Planning a trip to London? I used to scoff at Big Bus tours because they are “touristy.” However, I've now tried Big Bus in London and Washington D.C. and have decided that they are actually a fun, low-stress way to see a new city.
My family used Big Bus as transportation and tour on our first full day in London. It was easy to use, and we saw more of the city that day than any other day of our trip. My kids (ages 11 and 14) loved riding in the open upper deck, and never complained about taking a break from all the walking we did on other days of our trip.
Here's are my tips for making the most of your Big Bus Tour in London.
What is a Big Bus Tour?
Big Bus tours are private double-decker buses that drive through the most visited and well-known sections of London. Every bus has a live tour guide or recorded narration that tells you more about what you're seeing.
You can get off the bus anytime to spend more time at any of the attractions along the way. There are 40+ stops between 4 routes. When you're done, climb on the next Big Bus that comes by and continue your tour. Your wait will probably be 15 minutes or less.
Big Bus is an activity and a full-day's transportation rolled into one. The bus will stop near most major activities in London. You can ride the bus, see the sights, and hop off for activities anytime you want. When you're finished, hop back on the next Big Bus that comes by. Buses should arrive every few minutes.
You can start and end your day at any Big Bus stop. We arrived with our passes, and they were activated as we boarded. We chose a beginning and end point within walking distance of our hotel.
Which Route is Best?
Stick with the Red Tour if this is your first trip to London and you only have one day on Big Bus.
The Red Tour is the Central London route, which will take you past London's most famous landmarks, including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London and more. This is the only route with a live tour guide.
Big Bus has four routes to choose from – red, blue, orange and green. You can switch to any route any time, and back again at no extra cost.
We planned to spend 2-3 hours just riding without hopping off, and imagined that we might transfer to the blue or orange route to see more of the city. It turned out that the Red Tour, with stops at St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London, took the whole day.
See all the routes and plan your day at https://www.bigbustours.com/london.
Keep Activities Short
Aim for smaller museums or landmarks that will not take more than an hour or so – and not too many of them – on your Big Bus day. This will give you time to see more of London on the bus.
We stopped at St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London on our Big Bus day. From a transportation perspective, these were good choices for us because they weren't very close to our hotel or other activities on our itinerary. On the other hand, the Tower of London is a major activity that can easily take 2-3 hours (or more) if you love history.
If you know you'll want to spend a lot of time at a single activity or neighborhood, do that on a different day. You'll get the most for your money if you use Big Bus to see more places.
Save Time to Ride
You may want to spend some time just riding the bus, without hopping off at all. This is what we did after we finished at the Tower of London in the afternoon.
We passed neighborhoods and landmarks that I'd heard about, but might never have seen without Big Bus. The recorded narration or live guide filled in the details. It was a great way to become more familiar with a new city.
If you just take the Red Route without hopping off, a round trip will take about 2 hours 20 minutes.
Dress for the Weather
Climbing to the open-air upper deck on your Big Bus will be a no-brainer for most families. It has the best unobstructed views. Dress for the weather so that rain or cold won't drive you into the sheltered lower deck too easily.
Related: Packing Tips from our London Trip
Expect Heavy Traffic
Be careful about scheduling other activities on your Big Bus day. We had evening tickets to Les Miserables in the West End and figured that we had plenty of time to take Big Bus from the Tower of London to Leicester Square. However, afternoon traffic was so slow that we had to settle for a grab-and-go dinner to arrive at the theatre in time.
Slow traffic means you have time to take photos and soak up the scenery while someone else worries about driving. However, the Underground will be more efficient if you need to get somewhere quickly.
Related: How to Get Theatre Tickets in London
Ways to Save
The current price for the 1-day Classic Ticket is £39 per adult if you buy in London when you board the bus. There are several easy ways to save money on your Big Bus ticket.
Buy Online – You'll save a few pounds on each pass when you buy in advance through the official website. Learn more at www.bigbustours.com/london.
The London Pass – One full day on Big Bus is included with The London Pass. This bundle-and-save pass also includes popular activities like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Churchill War Rooms and many more. Learn more about The London Pass at londonpass.com.
Upgrade your ticket – It only costs an extra £5-10 to add a second or third day to your Big Bus ticket. If you love the low-stress Big Bus experience, this option is a good way to see London for as little as £15 per day.
Every member of my family loved our Big Bus Tour in London and we recommend it. We saw a lot more of the city than we could have seen on foot or on the Underground. The tour guide/recorded narration was informative. We didn't need to spend any other money on transportation that day, and never worried about getting lost.
I hope that our experience helps your family make the most of your time and money in London.
Disclosure: My family received complimentary 2-Day London Passes for the purpose of review. Big Bus is included in The London Pass. All opinions are my own.