Big Bus Tours review
I haven't been to London for months and when I returned to the city today there were skyscrapers up that were still stone stumps six months ago. There were statues of people who weren't even dead last September. There were pigeons I'd never met before, new cycle lines all over the goddam place -- I felt like a tourist wandering around on their very first day. So I thought, what do tourists always do on their very first morning? A bus tour!
I don't usually recommend bus tours because of their ridiculously high prices (tourists haven't worked out the exchange rate on their very first morning, so they don't realise that a thirty-five quid ticket is nearly fifty dollars gone before lunch), but they're all right for a certain type of person -- the ones who like to tick off lots of landmarks so they can tell everybody that they've seen them.
There are several buses to choose from but you definitely want the red route because that has a live guide onboard. The blue route goes all around the houses and you'll probably still be sitting on it past midnight. You can pick the buses up at any stop you want but I'm going to start off by Marble Arch -- stop No.5 (check their website for a map of all the stops).
We're trundling down Park Lane now. You never travel quicker than a trundle in London. Our guide looks about sixty years old and is wearing a straw boater hat and 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 Gardens (you can't see anything over the wall) and get a quick peek at the Royal Mews before skirting round the western side of the palace. You can just about see a thin sliver of the palace courtyard if you crane your neck to the left, but you can't see the balcony at the front. That's literally all you see of the Queen's house.
So far so so-so, but now comes the good stuff... we get a wonderful view of Westminster Abbey as we inch up Tothill Street, and you'll actually be happy for the traffic now because it gives you the chance to take a few photos while the bus is standing still. Then we head around Parliament Square for a good look at Big Ben. I was hoping we were going to turn left here but he detoured over Westminster Bridge and round the back of Waterloo.
After passing the London Eye we head back over Waterloo Bridge to catch the tail end of the Strand. Highlights include the Royal Courts of Justice (on the left), a few Tudor-looking buildings on the right, and the Temple Bar monument (dragon-topped column in the middle). Then we see the distant dome of St Paul's Cathedral as we pass up 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 -- I can't believe how many have sprouted up in six months! These things grow quicker than weeds. When we reach the Corinthian-columned Royal Exchange we have to twist our heads 360 degrees to see the front of Mansion House -- that's where the Lord Mayor lives.
Then we head over London Bridge for a look at 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 you might want to get off and stretch your legs.
When he reaches Victoria Embankment we get some nice views of the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye again before he takes an unexpected right to weedle his way back onto the Strand, before disappointingly re-crossing the river towards Waterloo. Then it's back over Westminster Bridge and finally into Whitehall -- about time!
Get your camera ready and snap some speedy photos of Downing Street on the left (look for a crowd of people standing in front of a big black iron gate), and then the sentry soldiers outside Horse Guards straight after. Nelson's Column arrives quickly up ahead. They should hand out an extra pair of eyes for this section because there's a lot to see and not enough time to see it. As we do a loop around Trafalgar Square we get a great view of the National Gallery before heading up Pall Mall and Waterloo Place towards Piccadilly Circus. Get your camera out again and take a photo of Eros and the neon lights, and then get off outside the Ritz Hotel and book yourself a suite -- it's surprising how tiring just sitting on a bus can be.
Here are some more bus journeys…
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