The Original London Bus Tour: A review

For those who know me, I love London and I love doing all the touristy stuff that London has to offer. So when I had some friends in town a few weeks ago and they were keen on doing the Original London Bus tour, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve done it before (about 5 years ago) but it’s an opportunity to see one of my favourite cities again, I couldn’t say no.

We started the tour at Marble Arch but you can pretty much get on at most stops. There are three routes: The yellow route, the red route and the blue route. They each take around 2 hours and 15 minutes (if you don’t get off). The ticket also includes a FREE river cruise. Given that I have a love for the South Bank, this is my favourite part of the tour. Tickets cost £28 (or £26 if you book online in advance) and the ticket is valid for 24hours. So you could easily do one route one afternoon and the other two rotues the following morning (if you really want to see it ALL!). Under 5’s go free.

My friend Melanie was visiting from Germany with her daughter Mia (who had just turned 3). And my friends Sonya and Anushka were here from Hong Kong and Dubai. Naturally I took S with me but decided to leave his pram at home. I was slightly worried, given we were spending an entire afternoon out, but he was amazing. Both the kids were.

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We set out at about 2:15 once S and Mia woke from their naps and got on the tour bus at around 3pm. We went down Park Lane, through St. James Park, down Buckingham Gate, up through to Westminster, across a bridge to Waterloo, across a bridge again, down Fleet Street and up to St. Pauls. Back over the river to the South Bank, past London Bride and then over Tower Bridge (my favourite view of London) and to the Tower of London.

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We decided to get off there and get on the river cruise. It was a beautiful day, sunny with a slight breeze so thankfully the queue for the cruise didn’t put us off. The cruise is 2 parts funny and 1 part informative. The tour guides know how to keep the crowd interested, pointing out all the landmarks and making subtle jokes alongside.

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We got off at the pier by Westminster Station and decided to call it a day. The kids were getting tired and I wanted to make it home before over-tiredness kicked in.

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All in all it was a lovely afternoon out and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting London. It’s a great way to see the entire city and all the major landmarks in 24hrs. Children 4 years and upwards would enjoy it a lot more but our little two loved the sights, sounds, the experience of sitting on an open top bus and the idea of going on a boat. We took the tube home, literally covering almost every mode of transport in London! 🙂

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Things to do in London at Christmas Time

I was recently asked for some advice on things to do in London over Christmas for a couple and their 10’ish year old son. So here’s my list of the best things to do if you’re visiting London during Christmas.

1. Shopping – If you’re staying in town, you’ll have Oxford Street and Regents Street but if it’s too cold (they are coming from Hong Kong) then I’d suggest you head to Westfield. It’s not far, a few stops on the Central Line to Shepards Bush (from Bond Street) and you’re there. It’s a huge mall with all the high street outlets as well as high end fashion stores. Another shopping haven is Bicester Village. It’s in Oxford (there’s a direct bus from Marble Arch) and it takes alittle over an hour. It’s a designer shopping outlet (open air). You can get some pretty good deals there.
2. The lights on Oxford Street and Regents are usually amazing. Debenhams has undergone a total makeover and will be opening in November so I think their lights will be pretty spectacular. The windows in Selfridges (Oxford Street), Harvey Nicks and Harrods (Knightsbridge) are usually really good. You have to see Harrods at night, it’s lit up (all year round) and looks like a Golden Palace. Selfridges also have a huge Christmas shop in the basement.
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3. The great outdoors – Hyde Park have a winter wonderland. I’ve never been but have heard it is AMAZING so looking forward to getting back to London and heading there. They have an ice rink at Somerset House which is at Aldwych (you can catch the No. 13 bus from Baker Street going South). Diagonally across the road from there you can go up to Covent Garden and they turn the whole piazza into a Winter Haven with a 60ft tall tree!!
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4. Touritsy things to do – There’s Madame Tussauds, the Dungeons, the houses of parliament and the Tower of London (their son likes history). You can do the big red bus tour which also includes a river cruise. The commentary on that is really good and you learn so much about the city in such a short time. I’m just not sure how comfortable it’ll be riding on an open top bus in December though! There’s the London Eye which includes a 4D show at the end which is good. The Eye ride itself is okay. It takes 26 minutes to go around. Worth it if it’s a good day. The Harry Potter tour which is located at Watford is worth it for fans of the infamous Wizard. The British Museum (Tottenham Court Road), the National History Museum, the V&A (South Kensington), the Transport Museum (Covent Garden): they are all free to visit and well worth it.
5. Stuff for Kids – I only have one word…Hamleys! On Regents Street, it’s a must see for any child visiting London.
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6. The West End – Plays and Musicals: Although I’ve never seen a show on Broadway, people say the West End is a lot better. Maybe I’m biased Winking face I’ve heard the Book of Mormons is really good and 1 Man 2 Guvnors is very very funny. I intend on seeing both when I am back. I saw Wicked last year which was amazing. Mamma Mia (great to sing along to), The Lion King (the story was okay but worth watching it just for the sets and to see how they create the animals, etc), Phantom of the Opera (pretty dark but one of my favourites). My Fair Lady, Legally Blonde, Sister Act – they were all good. Ghost has been out for a couple of years now and I heard that is good too (it’s on my list!). If you like history then you may enjoy Les Miserables (based on the French revolution). Again I’ve heard fantastic reviews from some people and not so great reviews from others. There is a box office on Argyll Street (Opposite Niketown at Oxford Circus, beside Warehouse, the women’s clothing store). It’s called Stargreen Box Office. You can get great deals on theatre tickets there. I’d suggest you call them on the day, ask them for tickets for the same day and collect before the show. Good tickets for the top shows can be around £40+. Matinee shows are usually more reasonable and most theatres have matinee shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
7. Afternoon Tea – You’re in London, darling, how can you not have Afternoon Tea?! Personally I love good ol’ fashioned Richoux on St. Johns Wood High Street (they have other branches as well) but for a little something extra special, I’ve heard great things about Afternoon Tea at The Ritz and The Wolseley.
More than anything, being in London at Christmas is magical. It can be really cold but if you wrap up you won’t feel it so much. There’s heating on in all the stores and anywhere indoors so it’s only really while you’re outdoors that you’ll feel it. All the shops play Christmas songs, everyone’s in a really good mood as they shop and get ready for Christmas. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time!
Let me know if there’s anything I’m missing!
The List