My family and I recently had a day trip to London. On this visit, we booked an London open top bus tour with The Original Tour.
We live in Manchester and don’t visit London as a family very often, so when we do I always feel huge pressure to make sure we see all the famous landmarks and buildings that the kids have heard of in the space of one day. This usually involves a lot of walking and riding of the tube, which I find quite exhausting, not to mention the little people!!
In the pre-children days, my husband and I loved sightseeing breaks and always found an open top bus tour to be a great, relaxing way of getting our bearings in a city, and seeing the key sights. In fact, in Madrid we were so relaxed that we fell asleep on the bus in the scorching sun and woke up an hour later with third degree burns to our foreheads, having completed the entire circuit without seeing any of the sights. Little chance of that on this trip though, with our 9, 7 and 5 year olds in tow!
The Original Tours offer 6 different routes around London, which are colour coded. Your ticket can be used any time in the 24 hours after it’s been validated (or 48 hours if you book before end of February 2016), and you are free to hop on and off the bus at any of the 80+ stops on any of the various routes. Buses leave from each stop every 10 – 15 minutes so you’re never waiting long for a bus, and operate from 8.30am until 6pm. There are quite a number of other bus tour companies, but the buses are clearly marked with ‘Original Tours’ so you can’t go wrong. If you book in advance, you get sent a link to the route planners, and these are available on the buses too. These are also on Original Tours website, along with comprehensive FAQs covering things like taking pushchairs (you can). We were able to get off the train at Euston and the red route bus stop was a 5 minute walk away. It seems that there are stops very close to all major railway stations.
We opted for the red route as it takes in all the famous sights that the children love, and has a special radio channel specially for children, with engaging commentary about the sights en route. The blue route also has the children’s channel, and on each of these routes children can pick up an activity pack, with quizzes and puzzles. I actually found the children’s commentary just as interesting as the adult one. Rosie, 5, loved listening to the radio with her own headphones and listened to the commentary in each of the 8 languages on offer. We never had any problem finding a seat on the top of the bus, and often the children had a double seat each (which they seemed to find very exciting!). As everyone is plugged into their headphones, high pitched kiddie chatter doesn’t annoy any of your fellow sightseers either, which is a welcome bonus!
We decided to visit the Tower of London en route, and we were able to buy discounted tickets on the bus and avoid all the queues!!! We all loved visiting the dungeons, learning about the Princes in the Tower, sitting on the old toilet, trying to make a Beefeater laugh (without success), seeing the ravens and meeting French ‘prisoners’ in the grounds. Included in the price of the ticket is a boat trip on the Thames. As luck would have it, one of the embarking points was right next to the exit to the Tower at Tower Pier and a boat was just about to leave. There was a choice of a cruise all the way to Greenwich or just up to Westminster. We opted to go to Westminster, as we wanted to get off at the Houses of Parliament. We showed our tickets, and headed up to the top deck. The boat was pretty busy but we were able to stand right at the front and take in views of Tower Bridge, the Globe theatre, London Eye, Gherkin and the Shard. We all loved the river cruise and it was definitely the highlight of everyone’s day.
The boat dropped us at Westminster Pier, and we went on foot to the Houses of Parliament and of course Big Ben. Charlie enjoyed telling us that Big Ben isn’t actually the clock, it’s the bell. Who knew?! (ok, everyone except me!). Rosie had been learning about Guy Fawkes at school so was very interested to see where it all nearly happened. We hopped back on the bus to Buckingham Palace and had a lovely autumnal walk through Green Park to get to the final bus stop which would take us back to Euston.
One of the great things about seeing London from the top of a bus is that you get chance to really look at the city’s beautiful old buildings lining every street. Something that is simply impossible from ground level when sharing the pavement with hordes of other tourists and trying not to lose a child! With children in tow, it’s a much more relaxing way to see the city than walking or taking the tube. The tour takes in certain sights that we wanted to show the children (such as Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch and Trafalgar Square) but where we wouldn’t want to necessarily spend a huge amount of time or make a special trip. Around these kinds of landmarks, the bus moves pretty slowly in the London traffic, so you can take in the sights without actually having to get off the bus at all!! All in all, I’d thoroughly recommend an Original Tours bus tour as a great and relaxing way to visit London with young children.
The only thing I thought would make the experience slightly better (and I’m nitpicking here) is the ticket system. We had to show our individual tickets (which were like flimsy paper receipts) every time we got on the bus. Of course, we could never remember where we’d stuffed them when it came to show them again! It would be much easier if you were each given a paper wristband to show the driver.
NB: Jane and her family received a family ticket for the bus tour for the purpose of the review but all views are her own.
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Karen Beddow founded Mini Travellers in 2014 while doing what she loves most...going on holiday!
Mini Travellers is for parents looking for holiday ideas, destination reviews, days out and things to do with the kids. We also have family travel tips, activity ideas and all other things family holiday related. Take a look at some of our latest reviews for holidays and day trips in the UK.