London Drum

Big Bus Tours — London Open-Top Sightseeing Bus

Big Bus Tours
Where? Big Bus Tours, Information Centre, 48 Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria When? Red route (covers Marble Arch to Tower Bridge) -- Departures every 10-20 mins from 8.15 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun) Blue route (covers Kensington Palace to Tower Bridge) -- Departures every 15-20 mins from 8 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun) Price? Discover ticket (bus tour & river cruise, valid for 24 hours) -- Adult £48 (£44 if bought online); Child £38 (£35 if bought online) Essential ticket (bus tour, walking tours & river cruise, valid for 48 hours) -- Adult £58 (£54 if bought online); Child £48 (£44 if bought online) Parking: Nearby car parks Trains: The closest station is Victoria Circle District Victoria Train fares

Craig’s review… Whenever I buy a ticket for one of these open-top buses it always starts pelting down with rain. It's nearly driven me off the top-deck and into the dry section downstairs this morning, but the guide handed out some plastic ponchos for us to sit on otherwise our backsides would be getting wet from the pool of water on the seat.

I don't usually recommend sightseeing buses because of the high prices but they're okay for a certain type of tourist -- the ones who only have a couple of days in town and want to tick off as many landmarks as possible so they can tell everybody that they've seen them. Big Ben? Yeah, we roared past that on the bus. Buckingham Palace? Yeah, we snapped that whilst we were waiting for the traffic lights to change. St. Paul's? Yeah, we got a quick glimpse of the dome out of the back window.

Yeah, but did you actually do any of it? Er... no.

Red Route from Marble Arch

Marble ArchPhoto: Craig Cross
Marble Arch

There are several routes to choose from and they all allow you to hop-on and off whenever you like, so lots of tourists have the bright idea of using it like a travelcard, but trust me when I say that's a daft idea. The buses only run in one direction so if you want to travel from Marble Arch to Parliament, for example, and then decide that you want to return to your hotel in Marble Arch again, you'd have to ride the bus all the way round the loop for another two hours.

Buckingham Palace & Westminster Abbey

You can start the tour wherever you like so I've decided to begin by Marble Arch. We're trundling down Park Lane now -- you never travel quicker than a trundle in London -- and our guide is reeling off the names of all the great hotels as we head towards Wellington Arch. Then we go round the back of Buckingham Palace's garden (you can't see anything over the tall wall) and get a quick glimpse of the Royal Mews before skirting round the western side of the palace.

Wellington ArchPhoto: Craig Cross
Wellington Arch

If you crane your neck to the left then you can just about see a thin sliver of the courtyard but you can't see the balcony, so the view is quite disappointing. None of the buses are allowed down the Mall so this is the best view you can get from a sightseeing bus, whichever company you choose.

We do get a wonderful view of Westminster Abbey though, and I'm actually happy for the traffic now because it gives me a chance to take a few photos whilst the bus is standing still. Then we head past Big Ben and over Westminster Bridge towards Waterloo.

Passing Westminster AbbeyPhoto: Craig Cross
Passing Westminster Abbey

London Eye & St Paul's Cathedral

As soon as we cross over the river it starts chucking it down with rain again. The top deck is full of people wearing see-through plastic ponchos and we look like a crowd of plastic bags with cameras poking out the front. After passing the London Eye we head back over Waterloo Bridge to catch the tail end of the Strand.

Highlights here include the Royal Courts of Justice, a few Tudor-looking buildings on the right, and the dragon-topped monument called Temple Bar. Then we see the distant dome of St Paul's Cathedral as we head up Ludgate Hill.

Front of St. Paul's Cathedral from Ludgate HillPhoto: Craig Cross
Front of St. Paul's Cathedral from Ludgate Hill

Once we're past the front steps of St. Paul's we get our first good look at the skyscrapers in the Square Mile. Then we pass the Corinthian columns of the Royal Exchange and have to twist our heads 360 degrees to see the front of Mansion House where the Lord Mayor lives.

Mansion HousePhoto: Craig Cross
Lord Mayor of London's residence, Mansion House

Tower Bridge & Tower of London

Then we head over London Bridge for a look at the The Shard, before trundling (more trundling) down Tooley Street and across the top of Tower Bridge where we get a good look at the 1,000-year-old Tower of London on the left. You'll be an hour into the tour by now, so this might be a good place to get off and stretch your legs.

Tower of LondonPhoto: Craig Cross
The White Tower at the Tower of London

When he reaches Victoria Embankment we get some nice views of the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye across the river before he bullies his way back into the traffic on the Strand. If I was driving the bus then I'd carry on to Trafalgar Square but he decides to re-cross the river towards Waterloo (again) and go over Westminster Bridge (again).

The London EyePhoto: Craig Cross
The London Eye

Downing Street, Horse Guards & Nelson's Column

They should hand out an extra pair of eyeballs when he turns right into Whitehall because there's loads to see and not enough time to see it. Downing Street is on the left (look for a large crowd of tourists standing outside a big black iron gate).

The mounted sentry boxes at Horse GuardsPhoto: Craig Cross
The mounted sentry boxes at Horse Guards

The mounted soldiers at Horse Guards will come up straight after. Have a look at the Cenotaph and Banqueting House before switching you attention to Nelson's Column up ahead.

National Gallery in Trafalgar SquarePhoto: Craig Cross
National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

As we loop around Trafalgar Square we get a great view of the National Gallery before heading up Pall Mall towards Piccadilly Circus, where you can take a quick photo of the neon lights before jumping off outside The Ritz. And that's it. It probably only took you five minutes to read this review but that was over two hours of sitting on a bus.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy Big Bus Tours then you might like to visit Tootbus Tour (walk it in 20 mins or catch a tube from Victoria to Charing Cross). If you don't fancy stumping up the cost of a proper sightseeing bus then you can always try the cheap version... the No.26 bus. If you grab a seat on the top deck then you can see just as many landmarks, but all for the cost of a regular bus fare!

London Squire bookThe owns londondrum.com and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

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Your comments and questions

Thurai I'm not sure if I went around 3 or 4 times, Problem is, I had an undiagnosed fracture of the ankle, and was in agony. It was also my first trip abroad, I simply had to do as much as possible! The one time, I was with my girlfriends, the 4 of us wearing sequinned and netted mini-red hats. It was enormous fun! Everyone was asking to take photos with us, or of us, or for us, asking what the occasion was. The live commentary was my favourite, as you could ask questions too

lew Which is the best bus tour for sightseeing

Craig Hi Lew. I think they're all pretty much the the same, to be honest. They all visit the same landmarks. If I was going to pick one then I'd look at the extras you get, like the walking tours and boat trips, because maybe you'll fancy doing one of them as well. And some of bus companies offer discounts into other attractions, so if you're planning on visiting those then you might save a bit of money. I wouldn't be swayed by the 24 and 48-hour tickets though, because once you've been sitting on a bus for 2 hours to do one loop you're unlikely to want to do another one

K Holden Are hop on hop off buses worth it

Craig Hi K Holden. I don't recommend them myself, but a lot of people love sitting on the top deck of a bus watching all the landmarks go by. A lot of people also plan to use them like a normal bus, but I don't think that's a very good idea because generally speaking the buses only run in one direction (unless you change loops) so if you want to go in the opposite direction you have to ride it all the way round for two hours, and they don't run all day either, so you'll have to walk home in the evening.

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