Comparing London's hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses

Big Bus compared with Original Tour + Golden Tours with question and 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 24/7 city and the hop-on hop-off buses run between 9am to 6pm seven days a week.

 

We would suggest you only need 1 initial day of using the hop-on hop-off 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 off 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.

 

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. Golden Tours tickets are usually still the softest on price.

Differences between 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 certain time, either calendar days or 24 hour periods.

You can switch between all the routes during that time.


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 hop-on hop-off service

Notable attractions not being visited by any hop-on hop-off 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 Earl's 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 stop.


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 8.30am to 9am and start winding down about 5pm.

 

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 it's worth checking these out prior.


Wi-fi on the hop-on hop-off bus

Original London Tour Open Top Sightseeing Bus

Golden Tours, Big Bus and Original Tour all offer free wi-fi on their buses.

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

OLT and Golden Tours offer 24 and 48 hour tickets. Golden Tours also offer a 72 hour ticket.

Big Bus offer 1, 2 and 3 calendar day tickets.


By calendar day it means the ticket expires at the end of the calendar day whatever your start time.

Tickets sold in 24-hour blocks start when you board the first bus and get your tickets stamped.


Golden Tours and Big Bus offer a slightly cheaper 1 calendar day ticket without the river cruise included.

 

Golden Tours offer a 3-hour one lap on the main route. No hop-on hop-off, no river cruise, no switching of routes.


Panorama 72 hour London Tour Tickets

Cheapest tickets are purchased online in advance

Tickets bought on the day and from most ticket outlets and hotels are full price. Tickets purchased online at each company's own website offer discounted advance purchase tickets at a significantly discounted price.

 

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


Buying online and redeeming tickets ordered

For online purchases you are emailed 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 email or to your smartphone.

 

By email 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 smartphone 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 online 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 emailed in pdf format which you simply print out prior and bring along to the first bus you board.

Promotional pricing activity

While 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 online tickets and if you are visiting one of the major attractions getting a sightseeing bus and attraction package (see section below).


Winter 24-hour 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 12% off discount code

Big Bus have made available to us a special 12% discount code you can use on 24 and 48 hour ticket purchases.

Big Bus Discount Codes details

Golden Tours 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 more than 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.

London Pass more details

Save money buying 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

The Original Tour offers three walking tours including a royalty-themed Changing of the Guard walk, Rock 'n' Roll themed walk and Jack the Ripper haunted-style walk.

 

Big Bus switched in winter 2017 to a similar daily royalty walk like Golden Tours. Golden Tours offer a choice between either a Royal Walking Tour or a daily Beatles themed walk.


Big Bus London Tour Tickets
Original London Tour Tickets
Panorama 24 hour 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)

£29.00*
(£13.50)

n/a

Big Bus

n/a

£31.50†
(£16.20)

£38.70†
(£19.80)

£44.10†
(£22.70)

Golden Tours

£26.00
(£12.00)

£28.00*
(£13.00)

£35.00*
(£16.00)

£43.00*
(£22.00)

†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 - 12% discount code available for 1,2 and 3 day tickets at our Big Bus London dedicated page.

Original Tour - 24 hours free with 24 hour and 48 hour ticket.

 


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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