London's Bus Tours – Worth Doing?

London's Bus Tours – Worth Doing?

I don’t really like to do typical tourist things when I visit a place. But on those occasions when I do something really touristy, I try to be as discreet about it as possible and not look like a tourist.

However.

Sometimes I just go ahead and fork out the money for the standard tourist experience because either (a) I’m doubting whether my desire to not be a typical tourist is well founded, or (b) I’m running short on time and have realized that I might not get to see all of the “must-see” places.

On my last trip to London, I had spent what I considered to be far too much time in the hotel room with my surly teenage son, who didn’t really want to go out and see London. (Grrr. Teenagers!) By our next-to-last day there, I decided to go ahead and take the Big Bus Tour, dragging him with me whether he wanted to go or not.

The biggest benefit of going on the tour was that we got to see all of the major landmarks in the city in one fell swoop. The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, The Monument to the Great Fire, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, etc.  If I had tried to do it all on foot it would have taken several days.

big bus tower of london
The Tower of London, as seen from the bus.

I enjoyed the open air aspect of the bus.  I was able to take pictures (always my #1 goal when in a new place) without worrying about reflections off windows, things getting in the way, etc.  If I needed to lean off the side, I did.  If I needed to turn around in my seat, I did.

Another benefit was that it gave me a much different perspective than if I had been walking along the sidewalk at those places. I could not have captured the confusion and chaos at Piccadilly Circus this well if I had been at street level.

big bus picadilly circus.JPG

The bus took us across Tower Bridge, which also gave a different experience than just admiring it from afar.

big bus tower bridge 8

But perhaps the best thing about being on the bus was that we got to see what we believe was a piece of Banksy art. The statue of George III had been modified to wear a jester’s cap made of traffic cones.  I don’t know if we would have seen it otherwise.

big bus banksy 2.JPG

While the bus companies offer hop-on, hop-off stops throughout the city, to take advantage of that feature is not the best value. If you use the bus to get to a major attraction (say, the Tower of London), you will spend several hours there before you need to hop back on the bus. At most, you would get transportation to/from two or three stops. The bus tours cost an adult an average of $32, but using the Tube makes much more sense, when you consider that London’s public transportation system is exceptionally efficient and easy to use.

So my recommendation is to utilize the bus tours as just what they were intended to be – a tour, and not for transportation. The promise of convenience in their hop-on, hop-off service is not a good value for your money.

I rode the Big Bus Tour, but there are several others that operate in London. Compare prices and routes before booking.

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