all and end up cramming in as much as possible within the short time I’m there. I want to see the sights, take photos of the architecture, dine at the different restaurants and cafes, and experience the diverse neighborhoods that a large city has to offer.
This is why buying a pass on London’s Original Tour made a great deal of sense. It would allow me, my mom and sister to see a large part of the city in a short amount of time without spending large sums of money on taxis or walking until we couldn’t feel our feet anymore. It also would provide us with a sheltered way to sightsee and stay dry when London’s notorious day-long rain began to fall. Of course we would much rather of had gorgeous weather the entire time and have been able to sit out on the top deck of the bus for a stellar view but we couldn’t control the weather. At least we had the option to move up top in the event the skies cleared.
How it works
Basically you purchase your ticket either online or at one of the stops. There are also lots of kiosks that sell tickets throughout London (The cost in May 2016 is Adults £30 on sight or £26 online). You next grab your map and jump on wherever you want to begin. There are 80 different stops throughout London, and 6 different bus lines (3 are sightseeing and 3 are connector lines). Once you jump on, your 24 hour time period begins. The Yellow tour has a live guide while the red and blue tours provide headsets (in 11 different languages as well as a special guide for kids). The tours are fascinating and I learned a lot about the culture and history of London as well as a few fun tidbits.
For more details on schedules, prices, and routes, click here.
Where it goes
What you see
Overall, you can see up to 150 different attractions throughout the city of London. We spent time on each one of the three main routes, yellow, red and blue, over the course two days (within a 24-hour period) and saw a ton. You can get on the bus at any one of the locations however a central location like Trafalgar Square or the recommended location that is mentioned under each route below is best to see the entire tour from start to finish. We got on at Trafalgar Square, right near our hotel.
The Yellow Route:
This route crosses the River Thames several times and you see a variety of the main attractions in the heart of London such as the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye and Marble Arch. The main departure point for this tour route is located at Coventry Street, Piccadilly Circus but you can board the bus at any stop along the route.
The Red route covers a large area with over 35 conveniently located bus stops around London, brining you to the beautiful Hyde Park, Regents Park, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, The Shard and Madame Tussauds and more.
The main departure point for this tour is located at Grosvenor Gardens, Victoria Train Station but you can board the bus at any Original Tour bus stop along the route.
You can also take the red line to see Big Ben and the Westminster Abbey (however, the yellow route stops there as well as does the green connector line).
The Westminster Abbey is so amazing that it is a must see. Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside but it is a stunning place.
This route is known as the museum tour as it takes you to the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Kensington Palace.
The main departure point for this tour is located outside the Royal National Hotel on Woburn Place, Russell Square but you can board the bus at any point along the route.
We got off near the entrance to Kensington Gardens and walked through the rain to admire the palace from a distance.
We continued walking towards Notting Hill gate where we would explore this quaint residential neighborhood and find a place for lunch. It was lovely filled with flowers and greenery growing along the building walls.
We discovered a quaint street filled with antique shops and a few restaurants where we grabbed a delightful bite to eat before heading back to jump aboard the bus.
There are also three connector routes that bring you to some of the further reaching parts of London such as the Purple “Capital”, the black “Station”, and the Green “Loop” connector. These routes do not have audio or live tour presentations.
Then of course there is Piccadilly Circus which is loaded with theaters, restaurants and shops. Fortunately our hotel was only a ten minute walk away from this part of London so we didn’t need to take the bus to see it.
And of course, all the gorgeous architecture in and around London
Why I liked it
Riding around on the double decker buses was not only convenient, it was fun. I learned a ton of interesting facts about the city and just being on one of the buses was an adventure in itself (especially trying to get around the narrow streets of Central London at rush hour!). The staff was wonderfully helpful with directions and answering questions. The bus service came frequently and once we figured out how to find the stops (you look for the bus stops that include “Original Tour” on them) it was a piece of cake. We had a great time despite the rain.
The Original Tour was founded over 65 years ago and today is the largest and most popular open-top sightseeing red bus tour operator in the world. To learn more, visit their website here. Also, as I mentioned in my previous post on Cruising the River Thames, the boat tour is included in the price. The Original Tour also offers other sightseeing tours as well. Check out their website for details. I would highly recommend giving it a try!
My memories of my trip to England and Scotland will forever be associated with the smell of wet wool. (Yes, I visited in the summer!)
Ha Ha, I love that memory so much. The “smell of wet wool”! Yep, sounds like England and Scotland. It has been raining here a lot too this past month. The mosquitos are hatching like mad but I haven’t pulled out my wool! 🙂
Sometimes I do take tour bus – like the hop-on hop-off bus – when traveling in the cities just because of limited travel days and it was lots easier in transportation. I like the ones in Barcelona and Edinburgh. I did not use bus tour in NYC though, I found the metro subway was so challenging that I felt I had to do it! 😀
Great review of London double decker bus, thanks and love the images 😉
Thanks so much for the comment! The first hop on, hop off I tried was in DC with our kids. They just loved it. I don’t normally do these kinds of things but we did have fun and got to see a lot. I’m really glad I did it! 🙂
Nice travel tips, and a fantastic collection of photos!
Thanks Mike! where are you headed next?
It really is the way to go when in London. Having the river cruise included was fabulous. We only had a few days there and this helped our sightseeing along very nicely.
Yes it was great especially because my mom has a bad knee so hours on end of walking got tricky. We loved the bus. Just wish we got to sit up top in the sunshine!
Good advice Nicole and excellent detail on the routes. Luckily, I learned this bus tour lesson early on in my traveling days. I was on a business trip on my way to the Netherlands, and I managed to squeeze in a few day boondoggle in London. In a big city like London (or Paris, Madrid, etc, etc) with so much to see, a bus tour is a great way high grade sights if you don’t have much time. ~James
Yes it is James. I normally would never do this but actually am really glad we did. Being able to hop on, hop off made it so great as we could get off and walk around where we wanted to and really explore, especially in the rain. 🙂
Thanks Nicole! This was very informative. We will be in London for a few days and I was wondering if this tour bus was worth it. I will definitely take it now. It looks like you had a great trip!
Yay, you will have fun as it is a great place for kids. I would highly recommend staying at the Citadines Trafalgar Square. They are apartments a block away from everything and very reasonable. Their is a kids tour on the bus too. Have fun!
I don’t know why, but I’ve never done a hop on/hop off bus tour except for one in Helsinki in the dead of winter when we simply could not walk everywhere. I so much love exploring on foot, but I agree these buses are a great way to get the lay of the land and cover more ground. I keep saying I am going to use them when traveling, but then I start walking and forget about how useful and informative they could be. Thanks for the kick in the pants to reconsider these!
Yes I normally like to walk the most too but it was really rainy out that day and my mom’s knee was aching. I am so glad we did this however as we got to see a tremendous amount of this vast city in a short amount of time. We never would have gone all the way to Notting Hill if we didn’t have the bus. 🙂
Such a detailed and great journey through London. Loved your pics too!
Thanks so much! 🙂
We used the sightseeing bus a little in Paris, to save our legs, Nicole. Not good on top deck if it rains 🙂 🙂
Great look at London. I especially like your shots of the Notting Hill neighbourhood.
Thanks Jo! We wanted to see so much that it was impossible to walk through it all. So it was nice to have the bus as an option plus we learned a lot. 🙂
Thanks for taking us along on a virtual tour Nicole, as usual you have wonderful photos and it looks like the perfect way to see the best of London. Melbourne has a similar thing with a City Circle tram that takes visitors to all its major tourist hot spots.
Glad you enjoyed Miriam! 🙂
Ha living here for so long we only recently did this experience… It is quite an eye opener and highly recommended
I’m glad we did it as it was very educational and a great way to get around such a big city. The key is you can get off so it isn’t like you are on a tour bus all day. You are just using it to get around.
Excellent report on a lovely day out. Bus and boat trips are such a great way to see a city
Yes they are! Thanks for stopping by!
Looks like you had a wonderful visit to my old home town Nicole. The photos are just great and made me feel quite nostalgic 🙂
I didn’t know you were from London Andrew! How long have you lived in Canada for? London is a great town!
I think you get your money’s worth on this trip!
Me too! 😊