Big Bus Tours review (Oct 2014)
This is an old review Read my most recent review here
Whenever I buy a ticket for one of these sightseeing buses it always starts pelting down with rain -- every single time. And not just a little drizzle either. I mean a thick drumbeat of dirty grey water coming in sideways, smacking against the side of the bus. It's enough to force you off the top-deck and into the dry bit downstairs. That's not much fun, is it? You want to sit up top, where there are no windows or walls to block your view. Ah well... I think I am just unlucky with the weather. If I went skiing the snow would melt.
After twenty minutes the rain eventually eases off, and the driver starts handing out plastic ponchos for us to sit on. Otherwise our backsides would get wet from the pool of water on the seat.
I quite like sitting on a bus, driving around town and looking at all the stuff on show. But normally I would advise against spending money on a sightseeing bus, because the prices they charge are outrageous -- thirty quid for a 24-hour ticket! When you consider that a one-day travelcard is only nine quid, and that covers all of the tube trains too, spending thirty quid on a sightseeing bus seems like a total rip-off. And when you start reading the small print it gets even worse, because the buses only operate between 8.30 AM and 5 PM. Now... I'm not much good at maths, but I'm pretty sure that 8.30 AM to 5 PM only adds up to 8½ hours, not 24. How do they get away with calling that a 24-hour ticket? So here is my first piece of advice: if you're planning on using this as a hop-on, hop-off bus throughout the day then watch out -- because your day will be over by 5 PM.
And here's my second piece of advice... well, it's more of a warning really. The Big Bus Company only operates two real routes, and they only run in one direction. So if you travel from Trafalgar Square to Big Ben, for example, and you want to head back the way you came, then you are out of luck... you would have to ride the bus all the way round the loop via the London Eye, St. Paul's, Tower Bridge and The Shard! So if you're planning on jumping on and off the bus throughout the day to visit random places then you definitely need to study their map beforehand, and plan your route in advance.
If you choose the 'Red route' (2¼ hours) then you will have a live guide talking into a microphone at the front of the bus. The 'Blue route' is longer (3¼ hours), but you have to make do with some headphones plugged into the seat in front. I'd be quite happy without any guide at all, to be honest, but once it gets going you soon get used to it. At first sight he looks like a student, straight out of university, and I don't want to diss the bloke because he is trying hard, but his commentary is a bit hit and miss. He is pointing out silly stuff like a Porsche showroom and a Stella McCartney clothes shop... even the breed of the trees going by. But he's certainly earning his wages though -- it is practically non-stop chat. I think they must have plugged his mouth up to the engine. This guy could talk for England, but my mind is starting to wander every time we enter the traffic, and ends up following the pretty women down the street. I end up dreaming about my tea, and what I'm doing tomorrow night, and then all of a sudden Buckingham Palace flashes past and I wake up.
I don't mind a bit of traffic on the bus... staring out of the window at the bustle down below. People darting in and out, cars and bikes and buses bumping up the street, picking out every inch of concrete to save themselves five seconds travel time. It's nice when it's raining too, with little windows of water pooling on the pavements, people ducking under the shop umbrellas and bundling under bus-stops... budge up! Budge up, lady, they are saying... move up fella. I'm getting wet here!
I'm about 45 minutes into the tour now and it's started drizzling again. That is the problem with these open-top buses -- they are built for the sun, and this is London. The sun doesn't live in London. It just comes on day trips. Picture the scene: the top deck is full of tourists, all wearing see-through plastic ponchos to fend off the rain. We look like a crowd of plastic bags. The sky is greying up and getting very dark, and it's only 11 o'clock. We need some headlights to illuminate the gloom. We've just passed over Waterloo Bridge and seen Big Ben on the left and St. Paul's on the right, all dimmed out in the weather. A bit annoying for the tourists, but I don't care. I have seen it all a million times before anyway. I'd much rather see this stuff in the rain.
We've entered Fleet Street and the City of London now. The guide is getting into his stride and is coming out with some interesting little snippets of info. He is much better than an audio guide. The last time I came on a sightseeing bus tour (the Original Bus Tour) I ended up slating it as a waste of money, but this time I am actually quite enjoying it -- even though it's practically the same price. I guess it all depends on the weather and what kind of mood you're in. It's probably a lot more enjoyable the first time around as well, when you haven't seen any of the buildings before. If a regular Londoner like me can enjoy it then you should have no problem.
After about 1½ hours sitting on the 'Red route' I finally had to get off and have a wee (never drink a can of Coke whilst sitting on a sightseeing bus) and when the next one came along it was for the 'Blue route'. So I ended up doing both routes in one day. And this one has an audio guide instead of a human being sitting at the front. Here is my advice: try and get a human guide if you can, because the audio guide is rubbish. It's just a plummy-voiced bloke reeling off a long list of boring facts, intermingled with loads and loads of bombastic 'Last Night of the Proms'-style classical anthems. And this music kicks in every five seconds, every time you pull up in the traffic. I'm currently listening to 'Rule Britannia' as we inch our way around Paddington. Ten minutes ago I had 'Land of Hope and Glory' blasting out around Notting Hill. And it's not easy listening to headphones on an open-top bus, with all the traffic noise and cold wind whistling past your face -- it makes it very difficult to hear. In fact, if I had spent the entire day on the 'Blue route' alone, then I would have definitely given it a bad review. Anything that gives me a pounding headache automatically gets a bad review -- that is one of my reviewing rules. But the live guide made it worth doing.
So here is my final piece of advice: the 'Blue route' is the longest one, and actually incorporates the whole of the 'Red route' within it, but it is far too long. Three hours is just too much time to spend on one bus, so I would definitely recommend sticking with the 'Red route'. I still think the price is a rip-off though.
Here are some more bus journeys…
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