Thursday, September 3, 2015

Live From The Lido Deck Does London: Big Bus Tours!

**Prior to our visit to London we were given complimentary passes for the Big Bus London Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. As always, my opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.

Visiting as much of London as possible in a short 3 day time frame was our goal. The obvious must see attractions were Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and the London Eye. The best way, we thought, to see as much as possible was with a hop on hop off tour so that we could get off at whichever landmark we wanted to see. Both day and night tours are available with over 40 total stops. They offer multiple types of buses, some were fully enclosed on top, some were partially enclosed and others were completely open on top. How do you tell what line the bus you are getting on is? As the bus approaches, take a look at the electronic screen. It will read across red line, blue line, etc. if you have any questions, ask the driver as you get on the bus.  All drivers we encountered were extremely friendly and made sure you were getting to where you needed to go.

                                               An example of the completely open top bus.

We took a lovely walk from our hotel in the Hammersmith District through Kensington and got on at the Kensington Gardens stop (Blue Line). We rode this a couple of stops to the Marble Arch so that we could meet with a BBT employee who could process our vouchers. There are plenty of people here as well as throughout different stops throughout the tour to answer any questions. Our vouchers were for the 48-hour hop on hop off tour which included the night tour, 3 walking tours as well as a free cruise along with River Thames with City Cruises. Once our tickets were processed we hopped on a red line bus, which we rode in its entirety. 

The Red Line tour has less total stops and shares many stops with the Blue Line but I think that the live commentary really added a lot to the tour. Our tour guide was able to tell us small tidbits and funny stories that helped break up some of the historical information. For anyone who doesn’t speak English, they offer a recorded commentary in 12 languages on both the red and blue line. The entire red line loop took about 2 hours.  We also rode the entire blue line, however it was hop on and off over a couple of days. When on the blue line, make sure you pick up your free pack of ear buds as you make your way past the driver and plug into the audio box for your seat to begin listening to the commentary.  Some of the most notable stops are Buckingham Palace, Picadilly Circus, driving through multiple historic districts, crossing London Bridge for your first view of the Tower Bridge and coming up to see Big Ben for first sighting of Big Ben as you approach Westminster Bridge.

                                                  These are the ear buds provided by Big Bus Tours.

Another thing to check of my London Bucket list was to see London at night. Tower Bridge, The London Eye and Big Ben look beautiful all lit up. After a day of sightseeing and shopping we decided to catch the night tour. We were in Picadilly Circus but towards the end so we walked down to the Trafalgar Square stop which is stop #6 on the night tour. This was a mistake. The first bus starts its route at 7:30 and they run every 15-20 minutes. The first bus came and it was packed and by packed I mean there wasn't even standing room. We opted to wait for the next bus and it was unfortunately the same thing. As my goal was to take pictures of everything this was not ideal. From the bottom of the bus the glass reflected so none of my pictures are good. The bus never really thinned out but towards the end we were able to head upstairs. I was disappointed that my pictures did not turn out but I am glad I got to see it. A lot of the time, my boyfriend or whoever I am traveling with, has to remind me to put the camera down and experience what I am taking photographs of.  

On Sunday afternoon we walked down to the Tower Pier after our tour of Tower Bridge. There are two companies that sell river cruises from this pier but you do not have to wait in the queue. Walk to the area where they are checking tickets and the person will highlight your free cruise ticket (found attached to your bus voucher) so that it cannot be used more than once. The boats come by every 30 or so minutes and offer seating up or down stairs. We chose to sit upstairs and member of the crew gave a commentary of the buildings we passed, which was nice and helped pass the time. The boat heads down towards Big Ben, stopping at Westminster Pier before heading across the River Thames to stop at The London Eye Pier. This was our stop, as we wanted to get in the queue for the eye. Had we stayed on however, we would have headed back up the River to the Greenwich Pier and then returned to Tower Pier. Our ride lasted about 20 minutes or so. The tour was nice, the river was not rolling and neither was the boat. If you tend to experience motion sickness with the slightest of movement, consider staying at the bottom. The only disappointment is that they do not go down pass the Parliament Building although they do not advertise that they do so that is not something I can hold against them. I would recommend City Cruises and would like to go back for a night cruise on my next trip. 

For a list of all stops on each type of tour, info on the walking tours, pricing, etc visit their website.
Big Bus Tours offers hop on hop off tours in multiple cities across the world, including many large cities in the United States. Check out their website for all locations and keep a look out for future reviews from me on other cities I visit with them!

For more information on taking a River Thames cruise with City Cruises, check out their website.

Tips for having a successful tour with Big Bus Tours

*If considering the night tour I recommend doing it during the week. We did ours on a Sunday. Also consider starting at the first bus stop for one of the first couple of buses. You can also just take the bus to the area you want to see and get off to take pictures if that is what you are interested in doing. Catch another bus or the tube back to your hotel.

*Look at the map before your trip and have a plan of what you want to see. This is also helpful if you plan to take the BBT buses to get around London as opposed to the Underground. If your hotel is close enough to a stop, this is a good option as there is no limit to the number of times you can hop on or off.  The map is also great because it also shows the closest underground stations, which helped us tremendously with planning our daily activities. 

 *Big Bus Tours also offers an App with all the bus details and route info. I did not use the App as I was on a limited international data plan but more information is available on their website.

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