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
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.
They have a couple of services that OLT and Big Bus do not, namely a cheaper 3 hour tour – one lap of their hop-on, hop off tour bus without the ability to hop on or hop and off and longer duration ticket availability.
What Are The Differences Between the 3 Operators?
London is quite spread out and all services have more than one service route to cover the attractions.
Each operattor 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.
To the north of the central core area is the British Museum, St Pancras Station and Bloomsbury hotel district.
Another area outside the core covered is again to the north and its really driven by the location of Madame Tussauds.
All three services cover the British Museum , St Pancras and Bloomsbury routes with separate services that interconnect with their main services.
Big Bus and OLT service Madame Tussauds with their main routes, Golden Tours with a secondaty route.
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 Euston, Bloomsbury and Kings Cross St Pancras areas one of the secondary routes services .
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 3 Hour One Curcuit Service
One option that differentiates Golden Tours from the big two is they make available a 3 hour ticket which is not Hop On, Hop Off.
Basically you get on their bus and go for an orientation tour of London doing one curcuit of the Golden Tours route with commentary from the guide. This of course is significantly cheaper than the 1 day Hop On, Hop Off ticket.
You can choose which route you use with this ticket but the blue route is the most complete and comprehensive route covering nearly all that is worthwhile in London.
Price Comparison - Which Is Cheapest?
Golden Tours broadly mirror the big 2 but are the softest on price.
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 2 days for the price of 1 promotion. Exact dates operable change from year to year, as soon as one starts offering the promotion, the others follow instantly.
In the past the promotion has been active between the months of November and February, but every year dates are slightly different.
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.
Expect the cheapest advance prices to be 20-30% cheaper than if you purchased on the dayl.
Important! Big Differences Between Ticketing Conditions On Lowest Prices
This can be a big mistake, the cheapest on-line tickets have very different booking conditions between the companies, it is a big mistake not to factor these in your purchasing decision.
The cheapest tickets from both Big Bus and Original London Tour are on-line and after purchase you are e-mailed a voucher that you print out. You then exchange the voucher for tickets at validation points in London.
Original London Tour Cheapest 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 (perhaps) bad news is that you can only redeem the print at home vouchers at 13 validation points in Central London.
The validation points are: Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Victoria, Tower Hill, Kensington Palace Gate, Russell Square, Westminster Bridge, Queen’s Gallery, Charing Cross Road, Bayswater Road, Parliament Street, Aldwych, and York Road.
When you order there is a map detailing where these points are in London.
Big Bus Cheapest On-Line Tickets
The good news is that vouchers can be validated at any boarding point.
The bad news is that the cheapest tickets require you to stipulate the exact date you want to use the ticket. So if it rains…
Save Money - Buy Attraction Tickets & Bus Tour In One Package
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
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.
Golden Tours if 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 and the cheaper 3 hour London orientation tour which the others don\’t offer (as yet) has its market..
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.