I have officially become a full-fledged tourist.
I traveled around London on one of those double-decker open-top buses, leaning off the sides to snap pictures at buildings and landmarks, without actually getting off the bus to get better acquainted, while ticking sites off my list of things to see. Yep, I was that tourist.
Ok, so I wasn’t actually that bad. I actually did walk plenty of London’s streets and sites on my own two feet. But this is my first time to London, and I only had 2 full days to spend there. And London is HUGE. There was no way I could see everything I wanted to just relying on the subway and my feet.
So when we started seeing those open-top tour buses everywhere, we hopped onto one.
And guess what? It was seriously fun! I’ve never done one of these city bus tours before, and it actually turned out to be a pretty perfect way to see London. There’s nothing quite like seeing a city from the upper level of a bus. You get the best views and I also really enjoyed the commentary provided. It allowed me to learn some fun facts about each site/neighborhood that I otherwise would never know.
Since the world does not need yet another “things to see in London” article, I thought I’d take you along with me on a visual tour of London from an open-top bus, while sharing some of the more interesting London legends and bits of trivia that I picked up from this tour!
Picture quality and composition only as good as it can be when taken from a fast moving bus.
St. Paul’s Cathedral stands 365 feet high, 1 foot for each day of the year. Queen Anne’s statue stands in front of the church. She had a tough life with 11 of her 17 children dying in young age. And rather than being remembered for her political reforms, she was more remembered for her fondness of alcohol. And so, her statue was built with her back to the church and facing a brandy shop that used to be at the corner.
Trafalgar Square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar and today houses the National Gallery. In its 4 corners are 4 statues: 3 of notable generals, and 1 of…. a huge blue chicken? It was supposed to hold a statue of William IV, however, he didn’t have enough money for the statue to be built. Instead, since the late 1900’s, in its place has been a series of commissioned sculptures (changing every 18 months or so). Currently, it’s a giant chicken painted French blue. Some say it’s to symbolize England’s victory over France in the Battle of Trafalgar.
Also in Trafalgar Square is Nelson’s column, guarded by 4 lions. The artist that was commissioned to sculpt the lions had no idea what lions looked like. He used the hind legs of his Labrador and the front paws of his cat as inspiration. But he was completely stuck when it came to the head. It was just his luck that a lion at the London zoo died, so it was taxidermied and given to him as his model.
The Savoy Hotel is one of London’s most luxury hotels. It is thought to be extremely unlucky if 13 guests sit down at a table. At Hotel Savoy, if 13 people happen to sit down to dine, the waiter will place a cat sculpture at the table to bring the total count to 14.
The Marble Arch was designed in 1827 to be the state entrance to Buckingham Palace. The design was based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. However, the story goes that the Queen hated the design so much that she purposely designed the state coaches to be too large to fit through. And so it was moved to Hyde Park instead. Today, it is located on a large traffic island.
Not pictured: London has the most green spaces out of all large cities in the world. All parks and gardens are perfectly manicured and filled with flowers. However Green Park is the only park without a flower bed. Legend goes that King Charles II’s wife once handed him a flower and asked him to give it to the most beautiful girl in the park. She closed her eyes and waited. And when she opened them, she found that he had given it to a random girl passing by. She was so mad that she ripped out all the flowers in the park, never to be replaced.
And lastly, enjoy some other pictures from the streets of London without my commentary!
The Original Tour – a quick review
We chose to spend our day with the Original Tour. I thought the bus tour actually offered a pretty good deal. A ticket is valid for 24 hours, and includes a Thames River cruise and some walking tours (none of which we did… honestly, who has time for that?!). The tour offers 3 routes to choose from. While the routes have some overlapping of sites, they go to different places and all three together provide a comprehensive tour of London.
But did I mention that London is HUGE? There was no way that we could cover everything in just one day on the bus, much less get off to walk around at each site. I’d recommend having an idea beforehand of which areas you want to explore more in depth, and use the bus as your transportation there. Realistically, you probably only have time to hop-off at 3-4 places, so plan wisely.
One thing that annoyed me about this particular company is that it seemed to take FOREVER in between buses. When we were ready to hop-on again, it seemed like that we waited ages for the next bus to come along (wasting precious time). And during our waiting period, probably 5 or 6 Big Bus London buses would come by and leave. Why so slow, Original Tour??
Also keep in mind that traveling on a tour bus means battling the surface street traffic. Our entire 2nd day on the bus was spent getting from Victoria to the Tower Bridge, which took a miserable 3 hours due to the horrific London traffic. It was a good thing that our ticket had expired by then, because we were so over it.
Overall, despite some drawbacks, I think this was a good introduction to London on a limited schedule. I really enjoyed not having to plan anything and letting someone else be the driver (literally!).
In case you ever want to join this kinda-awesome-but-slow tour, here are the practical information:
- Price: £29 for 24 hours. Includes a Thames River Cruise and walking tours.
- Hours: (in summer) Starts around 8:30 am and the last tour leaves from Leicester Square at 8 pm.
- 3 routes to choose from, all with commentary. The Yellow Route is the only one that contains live commentary.
Have you taken a city bus tour? What’s your favorite way to see a new city?
This post is linked up at Budget Travelers Sandbox with Nancie.