There are three main hop on hop off bus companies in London and each of them offer bus tours that cover all of London’s major tourist sites. We’ve reviewed all three services to come up with the best Hop on Hop off London tour in terms of value for money, quality, and service. For this article, we’ll be reviewing the three main companies – Big Bus, The Original Tour and Golden Tours.
Article last update: 2018
All three tour operators include the following:
Audio guides on all routes & live commentary on the main route
Online app with information about attractions
Access to all routes (both tour routes and hotel pickup routes)
Tour representatives stationed outside major bus stops to guide you to the major attractions and also to sell you discounted attraction tickets.
Double decker buses with both indoor and outdoor seating areas
Free travel for children under the age of 5
The best hop on hop off London bus in terms of:
Best sightseeing routes: There’s no big difference (***unless you are staying in the Bayswater, Lancaster Gate or Paddington areas, where Big Bus is more convenient)
Best for kids: The Original Tour or Golden Tour (because they offer a dedicated kid’s channel)
Best river cruises: The Original Tour (because you can take the cruise more than once on the same day)
Best frequency of buses: They are the same … despite what might be advertised on the website there’s no significant difference between the three. It’s all the luck of traffic conditions on the day
Best walking tours: Golden Tours (because you can take a walking tour on a different day to your bus ticket)
Cheapest price for a family of 4, a student or a senior ticket: Original Tour
Cheapest price for an adult or child ticket: There’s very little difference between them but about 10% cheaper to buy online
best Hop on hop off bus london – detailed review
* All three operators cover the same major areas of London, with very little difference in frequency of service. * If you are staying in the Bayswater, Lancaster Gate or Paddington areas, Big Bus offers a more regular service since this is covered on a primary route. * If you are not staying in these areas, then there’s no real difference between the three operators.
Each company offers two different kinds of hop on hop off bus routes:
The primary routes are the ones that visit all of the major London sightseeing attractions and each company offers a very similar service.
All three services go to almost exactly the same places, including Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Eye, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. All three providers offer the same operating hours, from about 8am to 5 pm.
The secondary routes are essentially connector routes that take passengers from the major hotel districts and bring them to the primary tour routes.
All three providers offer secondary routes at a more limited frequency, normally in the morning and evening hours.
Big Busoperates a primary route that goes to popular hotel districts of Bayswater, Lancaster Gate and Paddington area, whilst the other two offer only secondary routes.
In terms of frequency, because of London’s ever-changing traffic conditions and roadworks, the frequency of hop on hop off buses can vary enormously. (What is written on each company’s website is a very rough guide, based on ideal conditions.)
On some days, the hop on hop off can work really smoothly, with buses arriving all the time, without really having to wait too long. On other days you can get stuck in bad traffic jams onboard the buses, there can be diversions because of roadworks, and on occasion, long waiting times at the bus stops.
Our opinion is that this isn’t something unique to each particular company, but is dependent upon conditions that are out of their control.
audio-guides & Commentary
* All 3 companies offer a live guided commentary in English on their flagship route and offer audio guided commentary on all their routes. * For native-English speakers, the only difference between the services is if you are traveling with children since The Original Tour and Golden Tours offer a dedicated audio-guide for kids called a “Children’s Channel”.
All 3 companies offer audio-guides in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese
Each operator also offers the following languages and services:
Big Bus: Polish, Hindi
The Original Tour: Kids Channel
Golden Tours: Kids Channel & Hindi
* For a 24-hour ticket, all 3 companies offer the same river cruise route, from Westminster to Tower Piers. * Big Bus and Original London cruises last between 30 to 40 minutes and include live or recorded commentary. * Golden Tours cruise lasts around 25 minutes and there’s no guides or commentary. * The Original London Bus is the only service that allows you to take the river cruise as much as you like within that 24 hour period. * With Golden Tours and Big Bus, you are only allowed to take a single one-way river cruise
For a 48-hour ticket, the Original London Bus and Big Bus both offer an extended route which goes all the way to Greenwich.
Big Bus also offer an extended route to Greenwich on its 72-hour hop on hop off bus tickets.
Golden Tours is the only operator that allows you to take one of their walking tours on a different day, which is great if you want to spread out your itinerary.
Original London Bus offer three different walking tours, Royal Walking Tour (incl. Changing of the Guard), Rock ‘n’ Roll & Jack the Ripper
Golden Tours offer two walking tours, the Royal Walking Tour (incl. Changing of the Guard) & the Beatles London Walking Tour. These tours don’t have to be taken on the same day as your Hop on Hop off ticket
Big Bus offers a walking tour called Heart of London (the major sites) which is actually a free tour operated by Sandeman (so you could take this anyway, regardless of whether you chose Big Bus or not!)
type of tickets: calendar vs. open
There are two different types of hop on hop off bus tickets, a calendar ticket, and an open ticket.
Open tickets offer a little more flexibility than calendar tickets but are slightly more expensive
An open ticket means that you can use the ticket any day within a 3-6 month period. The ticket is also counted by hours, meaning if you activated a 24 hour ticket at 2pm on a Monday, it would be valid until 2pm on a Tuesday.
A calendar ticket means that the ticket is only valid on a specific day that you choose in advance. This means if you activate a 1-day pass at any time, be on a Monday at 9am, 12pm or 4pm, the ticket will only be valid until the end of that same day.
Big Bus offers open tickets with a choice of 1, 2 or 3 days.
Original Tour Bus offers a 24-Hour or 48-Hour open ticket, and a 24 hour calendar ticket
Golden Tours offer a 24-Hour open ticket and a 24, 28 & 72 hour calendar ticket
* There isn’t a large difference in price between the three operators, although the cheapest tickets are calendar tickets offered by Golden Tours * Original Tour is the only operator to offer student & senior tickets * It’s cheaper to buy tickets in advance than purchase them on the day. You’ll save over 10%
Child: Ages 5 to 15 years
Concession: Student and 60+
Family ticket: 2 adults and 2 children
Children under 5: Free
24-hour tickets are offered by all three companies, with Golden Tours & Original Tour offering both an open ticket and a calendar ticket
24-Hour Open Ticket:
24-Hour Calendar Ticket:
**Ticket excludes river cruise & walking tours
48-hour tickets are offered by all three companies, with Big Bus and Original Tour offering open tickets and Golden Tours offering calendar tickets
72-hour hop on hop off bus tickets are offered by Big Bus (open ticket) and Golden Tours (calendar ticket)
All three companies offer combination tickets, where you can buy entrance tickets to major London attractions at the same time as purchasing hop on hop off bus tickets. The idea is that you should save money.
Since there are so many different deals on the market we chose to compare a classic combination ticket of a hop on hop off 24 hour tour plus a standard entrance to the London Eye.
* It is substantially cheaper to buy an Original Tour & Golden Tours combo London Eye ticket than to buy two separate tickets * Big Bus offers no savings, in fact, it is more expensive to buy their combo London Eye deal!