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Comparing London’s Hop On Hop Off Open Top Sightseeing Buses

Author: Bob Handford
This a broad discussion of the Hop on, Hop Off Sightseeing buses so popular in London.

What everybody agrees on is that Hop on, Hop Off Sightseeing buses are an excellent introductory orientation for the first time visitor to London.. However Hop on, Hop Off Sightseeing buses are not meant to be a replacement for London\’s excellent public transport.

London is a 24×7 city and the Hoho buses run basically 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. I would suggest you only need 1 initial day of using the HoHo buses to get a feel of London, use the guides on the buses to bounce of ideas then use public transport to get around for the rest of your trip.

The Three Major Hop on, Hop Off Operators

The three main operators of hop on. hop off sightseeing buses in London are:

a) Original London Tour
b) Big Bus
c) Golden Tours Panorama

Original London Tour and the Big Bus are the established operators and arguably are near mirror images of each other in term of the product being offered. Anecdotally they seem to have around equal market share.

Golden Tours are the new kids on the block trying to get traction in the market. However they have now been going 3 years and look to be a permanent fixture. Their product offering has gradually expanded to be almost as comprehensive as Big Bus and OLT – but not quite.

What Are The Differences Between the 3 Operators?

All three services offer essentially  the same product in very similar vehicles.

London is quite spread out and all services have more than one service route to cover the attractions.
Each operator has two routes that largely duplicate one another covering the West End and along the river to the Tower of London, this is where the biggest customer demand is and all the most popular attractions are.
To the west of this core area are the Kensington museums, Harrods, Kensington Place and the hotel districts around Gloucester Road. For the purposes of this article we’ll treat this area as also part of the core area.

All three services main routes cover this core sightseeing area with very little variation between each operator.

Main Attractions Not Covered by HoHo Service
Notable attractions for not being visited by any HoHo bus are the London Zoo, Camden Lock Market and the Imperial War Museum.

Hotel Districts Not Covered by HoHo Service
The only major hotel district in the centre of London not covered by HoHo buses is Earls Court – but you can walk to Gloucester Road in 10 minutes where all 3 operators operate .
For those in the Bayswater, Lancaster Gate and Paddington areas Big Bus has a main route stopping while the other two have hotel connector services.

Commentary And Audio Guides
In Bob\’s opinion if you are fluent in English its well worth opting for the guided routes. Guides differ a lot and its pot luck on the individual guide you get but most are very informative, good fun and a big plus.
All three operators have a main route with an English speaking live guide.

Audio guides are available on all services, but languages supported varies between operator
OLT : French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, German, Japanese & Kids’ Channel
Big Bus : French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin and Russian
Golden Tours: : French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, German, Japanese

All three services start up main sightseeing services around 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and start winding down about 5 p.m.
Frequencies vary by season but in the peak summer season with Big Bus and OLT you’ll be very unlucky to wait 10 minutes.
Golden Tours are less frequent, but still very acceptable frequencies

Golden Tours Sightseeing Bus

Price Comparison - Which Is Cheapest?

Broadly Big Bus and Original London Tour go head to head on price with only small differences. At any one time either can be cheapest. They both offer a very similar service with only subtle differences.
Both Big Bus and OLT  offer a 24 hour ticket, Big Bus also offers a  48 hour ticket that gives a free night tour as a bonus. During the off-peak months both regularly have “extra day free promotions” and in 2015 Big Bus have been changing their offerings quite regularly.

Golden Tours broadly mirror the big 2 and have much improved the scope of their offering since starting up. You can still make the argument that Golden Tours are not quite on par with Big Bus and OLT but there is now little in it.
Golden Tours are the softest on price and also offer 24,48 or 72 hour tickets.

Big Bus, OLT and Golden Tours tickets all use ticketing measured in 24 hour blocks, whether it be 24,48 or 72 durations.
So, if you start using a 48 hour ticket (the time you step on the first bus or get your ticket validated) on a Monday at 2 p.m. the tickets expire at 2 p.m. on the Wednesday.

Normally if one operator changes their price or implements a promotion the other two react within hours.

Winter 48 Hours For The Price Of 24 Hours Promotion
In the winter months all operators traditionally offer a free days promotion.
In 2015/2016 Original London Tours are offering a 48 hours for the price of 24 hours free upgrade plus extending the river cruise validity further down river to Greenwich.
Big Bus are giving an extra 24 hours free on both 24 and 48 hour tickets.
This offer applies to all tours taken by the end of February for both operators.

Promotional Codes
Whilst there are from time to time the odd promotional code available for small discounts, this is not North America.
The best price is normally gained by the use of the winter promotion above, the advance on-line tickets as detailed in the paragraph below and if you are visiting one of the major attractions getting a sightseeing bus and attraction package, (see section below)

The Cheapest Prices Are In Advance On-Line
You can buy tickets on the day but the cheapest prices are on-line, direct from each operators web-site.

Important! Big Differences Between Ticketing Conditions On Lowest Prices

It is tempting to choose between tours purely on lowest price, this can be a significant mistake.
The cheapest tickets are purchased on-line direct from the respective web sites of each company. You pay using a credit/debit card and a confirmation/voucher is e-mailed to you immediately.
However, on-line tickets do have  different booking conditions between the companies, so do factor these differences into your purchasing decision.

Original London Tour Discounted On-Line Tickets
The good news is that vouchers can be redeemed at any time within six months of purchase – there are no restrictions, the best company with regards flexibility.

The OLT flexibility is particularly useful if the first day in London it rains or you overseleep. The flexibility allows you to delay the start by a few hours or indeed by a day.
Both Big Bus and Golden Tours you have to stipulate the first day you want to travel when you purchase. Big Bus, Golden Tours and OLT have tickets in blocks of 24 hours so if you are late starting at say 2 p.m. your ticket lasts the full duration until 2 p.m. in 1,2 or 3 days time.

OLT, Big Bus and Golden Tours you simply validate your e-ticket when boarding the first bus anywhere on the network, your time using the ticket starts from this point.

Big Bus Discounted On-Line Tickets
The cheapest tickets require you to stipulate the exact date you want to start using the ticket. So if it rains…
Big Bus have tickets for 24 or 48 hours.

Golden Tours Discounted On-Line Tickets
Golden Tours have the same advantages and disadvantages as Big Bus with regards ticketing conditions.
The only real difference is that Golden Tours tickets are for 24,48 or 72 hours while Big Bus have tickets for 24 or 48 hours only, though with Big Bus you get a free night tour on the 48 hour ticket..

Big Bus - Now Included In The London Pass

Original London Tour & Attravtion PackagesThe London Pass is a flat rate sightseeing pass to many (but not all) of London’s main sightseeing attractions. You can buy a London Pass for 1,2,3,6 or 10 day durations.
The London Pass gives you entry into over 60 London tourist attractions and a river cruise on the River Thames.
The London Pass also now includes use of the Golden Tours Hop On Hop Off bus for the first day only of you using the London Pass, whatever the duration of the London Pass.
The London Pass Discussed Including Current Discount Codes Available

Save Money - Buy Attraction Tickets & Bus Tour In One Package

If one of London’s major sights like the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye etc are on your must see list when in London, you can get an additional discount by purchasing attraction tickets plus sightseeing tour in one package in advance from the Original London Tour.

The beauty of this promotion is that you don’t have to use the attraction tickets on the days you are using the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus

Original London Tour & Attravtion Packages

Free River Cruises and Walking Tours

Both Big Bus and OLT use the same river cruise company, City Cruises. In Bob\’s opinion City Cruises are better received than Thames Clipper used by Golden Tours.
The Thames Cruise should be a highlight of your day, I would recommend you take advantage of the facility. The cruise itself lasts about 30/40 minutes.

Big Bus and OLT both offer three walking tours. A royalty/changing of the guard walk, a pop music/media walk and a Jack The Ripper/ Gruesome walk. Bob has only joined the OLT walks and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the guiding offered. They will each take 75-90 minutes of your day though.

Golden Tours just has at the moment a daily royalty walk and a not daily Beatles themed walk.

You have to take the river cruises and walks on the same days as your bus tour ticket. You cannot take them another day.


In summary Big Bus and OLT are very, very similar with little to choose between them. You might identify one of the minor differences as being significant to your individual needs.

Golden Tours has grown and offer a near identical product to the big two. Lower frequencies, less walking tours and in Bob’s opinion not so good a river cruise as OLT/Big Bus means its not quite on parity yet.
However Golden Tours is softest on price.

Links To London's Major Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Buses

Original London Tour Tickets

Big Bus London Tour Tickets
Panorama 24 hour London Tour Tickets

Questions and Discussion

If you have any questions or have anything you wish to add please use the discussion facility below.
I\’ll normally get back to you within 24 hours.

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  • Carmen Mo

    Hi Bob, my daughters arrive in London on January 1 on their first stop of a two+ week backpacking trip. The plan to stay in a hostel and us the hoho bus to get oriented with the city. What is the best central and safest location for them to stay in? Someone recommended picadilly circus! but I’m interested to hear your insight. They arrive day 1 and depart on day 5.

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      London has no downtown area in the North American sense, so for backpackers/leisure travellers location (as long as its in the zone 1 area of the London public transport system) doesn’t make too much difference.

      Piccadilly is in the centre of the theatre/nightlife district of London and is mostly 4/5 star hotels catering for those on business expenses and first timers from North America who feel they need to be in what they think is the centre of the city.
      The hostels I am aware of around Piccadilly get feedback of high relative price/low quality.

      In my opinion the nicest areas to stay for the budget leisure traveller would be Bloomsbury, Earls Court, Bayswater or Victoria but that’s just a personal decision.

      Personal safety is not really an issue in Central London with the normal precautions.
      There are some popular hostels up by the Kings Cross/St Pancras Station area and once you get away from the station area there are parts there I would not recommend walking alone in the early hours in the back-streets.

      In terms of quality the YHA hostels get good feedback and of the independents the Safestay Hostels are similar

      • Carmen Mo

        Thank you Bob! Your reply is very helpful.

  • Ridha

    Hi Bob,
    I’m travelling to London on 9th of December and my Hotel is at walking distance from Victoria Station. what is the best way to visit London in 3 days? Is there any HoHo bus in Victoria station and what is the best company to use? Many Thanks

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      I don’t think there is any universal “best” way of seeing London
      You are only here for 3 days so you are only going to be able to experience a small part of London.
      For 3 days you need to first prioritise what it is you want to see and experience and where your interests are, otherwise you’ll end up probably on the well worn tourist trail which can be expensive and probably not a good use of your time if your main interest is not English history, architecture and churches/cathedrals

      Personally if this is your first time I’d use a hop-on. hop off bus tour for the first day which is a great way to get orientated very efficiently with London which is a very spread out city.
      Victoria is a major pick-up point for all the HoHo buses
      This should enable you to strike out on days 2 and 3 independently by public transport, ideally walking as much as possible.

  • Mark Wolf

    Hello, very informative….My wife and I will be in London at the Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel for 3 day prior to a CIE tour of England, Scotland and Ireland.
    was just wondering, How far are these hop on hop off tour buses are from the Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel. Also we would like to see the Major sites such as London bridge, Tower of London, Westminister, Also would like to get admissions to the sites also…
    Having no idea of which to go with. In your best opinion, which would you consider our best bet. We would like to listen to a tour guide….also waiting a little for a bus is not a problem for us. Thank you for all the information.
    BTW…the dates will be Oct 6,7 and 8th 2016

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      The HoHo buses are a great first day in London experience. London is pread out with no “downtown” area is the North American sense and ist a very efficient way of getting an overview and orientated and the commentary of the live guides are surprisingly good.

      The Chesterfield is about 400 yards from Green Park Underground Station where the main routes of all the HoHo buses have a stop.

      The HoHo buses (or any vehicle) are not great as an efficient way of getting around so for the 2nd/3rd day just get an Oyster card each and use the Underground, and try and walk as much as possible with a good tourist street map after reseraching the aspects of London that are of natural interest to you.

  • Andy W

    Hi Bob,

    We want to decide whether to go HOHO on 11/26 on Friday, or 11/27 on Saturday. Any take on whether a weekday or a weekend day works better?

    Thanks for this forum. It is helpful!

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      The only real difference is that traffic may be lighter on a Saturday than Friday, but on a Saturday there is more scope for events and road closures.

      Given all the HoHo operators are giving an extra 24 hours free on their 24 hour tickets in the winter months may as well get it for Friday and use it for both days?

      • Andy W

        Yes, that will probably be the plan. Our stay in London is only 2.5 days, so that we hope to fit sightseeing into a single day and figure it out from there. We will also be going to London museums, which would be more crowded on Saturdays, but worth dealing with.

  • ZawMin Min Oo

    Hi Bob
    I will be London from 31st OCT to 14th Nov.
    I will be in The Bridge Hotel, 30 , Borough Street, SE1 0Aj.
    How can I join the HOHO bus from my hotel.
    If It is Possible , I want to join on 7 th Nov or 8Th Nov.
    Thanks alot

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      It’s about a 20 minute walk from your hotel to the nearest HoHo bus stops serving the Tate Modern and Globe Theatre – bus stops are slightly different depending on HoHo provider

  • omar mukthar

    Hi Bob

    Thx for the HOHO article and for answering all queries from readers.

    I will in London between 29Nov-3Dec. I will be with my wife and 3 y/o son and we’ll be based at Earls Court. We are considering the HOHO bus as is seems real convenient. However, using this service, I suppose we may not be able to enjoy the 2for1 offers for London attractions that require us to present a paper train ticket.

    Please explain if my understanding is correct; and if so, would you be able to suggest a way around this issue?

    A big thank you.

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      The Hoho buses do not come out to Earls Court, nearest they come out is Gloucester Road Underground Station about a 10 minute walk from Earls Court
      I would not recommend at all using Hoho buses as the way you get around London, its very time consuming and slow and only runs 9 to about 6 so will severely limit what you can experience in London

      Hoho buses are very good for an initial day to get orientated with London which is very spread out and the commentaries are surprisingly good and at the momemt all the operators are offering an extra 24 hours free
      The backbone of you transport needs should be the Underground supplemented by red buses.

      If you want to qualify 2 for 1 there no doubt will be a solution even though there are no railway stations near Earls Court
      If you can advise your arrival/departure point in London i could probably be more helpful in this respect

      • omar mukthar

        That’s a super detailed reply, Bob. Thank you so much.

        I will be arriving at Heathrow on 29Nov at 7AM. Will be leaving for Paris on Eurostar from London St Pancras Int’l at 11AM on 3Dec.

        And we hope to visit the following paid attractions during our stay in London: transport museum, tower of london, tower bridge, HMS belfast, Thames Cruise.

        Thanks in advance, You have been of great help.

        • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

          Afraid there is no easy way of qualifying for 2 for 1 with that intineray
          I suspect the compromise is to get Oyster Cards at Heathroow for travel to Earls Court and used as the backbone for your travel needs on public transport
          If you can get the 2 for 1 visits done in 1 or possibly 2 days the option is to buy 1 day Travelcards zone 1-4 from a railway station like Charing Cross by Trafalgar Square or Victoria Railway station ticket office the nearest to Earls court the day before you need them.
          Then use the Travelcards instead of the Oyster that day for travelling around.that day and qualifying for 2 for 1 – the thing to remember is the Travelcards cost £12 while the most you can spend using an Oyster in a day is £6.40 in the centre of London (zones 1-2) so you will need to factor this into any savings you get from 2 for 1

  • Emma Baser

    Hi bob,

    I will be in on the 27 Nov – 2 Dec .. 1 family 2 adult n 3 kids age 11,10 n 8. Which bus should i Take to cover all the London attraction places?.


    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      I would not recommend using hop-on, hop off buses for 6 days its a very slow way of getting around London.
      Hoho buses are great for an initial orientation day assuming this is a first time visit and as all companies are doing a 48 hours for the price of 24 over the next few months you may as well take the 2nd day,

      The London Underground should be the backbone of your transport needs supplemented by buses. Precisely which ticket will depend where you are staying in London and what places you are visiting.
      Probability is it will be 3 Oyster Cards, children under 11 travel free without a ticket on red buses and Underground
      For your 11 year old get a young persons discount loaded onto the Oyster for half price fares and caps. You can only get this done at zone 1 Underground Stations, heathrow Airport and Victoria Railway Station ticket office

      • Emma Baser

        I will be staying at zone 2, Hammersmith & Fulham borough.

  • john Shaugh

    my daughters are 15 and 17. Will we get away with buying a “family” ticket for the 4 of us, or will it be required we buy as 3 adults and a child?

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      I can only say pay the right price for the ticket /age bands

  • commanderpj

    hi there, We are due to arrive in London on 9 Dec and wanted to do the HOHO thing almost immediately. I’m concerned what happens if it does rain? (a not infrequent occurrence, I gather) Does the bus still run? Do they offer any covering on top?
    Any ideas?

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      The HoHo buses run the same every day whatever the weather
      On most buses about the first 3 rows are covered on the standard vehicles, there a few buses they sometimes put out that are totally covered but these are a small minority

      The discounted tickets are bought in advance and have no/little flexibility – OLT are probably the best option for ticket flexibility, though do read the terms and conditions in this respect

      • commanderpj


  • Candice Duke

    My family and I will be arriving in London on Dec 23 until the 27th. We have two young sons (4 and 8). If they walk more than 5 steps they suddenly cannot function like a normal human being. The HoHo buses seem to be a great option for us. I see that one of them is not offering passes for Christmas day. Is there any advice you can give me for Christmas Day sightseeing?

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      On Chritsmas Day nothing is open in Central London, there is no public transport, no attractions are open, shops are closed and few restaurants are open – walking is just about your only option.

      May attractions also close either 24th or 26th December or both so its worth researching
      Public transport shuts down earlier than normal on the 24th and normally no trains run into London on the 26th

  • Angela

    Hi bob
    I am travelling to London euston with my husband for the day. Arriving at 12.30 departing at 21.20. We have looked at the hop on buses and think they appear to be the best way of getting around and seeing as many sights as possible. Would this be the best way? It’s our first time to London. We want to make sure we do as much as we can. Also it appears that the buses only run till 6pm? How is best to get around then and back to the station? Any advice would be great. Thanks

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      Depends what you want to do and anticipate visiting.
      Just one lap of the main HoHo bus routes are nearly 3 hours and Euston is not on any of the core HoHo bus routes but it would give you an opportunity to glimpse all the main tourist sites in Central London in a pretty painless stress free way without any prior planning

      If you have a short-list of a few “must see” places then probably best just to buy an Oyster Card at Euston or if you are getting day return ticket by rail into Euston buy the day return rail ticket combined with a London Travelcard that will give unlimited travel on London’s underground and buses
      London is spread out and the Underground is far, far quicker to get around than the buses, especially the HoHo ones. You’ll have to prioritise what you want to see and put some research time into planning a workable itinerary
      The journey planner linked below would be invaluable in this

  • leazanne barclay

    Hi bob,
    I am travelling to london with my daughter and sister next Tuesday (29/9) for a concert that evening. We are flying into city airport and staying in the travelodge there. We only have the wednesday and thursday am in London to explore. I have a disability that affects my walking ability (can do some not miles) so thought the hoho service would be ideal. We have purchased visitor oyster cards already. Where is best to start our tour ect? I am a first time visitor to the city and want to see the usual sights and fit in a little shopping. Thanks in advance!

    • http://www.londontoolkit.com/ Bob

      As I remember the Travelodge City Airport is only about 200 yards from the airport and the DLR station.
      The normal route into London would be the DLR to Canning Town and then the Jubilee Line of the Underground.
      This line has stations at London Bridge, Westminster00000, Green Park and pissibly waterloo all of which are good for the HoHo buses
      I would look at the stops of the HoHo line you eventually select and check the exact location of the bus stop / Underground Station

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