Last summer when London made it onto our travel plan, I was excited at the prospect of visiting a new city, but also unsure of what to expect since I’m not really an Anglophile and have always been more interested in French or American history. Doug had visited the UK before, but didn’t feel expert enough to act as tour guide.
So, as we sketched out a rough itinerary for things to do over our three days, I decided I wanted the first half-day in London to come with an expert to provide me with some more history and context that would equip me for the rest of our time spent exploring. I came to the conclusion that the most affordable, comprehensive guide was going to be one of those tacky tourist buses. If you’ve visited a major city recently, you have seen them. The brightly-colored buses filled with tourists and a host speaking through a crackly microphone system. Quelle horreur, but I thought it was worth a try and bought my ticket.
Spoiler alert… I enjoyed it!
We used The Original Tour. We chose this company over other comparable ones because our ticket included the Thames river tour (which was great) and that we bought during a special which included an extra 24 hours if we felt like using the bus a second day.
- When the weather was nice, riding in the open-air top level was really awesome. Red double-decker buses are so stereotypically linked to London for me, so riding in the top of this red tour bus was great.
- The hop-off, hop-on nature of the ticket worked out really well for us when the bus stopped at something that was on our checklist, like Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey. Saved us some time and some walking!
- I learned things about that I wouldn’t have read on my own, like about Green Park or particular buildings that used to have royal significance.
- I really enjoyed the Thames cruise that was included in our ticket. The guide was hilarious.
- Not all of the lines had live guides, and the lines with recorded guides were often narrating ahead of where we actually were in the city due to traffic or other delays.
- Due to when and where we got back on the bus, we occasionally repeated some segments of the tour. We were happy to get off our feet though (so much walking!)
- The live guides varied in quality. One or two really knew their history and answered questions well, another one seemed like she just wanted to rehearse her stand-up comedy material.
- The bus was moving the whole time (that’s a given) and as a result taking photos from this vantage point resulted in a lot of blurry crooked shots like the one I’ve shared here.
Our time using the bus came to a definite end when the skies opened up and started dumping rain on us. We quickly zipped down to the lower level, but water was coming down the stairs and we continued to get wet. So we jumped off, got a coffee, and found indoors activities for the rest of the afternoon.
So, in conclusion, if you find yourself in a city that you know little about (especially if you think you really ought to know more), consider riding on one of these buses for about a half-day. You will learn something and get your bearings to help the rest of the trip go smoothly. And yes, they are touristy and cheesy. But sometimes, you gotta eat humble pie and just enjoy the experience. 🙂
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