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Comparing London's Hop On, Hop Off Sightseeing Buses

Big Bus v Original Tour v Golden Tours With Question & Answer Facility


Golden Tours Open Top Sightseeing Bus

This a broad discussion of the Hop On, Hop Off Sightseeing buses so popular in London.

The menu below has links to dedicated pages of each of London's three main Hop On, Hop Off sightseeing tour buses plus some alternative close equivalents to see London's highlights.


London is a 24x7 city and the HO, HO buses run very crudely between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m seven days a week.

We would suggest you only need 1 initial day of using the HoHo buses to get a feel of London, two days maximum.

As a means of getting from A to B the hop on hop off sightseeing buses are slow and inflexible compared to public transport. 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 main operators of Hop On, Hop Off sightseeing buses in London are:

a) Original Tour

b) Big Bus

c) Golden Tours


Original Tour and the Big Bus are the long 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 relative new kids on the block and after several years of operation now offer a product almost on par with Big Bus and OLT, however Golden Tours tickets are usually still the softest on price.

What Are The Differences Between the 3 Operators?

In summary all three of London's Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Bus services offer essentially the same product in very similar vehicles.


Routes and Coverage

London is quite spread out and all services have more than one service route to cover the attractions.

Tickets are for unlimited rides within a time period, either calendar days or 24 hour periods of time.

You can switch between all the routes during that time period.


Each operator has one or two very similar core routes covering the West End and along the river to the Tower of London. This is where most of the major attractions are: Buckingham Palace, London Eye, Westminster Abbey etc.


Buses may have an English speaking guide, all provide audio guides in a multitude of languages. The operators have a slightly different approach to the availability of the English speaking guide.

The core routes are loops and can typically take between 2 to 3 hours to do one circuit of the route.


Supporting the core central area routes, all hop on hop off services run additional services that feed into the core central sightseeing routes. These secondary routes cover major attractions not in the central area like the British Museum or act as feeder services from major hotel districts or railway stations like St Pancras.


Main Attractions Not Covered by HO, HO Service

Notable attractions not being visited by any HO, HO bus are the London Zoo, Camden Lock Market and the Imperial War Museum.


Hotel Districts Not Covered by HO, HO Service

Big Bus London Open Top Sightseeing Bus

The only major hotel district in the centre of London not covered by HO, HO buses is Earls Court - but you can walk to Gloucester Road in 10 minutes where all 3 operators stop.


None of the operators come out to the Docklands, Canary Wharf or Excel area to the east of Central London where some people base themselves.


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, Audio Guides & Apps

OLT: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Arabic & Brazilian Portuguese


Big Bus: English , French, German, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian.


Golden Tours: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese (Brazilian), Mandarin & Russian


Big Bus have an app downloadable free on Apple or Android with information about London's landmarks, shopping and dining plus mapping to help you navigate to the nearest bus top.


The Original Tour offers a recorded commentary specifically designed to entertain (and educate) children aged 5 to 11 years old.


Frequencies

All three services start up the 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 you'll be very unlucky to wait 10 minutes.

Feeder and secondary routes are less frequent and its worth checking these out prior.


Wi-Fi on the HO, HO Bus

Original London Tour Open Top Sightseeing Bus

Golden Tours and Big Bus advertise free Wi-Fi availability on their buses. Original Tour do not, but surely it is only a matter of time, (the rumour is late summer 2017).

Cheaper Bus Only or No Hop On, Hop Off Facility Tours

The standard Hop On Hop Off tours include walking tours and a river cruise (see below) as part of the standard ticket for all operators.


Golden Tours and Original Tour offer a slightly cheaper ticket for one calendar day without the river cruise or walking tour being included.


Golden Tours also offer a 3 hour ticket where you board the Golden Tours Hop On Hop Off Bus and ride one circuit of the route without getting on or off.

Ticketing

All operators watch each other like hawks, if one makes a move on price or offer a short term promotion, the others normally follow within hours.


Ticket Durations

Golden Tours and OLT offer 24 and 48 hour tickets. Golden Tours offer 1,2 and 3 day tickets.

Golden Tours also offer a 1 calendar day ticket that is slightly cheaper than the 24 hour ticket. By calendar day it means the ticket expires at the end of the calendar day whatever your start time. Its worth noting the calendar day tickets do not include the river cruise.


OLT and Golden Tours tickets all use ticketing measured in 24 hour blocks, whether it be 24 or 48 hours.

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.

Big Bus tickets all use ticketing measured in calendar days.


The Cheapest Tickets Are In Advance, Purchased On-Line.

Tickets bought on the day and from most ticket outlets and hotels are full price. Tickets purchased on-line at each companies own web site offer discounted advance purchase tickets with a significantly discounted price.

You will also find other promotions on the companies web sites from time to time not available elsewhere.


Buying Online And Redeeming The Tickets Ordered

For on-line purchases you are e-mailed e-tickets immediately after purchase. Tickets come in the form of a voucher which are exchanged in London for tickets used.

Operators differ slightly, but you print the e-ticket or store it on your mobile and show the ticket on boarding the first bus of the day. Your tickets are time validated on boarding.


Big Bus & Original Tour

The discounted advance purchase tickets can be redeemed at any time within six months of purchase.

You can choose between your confirmation being sent by e-mail or to your smart-phone.

By e-mail you simply print the tickets which feature a code which will be checked or scanned by a staff member when you're ready to board the bus at any of the bus stops. They'll issue you a receipt that you'll be able to use to hop on the bus throughout the validity period of your ticket and also your river cruise tickets.

If you requested to have your tickets sent to your smart-phone you'll receive a text message (SMS) containing a link to your ticket. Please remember that you'll need to have a Wi-Fi connection or mobile data enabled to open this link and view your e-ticket page.


Golden Tours

Golden Tours on-line ordering is both simpler and more restrictive than the other two.

At the time of ordering you have to stipulate the day you wish to travel in contrast to Big Bus and Original Tour where you have flexibility on the days you use the tickets.

Tickets are e-mailed in pdf format which you simply print out prior and bring along to the first bus you board.

Promotional Pricing Activity

Whilst there are from time to time the odd promotional code available for small discounts, this is not North America.

The best price is gained by simply purchasing the advance on-line tickets and if you are visiting one of the major attractions getting a sightseeing bus and attraction package, (see section below).


Winter 24 Hours Extra Free Promotion

In the winter months all operators traditionally offer a free day's promotion. This historically has been made available by all operators from around late October to March.

Exact dates vary from year to year and are not publicised in advance. It is a case of one operator firing the starting gun and the others following with the same offer within hours. Indicative months are November to March, but every year is slightly different.


Big Bus 10% Off Discount Code

Big Bus have made available to us a special 10% discount code you can use on 24 and 48 hour ticket purchases.

Big Bus Discount Codes - More Details

Golden Tours - Now Included In The London Pass

London Pass Sightseeing Information

The 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.

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 Tour.


Original London Tour & Attravtion Packages

Free River Cruises

Both Big Bus and OLT use the same river cruise company, City Cruises. In our opinion City Cruises are better received than Thames Clipper used by Golden Tours.

The cruise is between Westminster Pier and Tower Bridge. With both OLT and Big Bus.

If you purchase a 48 hour, 2 or 3 day ticket your river cruise can be extended beyond Tower Bridge to Greenwich.


The Thames Cruise should be a highlight of your day and we recommend you take advantage of the facility. The core cruise itself between Westminster and Tower Bridge lasts about 30/40 minutes.


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

Note with the Golden Tours and Original Tour ticket for 1 calendar day, no walking tours or river cruises are included in the ticket.

Free Walking Tours

Big Bus and OLT both offer three walking tours. Both offer a royalty/changing of the guard walk, and a Jack The Ripper/haunted style walks while Big Bus offer a Harry Potter walk and OLT offer a rock themed walk.

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

We have 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.


Big Bus London Tour Tickets
Original London Tour Tickets
London's main open top hop on, hop off sightseeing tours
(Discounted online advance purchase)

Tour

Online advance ticket price adult (child)

1 day‡
Bus only

24 hrs
or 1 day

48 hrs
or 2 days

72 hrs
or 3 days

Original Tour

£25.00
(£12.50)

£29.00*
(£13.50)

£38.00*
(£18.00)

n/a

Big Bus

n/a

£31.50†
(£16.20)

£38.70†
(£19.80)

£44.10†
(£25.00)

Golden Tours

£26.00
(£12.00)

£30.00*
(£14.00)

£35.00*
(£16.00)

n/a

†Calendar days ticket      *24/48/72 hours ticket

‡Valid for one calendar day expiring at the end of the day irrespective of start time, river cruise/walking tours not included


CURRENT PROMOTIONAL ACTIVITY

Big Bus - 10% discount code available for 1,2 and 3 day tickets at our Big Bus London dedicated page.

 

London's Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Buses - Your Questions Answered by Bob

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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