Original Bus Tour review
Can of Coke... check. Gloves, coat and scarf... check. Been down the bank to take out a loan so I can afford to buy a ticket... check. Okay, I'm ready to go.
There are three big bus tour companies in London: the Original Bus Tour, Big Bus Tours and Golden Tours, and the Original Bus Tour is the most popular. They offer a few different routes, but unfortunately there's no one route that encompasses every major landmark, so whichever one you choose you're going to miss some places out. If you take my advice then you'll do the 'Red route' from Trafalgar Square. That's the most comprehensive route. And they've got a big shop on Cockspur Street where you can pick up a ticket.
Personally, I don't know why tourists bother with a sightseeing bus. I can only assume that they haven't worked out the exchange rate yet, because if they realised how much thirty quid was actually worth then they'd change their mind pretty quick. Thirty quid is like a week's wages to me. You can visit Buckingham Palace for less than that. In order to try and disguise how expensive it is they always chuck in a load of freebie extras: six different bus routes, three walking tours and a river trip, which sounds like great value for money, but before you think about doing two routes: don't. These routes can take 2-3 hours each, and you don't want to waste away an entire day sitting on a bus. I reckon the most that you'll feel like doing in a single day is one full bus route plus a walking tour, so the rest of the freebies are basically a waste.
They also point out that you can use your ticket a bit like a travelcard, hopping-on and off the buses whenever and wherever you want, which admittedly sounds quite handy. But let's dig down into the details: a real travelcard will cost you a third of the price and you can use it on every bus and tube train in London. Whereas with this one you are restricted to using it on their own sightseeing buses (with very limited routes). And that's not all... because many of the tube trains and buses run all through the night, but according to my ticket the last sightseeing bus leaves at 5 o'clock in the afternoon! So it's hardly the same as a travelcard, is it? What a swizz!
But I know you're going to want to do it anyway, because every tourist does... so here's my review.
Rule No.1: You have to sit on the top deck. Because it's fun. Unfortunately you'll also be freezing cold and you'll get wet if it rains but who cares -- you paid thirty quid for this so you may as well get your money's worth. If you're doing the same route as me then you'll get a good look at Trafalgar Square as it loops around Nelson's Column, before heading up the Strand.
You get a good view of the buildings from the top deck. And you also get plenty of time to admire them because the traffic is terrible. It's like driving through glue. Your headphones will be wittering on about who built what, who said what and who went where, and they've got an annoying habit of describing a building you just passed thirty seconds ago. But when you're sitting in the traffic you have loads of have to time to find everything.
We're ten minutes in now, and we're still crawling down the Strand. I could have walked it quicker than this. Fifteen minutes... Aldwych. If you know the geography of London then you'll appreciate how incredibly slow this is. The headphones ran out of things to say five minutes ago and have resorted to playing looped lift music as we inch closer to our next destination.
We're heading up Fleet Street now, which cheers me up no end -- I love this road. Remember to look at all the old buildings on the right as well as the left -- I think they're better than the Royal Courts of Justice. And wait until you see the dome of St. Paul's towering over Ludgate Hill... wow. The approach road is annoyingly narrow for such a fine front (you will see what I mean when you get there). They need to knock a few of the surrounding buildings down so we can take it all in -- but I'm surprised how impressed I am when we pass it.
Then it gets even better as you head into The City (the Square Mile), past the Bank of England, Mansion House and the Royal Exchange. I'm almost tempted to say that thirty quid seems cheap when you're driving past these three. This is when everybody falls in love with London... when they see these three for the very first time. But after that it's all glass and steel as you approach Liverpool Street station, and it's starts to get windy as the weather whips around the skyscrapers (remember to wear a coat for chrissakes, because its freezing!).
After passing the Tower of London you head down Victoria Embankment towards Big Ben and Parliament, but turn right into Whitehall for a quick look at Horse Guards, Downing Street and the Cenotaph. Then you cross over Westminster Bridge for a better look at the London Eye.
I'm 75 minutes into it by this point, and I'm practically a block of ice. I really cannot stress enough how cold it is. My fingers are like concrete lollipops. But I paid thirty quid for this so I refuse to give up -- I am soldiering on until death or the end.
After a quick look over the wall into Lambeth Palace we head across Lambeth Bridge to Victoria (there's some very fine architecture around Victoria -- much better than you'd imagine). Then we nip down the side of Buckingham Palace for a totally unnecessary look at Victoria Coach Station, and shortly after that we have to pause for fifteen minutes whilst the driver has a tea break. You might want to jump off at this point, but there's nothing much to visit in Victoria anyway, so you may as well just stay on and shiver.
The final stretch takes you up the east side of Hyde Park past Apsley House, Wellington Arch and Marble Arch. I have been on the bus for an incredible 2 1/2 hours by now, and even the sun has had enough. It's only 3 PM but she's clocked off early and left us to it. The Christmas lights are just beginning to come on in Oxford Street as we turn off towards the Marylebone Road and Madame Tussauds -- the end is in sight. How much longer? Not long now, thank God. Get ready for the big finish. The home straight takes you down the entire length of Regent Street, past the neon lights of Piccadilly Circus, and back to the beginning at Trafalgar Square.
The entire route took three hours from start to finish, and I fell off the bus half-dead at the end. Three hours! But do you know what? I was actually quite glad I did it because I enjoyed it. I'm still not sure it's worth thirty quid, though -- I still think that's a bit ridiculous. And in hindsight I think I'm going to recommend that you do the 'Yellow route' instead, because the 'Red route' is just too damn long. The yellow route is basically the same as what I've just described, but it skips the bit from Victoria to Madame Tussauds, and it doesn't go down Regent Street. But trust me when I say you don't want to sit on a bus for three hours because, bizarrely, it's almost as tiring as if you'd walked it. And I don't recommend it for kids, either. Plenty of guidebooks do, but how many kids enjoy sitting on a bus all day? None that I know.
Here are some more bus journeys…
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