Exploring London By Bus

Exploring London By Bus

London is one of those cities that everyone just seems to love. Despite this, I honestly didn’t think I would care for it all that much so I ended up only allotting one night there—BIG MISTAKE.

Not only is the city gorgeous, it’s huge! As I flipped through the city guide, my list of things to see and do quickly grew. Suddenly I realized that London’s touristy bits were actually worth seeing and that I didn’t have much time to see them!

We had to think of the most efficient plan to maximize our time. While London has an excellent metro system, let’s face it, The Tube is slower than getting around by car and it’s not exactly the cheapest method of transportation when you’re constantly taking it back and forth around the city.

Keeping my budget in mind, I had to act fast, and while I previously wasn’t a big fan of those bright red touristy buses, we found ourselves giving one a try. Looking at the route map, it made stops at nearly everything we wanted to see and if it didn’t stop directly there, it would at least get us within walking distance.

After all, London is famous for its red double-decker buses, so this was just a more touristy version, right?

So after exchanging our vouchers for tickets, we hopped aboard the giant City Sightseeing London bus and took off from Trafalgar Square.

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We quickly realized that the hop-on hop-off bus was the perfect solution to our time problem. The bus had us going through Piccadilly Circus, past Buckingham Palace, and all around Westminster.

It stopped by all the main tourist attractions for us to hop off at, but we also passed numerous famous monuments and parks just driving around. It was great because many of these things we probably wouldn’t have taken the time to see if we were using the Tube.

The Monument to the Great Fire of London? Cool, but did I really care to go inside? Probably not. Would it have been worth the £2.20 Tube fare just to go out there to snap a photo of it? Ehhh, again, probably not.

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Each bus is equipped with audio guides in nine different languages, which allowed us to learn a bit about the history of the city as we rode along. That was nice, but what I really enjoyed, was that on the Yellow Route (the main route) there was a live guide providing commentary.

He was absolutely hilarious and of course did a much more entertaining spiel about the city than the pre-recorded guide. It was great because he’d actually interact with us and answer any questions we had.

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I was surprised by how much I learned on the tour– and to learn how little most American’s really know about London. That decked out bridge over there? Not the London Bridge! Oh, you saw Big Ben? No, you saw the Elizabeth Tower.

The full tour takes around two hours to complete, but we found ourselves riding it multiple times to take photos of things we passed on both sides. The photographer in me loved being able to sit up high to get a slightly unique perspective of the monuments and the voyeur in me loved getting a bird’s eye view for people watching!

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The bus worked out so well because we actually timed it so that we could use the ticket as our method of transportation for our whole trip– it even made a stop right near our hostel!

Unlike most hop-on hop-off buses, this ticket was literally valid for 24 hours rather than just one calendar day. So because we didn’t activate it until after eating lunch, we were able to use it again the next morning to squeeze in a few other other sites we couldn’t make it to the day before.

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After using this hop-on, hop-off tour bus, I was totally converted. I love these buses! (For real, after this one we ended up using them in four additional cities on this trip.)

While I probably wouldn’t recommend these buses for everyone, they were exactly what we needed given our short amount of time in London. And I won’t make that mistake again– next time I’ll be sure to stick around longer!

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What do you think of hop-on hop-off buses? Love them? Hate them? 

A special thank you to AttractionTix for providing me vouchers for City Sightseeing London! All converted-ness to these touristy buses is completely my own.

41 Comments

  • rebecca says:

    you got some really good pics. Those buses are great when your time poor. I used one in Barcelona as we only had one night there, certainly not enough time

    • Beth Williams says:

      We debated using one in Barcelona because we realized we had no time there either… but the prices for the buses there seemed double that of all the others we took, so we ended up passing. :\
      Hopefully you felt you got your money’s worth though!

  • E.E. Wiliams says:

    Thanks, Beth for the wonderful tour!

  • Like you, I was totally ANTI-sightseeing buses – that is, until I tried one for the first time in Washington, DC. I’m converted, too, and have used sightseeing buses in other cities – most recently, in Berlin. Not something I’d like to do everywhere, but it’s definitely a worthwhile option.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, it’s not something to do everywhere, but it’s a great option when you’re short on time or have kids who get too tired to walk :)

  • I just did my first hop-on-hop-off bus too! Although super-touristy it admittedly is a great way to reach top attractions in a city! Love your London pics :D

    • Beth Williams says:

      It was touristy, so I wouldn’t recommend always doing one, but it was a good way to save money on transportation in an expensive city!

  • Amy says:

    I used a hop on/hop off bus in New York in April because we only had 3 nights there and found Manhattan to be pretty spread out. There’s no way we would’ve crammed in, or learnt, as much as we did without a sightseeing bus. The routes are so well planned. The locals said not to bother as traffic’d slow us down, but we did every route, stop and a night tour (and casually drove past Evander Holyfield, hiya!). They are good when you don’t have lots of time :)

    • Beth Williams says:

      I think New York is another great example of a city where using a hop on/hop off bus works! I’ve never been, but when I go I would definitely consider doing one there.

  • Rather than the hop-on, hop-off buses, I usually tend to do the free walking tours from the guys in the red shirts. I’ve done them in almost every big European city and they are always fantastic!

    • Beth Williams says:

      Free walking tours are also great! We did a couple in different cities and loved them. They don’t always cover all areas in cities that are really spread out, but we found that coupling that with the bus got us everywhere we wanted to go.

  • I always take the hop on hop off bus in some cities with bad public transportation. It’s actually cheaper than taking taxis from point A to point B hahaha

  • Yeah I have to admit that one day in London just simply won’t cut it! But at least you were able to take advantage of this City Sightseeing Tour bus which I am sure is a great way to get around and quickly see many of London’s finest landmarks. We experienced London in 3 days which allowed us to venture out and about a little more yet still see the main points, but even that is really pushing it giving there is SOOOO much to see and experience.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, I feel even 3 days wouldn’t be enough time for London. It’s certainly better than 1 though!

  • I am not normally a fan of tour buses, but you have convinced me to give them a try based on your brilliant photos. That being said, you really need to spend more time in London next time – it’s an amazing city.

  • Cory Lee says:

    I’ve never ridden the hop-on hop-off buses, but I do love London. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. Glad you liked it!

    • Beth Williams says:

      This was my first time riding one, and they weren’t as painful as I thought they’d be. I now understand why so many people love London!

  • Globe Guide says:

    I did the Hop On/Off in Paris, and would totally recommend it as well for all the reasons you listed above. Totally worth it in a big city! When I was walking from sight to sight in Rome, I enviously watched the big red buses go by :-)

    • Beth Williams says:

      Oh man, Paris is another city we should have used one in. We totally underestimated how spread out it was and decided to walk from one site to the other… let’s just say, after walking 10 miles, we were exhausted and in need of a taxi to get back to our hotel.

  • I’ve never been on a hop-on hop-off bus, so couldn’t give you my personal opinion on them. I definitely wouldn’t oppose using them. As you said, you get a slightly different angle while taking pictures as well as a look at some spots that I wouldn’t have originally stopped to see. I love the architecture of London though…such a fantastic city! How were the pubs? lol

  • I took a picture at the same spot of Big Ben and the telephone booth. It seems to be a very popular spot for pictures. I’ve never been on any of those buses anywhere in the world, but I’m sure they are very convenient for seeing a lot in short time only!

  • Susan says:

    I also cannot believe you only wanted to spend 1 day here – what was your rational for that! You should have asked me in Chicago! I lived here 10 years and I still can’t get enough! You could spend one day in the V&A alone. Thank goodness you saw the error of your ways so come on back real soon, y’hear!

  • Alli says:

    I completely agree! Sometimes those buses make it the perfect way to see a big chunk of a huge city in a short time frame! I did one in Chicago and covered so much ground that way. I really like your photos – unique angles! :)

  • 1 day for London? Eeeeek! I went with 2.5 days and felt wayyyyy too rushed, then returned for another 4 days and still feel like I’ve just skimmed the surface .Guess you’ll just have to go back! But a touristy bus seems like a great way to do it, in this case.

  • Anne says:

    I LOVED the hop-on hop-off tours too! In subsequent trips I stuck to the Tube, but I missed being above ground and taking the city in! Ahhh I miss London <3

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, we took the Tube to start, but realized we were missing so much by being underground– plus the tickets started adding up!

  • Ryan Zieman says:

    Beth, your photos are fantastic! I spent a long weekend in London in May, and I felt like I only scratched the surface of this incredible city. I had similar reservations about those bright red touristy busses, but I used one in Barcelona and it allowed us to cover so much ground and acted as our mode of transportation too! Which hostel did you stay at? I didn’t really care for mine when I went and I’d love a recommendation. Cheers!

    • Beth Williams says:

      Thanks Ryan! I think even a week in London would still be scratching the surface!
      Was the bus in Barcelona worth it? We kept debating, but it was SO expensive… like, $50 for 24-hours, or something like that. I’d definitely consider it for next time!

      Also, the hostel was Generator, but you know that by now :)

  • Hannah says:

    Thanks to a 24 hr flight delay I had only two days in London when I visited and it wasn’t nearly enough! I didn’t take a big bus tour then but I have in other cities. They are expensive but an awesome way to get around and see things when you are short on time! I took one in Barcelona this spring because, being Good Friday (especially in Spain) there wasn’t much else to do. Great way to relax and enjoy the city!

    • Beth Williams says:

      At least you got a little extra time to explore London, hopefully the flight delay didn’t mess up other plans though!

      I think Barcelona would be another great city for a bus tour since it’s so huge!

  • Did you know Elizabeth II Tower was given as a present to Her Majesty for her Golden Jubilee and before that was called St. Stephen’s Tower. And that the bell, Big Ben is named after the guy who made it?

    Tower Bridge & The Tower of London are my favourite sights, if you come back here please visit the Tower of London and get on a Yeoman (Beefeater) tour! You learn a lot and the guys have great story as they have all previously worked in the military.

    Absolutely adore your photo of Eros, in Piccadilly Circus :)

    • Beth Williams says:

      I’d love to go on a Beefeater tour, that sounds like a lot of fun!

      You know so much about London, I love it! I knew about it being a present, but I didn’t know that the bell was named after its maker!

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