An overview of the best London sightseeing bus tours in London by theme. Suitable for anyone from first-time visitors to Londoners alike, ranging from families to solo travellers!
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While walking is my preferred way of exploring London, there’s certainly something to be said about seeing London from the comforts of a bus.
I mean, those feet need a rest once in a while too, right? Especially if you’re visiting London with a jam-packed itinerary, rushing around from museum to theatre, exploring all must-see attractions and discovering the coolest neighbourhoods.
Ease and comfort aside, what I appreciate most about sightseeing London by bus, is the fresh perspective it offers. Seated a few metres above road level, it allows you to see a completely different cityscape and witness the hustle and bustle of the city around you.
And driving through the streets of the metropolis, coming at eye level with the building facades, you will even notice the intricate decorations, signs and curious sculptures you would normally miss by walking down the pavement.
That’s why I often tag along when friends and family visiting from overseas suggest a ride on a London tourist bus. It’s the perfect excuse for me to jump on a sightseeing bus which I think are suitable for tourists and locals alike.
But like everything else in London, there are a lot of options to choose from so who do you pick?
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Top 6 London tourist bus tours
To help you on your way, I’ve selected my personal top 6 of best London sightseeing bus tours. To add some variety, I have chosen tours that all have a completely different theme. My selection ranges from your classic hop-on hop-off tourist bus tour to delightful afternoon tea tours and even East London gangster tours.
Whether you’re visiting London for the first time, are a Londoner yourself, looking for a family-friendly bus tour or a fun London activity with your mates or besties, I’m sure you’ll find the perfect London bus tour here!
1. Big Bus Tours: the classic hop-on hop-off London sightseeing bus tour
With their iconic brown open-top double decker buses, Big Bus Tours truly is the number one London tourist bus!
Visiting all essential London highlights like Buckingham Palace, Tower of London and Covent Garden, this is the only bus tour in this list that allows their passengers to get on and off the bus as they wish. This way you can decide to get off at any landmark or attraction you’d like to visit or at least see and photograph from up close.
The accompanying pre-recorded audio tours are available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and passes are valid for 24 (Classic), 48 (Premium) or 72 (Premium Plus) hours. Within that time, you can get on and off at any of their 30+ bus stops along their two cleverly curated routes whenever you want! (During their operating hours that is of course.)
While all three tickets also include a river cruise, you get wider options with the Premium and Premium Plus tickets. And as a great bonus, these latter two ticket types even include a 90-minute panoramic evening tour!
Interested in just the evening tour without upgrading your Big Bus Tours ticket? Then head down to tip number 4 in this list.
2. Afternoon tea bus tour London with Brigit’s Bakery
A sightseeing bus tour that combines a delicious afternoon tea in London? Count me in!
Honestly, can you think of anything better than exploring London from an iconic red double-decker bus whilst satisfying your appetite? I think not.
Serving mouth-watering homemade pastries and delightful sandwiches, the Brigit’s Bakery afternoon tea bus tour makes for a heavenly ride.
The cute red and pink interior and cakes make it especially suitable for a romantic date or fun afternoon out with the girls. But it’s also a popular choice amongst families who can tick two things off their London bucket list with just one activity.
Depending on traffic, tours last approximately 90 minutes. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy your traditional afternoon tea and take in all classic London sights you cruise by.
3. Gastronomy London bus tour
Taking it up a notch now and going for a full 6-course luxury dinner on wheels, there’s the unique and excellent Bustronome gastronomy London bus tour.
During this 3-hour evening tour, you’ll be treated to gorgeous dishes all prepared and cooked fresh onboard. Using only seasonal products, the chef conjures up an exquisite British feast with a French twist.
The atmospheric music adds to the restaurant ambiance, making it an original date night activity.
Seated in the glass-roofed upper deck, you’ll get to enjoy glorious panoramic views of London. And if you want to get in some tourist information, the discrete audio guides on each tables provides audio commentary in nine languages.
Regular bookings don’t include drinks, but you can opt for a wine pairing option when making your reservation.
4. London by night bus tour
While London is a wonderful city in daytime, the twinkling lights accentuating the city’s majestic landmarks, do add a magical note to the experience. If you want to see London in a completely different light (pun intended), then I would certainly recommend a night bus tour.
With their dazzling signs coming to live at night, London’s iconic theatres and the Piccadilly Circus neon billboards make for fantastic sights. The 90-minute tour highlights 16 of London’s famous attractions, including The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral and Harrods. With more than 12,000 glimmering lights, this lavish department store is quite literally radiating at night.
The live commentary is provided in English. If you prefer to receive the tourist information in another language, then you can use the onboard audio guides. These are available in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin) and Japanese.
5. London ghost bus tour
Hop onto the aptly called black-coloured Necrobus for a lively ghost-themed London bus tour.
A lively ghost tour, I hear you think. Isn’t that a contradiction?
Well no, because your special hosts are all classically trained actors who deliver their immersive tours with great wit and enthusiasm.
Famous for its ‘celebrity’ executions, the history of the Tower is filled with dark stories. Your guide might entertain you with the story of the young princes who mysteriously disappeared here. Or share the spine-chilling recount of the Yeoman Warden who saw an eerie apparition of a ‘white figure’ at exactly the same place of Anne Boleyn’s beheading.
Delivered in an engaging theatrical style and with a great dose of humour to counterbalance the dark tales of the night, the London ghost bus tour certainly is a unique and memorable way of seeing London!
Note that discounted children’s, students’ and senior tickers are also available.
If you’re interested in seeing a few sinister off-the-beaten track London landmarks, then head over to my self-guided historical walk for tips. And don’t forget to check out my post with tips for things to do around Tower of London!
6. East London Gangster Bus Tour
Do you also love those East End gangster movies? And ever wondered how much was true about films like Legend and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? Then what better way to get to the bottom of this under the guidance of those in the know?!
From the safe confines of the brilliantly called Naughty Bus, you will get to hear all the ins and outs by Micky ‘Goldtooth’, close friend of the famous gangster Kray twins. Told with such humour, I guarantee you will be roaring with laughter many times during this original London bus tour.
Starting in the East End, you will be driving down Bethnal Green Road. Long before I did my daily shopping here at Tesco’s and the local Indian supermarkets, this street was dominated by the Kray Twins. These identical twin brothers were both feared and loved by locals and celebrities such as actor Barbara Windsor.
When Reggie Kray died in 2000, Bethnal Green Road was chock-full of mourners and curious bystanders. Escorted by his smartly dressed and impressive looking friends and family, his coffin was brought to St Matthew’s church at the top of the street by horse and carriage.
This happened not long after my husband had moved to Bethnal Green. Unaware of whose funeral he was walking by that day, he told me many years later he was struck by this memorable sight. It gave him an intimate look into the East London gangster stories he was so familiar with. You can see a clip of the impressive procession in this BBC News item.
After this little personal anecdote, we go back to your East End gangster tour!
Some of the Bethnal Green highlights include the famous E Pellicci Cafe (which appeared in the film Legend starring Tom Hardy in a double role) and Valance Road, the twins’ birthplace.
The first part of the tour ends at The Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel. You will stop for drinks and insider stories at this infamous and well chronicled East London haunt.
For the second leg of the tour, you will cross the river Thames and finally finish at The Clink Prison near London Bridge.
Bringing alive the images we know so well from for instance the Guy Ritchie movies, the closest we can get to the ‘Golden Days’ of the East End is a ride on the Naughty Bus.
With so many different London tourist bus tours ranging from gastronomical delights to ghosts to gangsters, which one sounds most fun to you?
Let me know in a comment below!
Thanks, Zarina xx
*Photo credit feature image: Daniel Tong / Unsplash