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

London's sightseeing tours identified

Nowadays sightseeing tours of London are dominated by London's three hop-on, hop off open top sightseeing operators:

a) Original Tour

b) Big Bus

c) Golden Tours


If you see anybody else offering a hop-on, hop off tour for London they are acting as an agent for one of the above.


However, the traditional guided coach tour of London is still available, but in terms of market share is tiny compared with London's hop-on. hop off sightseeing buses.


Premium Tours also run a small fleet of open top vintage red London buses. These fall somewhere between the guided coach tour and the hop-on. hop off sightseeing buses.


The London red vintage bus tour is has no hop-on, hop off facility and is basically a guided orientation tour of London's main sights with a few photo stops and a river cruise.

 

Big Bus v Original Tour v Golden Tours Comparison

At first inspection all three London sightseeing operators offer a very similar product.

But spend an hour or so studying each service and you begin to identify the differences.

This page aims to save you that time and present the differences as concisely as possible.


What is the same between each tour operator?

All 3 London sightseeing tour operators are established operators in the London market. Big Bus and Original London Tours are owned by large corporates and Golden Tours the relative newcomer entered the market several years ago after a long history of offering the traditional guided coach tours, which they still do.


Big Bus London Open Top Sightseeing Bus

All 3 operators offer the same basic formula. A route network of open top double decker sightseeing buses covering all the major sights in Central London, a river cruise operated by a third party operator and at least one walking tour.


Vehicles used are almost identical, all offer free Wifi and audio guides providing commentary in 11 or 12 languages. All sightseeing tour operators have one core route that has a live English speaking guide, (which to many are surprisingly good).


All operators start up around 8:30 a.m. and start running down the service around 5 p.m.


Any difference in attractions visited by tour operators?

Short answer is no, although they each have a different number of routes where they visit is almost identical, with all three sightseeing tour operators almost duplicating each others routes in the very heart of London.


You can click through on the menu right to study each operators route map in detail.

Any difference in bus frequencies?

All three operators, even in the winter months, you should have no issues with waiting too long for a bus.

Of the three operators perhaps Golden Tours is slightly less frequent.

All operators have a core central area where some of the most famous London icons are located with each operator offering more than one route between them.


Differences in ticketing offered by London's sightseeing operators

Standard tour ticket durations

Original London Tour and Golden Tours offer tickets in 24, 48 or 72 hour formats whilst Big Bus offers 1,2 and 3 calendar day tickets.

To clarify, this means that if you boarded your first bus at 1 p.m. with Big Bus and with a 1 day ticket, your ticket expires at the end of that day. Whilst with Original London Tour or Golden Tours with a 24 hour ticket it expires at 1 p.m. the next day.


Original London Tour Open Top Sightseeing Bus

Discounted - cheapest tickets

Hop-on, hop off sightseeing tickets are freely available in London from hotels, tourist centres and on the day from the representatives of the tour companies you find around the bus stops.


The cheapest tickets are found on the official web sites of each sightseeing tour operator, links to these are at the banners further down the page.


Do not expect to find discount vouchers or codes, if you do find one its the exception rather than the rule.


Big Bus and Original London Tour offer you a straight discount on the street price by buying from their respective web sites in advance.


Golden Tours offer a best price guarantee by buying from their official web site..

Cheapest advance purchase tickets - flexibility and ease/cost of obtaining tickets

Big Bus and Original London tour advance purchase tickets are valid for any day within six months of purchase.

Golden Tours you have to stipulate the day of travel at time of purchase.


All tour operators offer an option where a voucher is sent to you by e-mail immediately after purchase which you exchange for tickets on boarding your first bus.

Big Bus also offer the ability to have the voucher sent as a SMS message to your mobile phone.

Original London Tour are the only tour operator to offer delivery by post, this is the only option that incurs an extra charge.


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)

£30.50*
(£14.25)

£40.00*
(£19.00)

£50.00*
(£23.50)

Big Bus

n/a

£33.30†
(£17.10)

£39.60†
(£19.80)

£45.00†
(£22.50)

Golden Tours

£28.00
(£14.00)

£32.00*
(£16.00)

£37.00*
(£18.00)

£45.00*
(£24.00)


Banner links to official web sites of tour companies

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

Non-standard cheaper tickets

The Original London Tour offers a one calendar day ticket that is cheaper than the 24 hour ticket called the City Sampler ticket.

The difference is that the City Sampler is valid for for 1 calendar day, not 24 hours (the ticket expires at the end of the day that you ride) and you only have access to the hop-on and hop-off bus services, not the river cruise or walking tours.


Golden Tours offer a London Introduction ticket, basically a one lap orientation of one of the major sightseeing routes.

You travel on the standard hop-on hop-off bus which will make many stops in its circular route, but when you get off that is the end of the tour.

Walking tours and river cruises are not included in this tour.


Panorama 72 hour London Tour Tickets

Golden Tours and Big Bus 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 either Golden Tours or Big Bus hop-on hop-off bus for one calendar day, whatever the duration of the London Pass.


Key points of the London Pass HoHo bus offer

  • You can choose to ride on the Golden Tours or Big Bus hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus for one calendar day. Original London Tour is not covered.

  • The HoHo bus offer is for one calendar day not for 24 hours.

  • Most people use the HoHo facility on the first day of their London Pass, but there is nothing stopping using it on another day when the London Pass is valid.

  • The HoHo bus offer with London Pass doesn't include the walking tours and river cruises included in the standard tickets issued by the HoHo companies concerned, only the bus tour.

  • You show your London Pass to the driver or tour guide of the first bus you board. They will scan your London Pass and issue you with a separate ticket for the bus company concerned valid for the rest of the day. You cannot switch to the other bus company once you have made your first journey.

London Pass more details


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 late 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.


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 et 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. .

All tour operators offer these combination deals, but Original London Tours arguably has the best offering.


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.

 

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.


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

All three operators offer at least one walking tour. Original London Tour offers the best choice of walking tour

 

Guides and audio commentaries on the tour buses

All three operators offer a core tour route that has an English speaking guide in addition to the audio guides. Our experience is that these guides are surprisingly good. As well as a lively commentary they are normally quite chatty and are a mine of insider information much of it gleemed from feedback of other visitors.


All three operators offer audio commentaries in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin and Russian.

Big Bus and Golden Tours also offer Hindu as well, Original Tour offer a kiddies audio channel.

 

All three operators offer free WiFi on their buses.


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

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.