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The Best Hop-On Hop-Off Bus in London (2024)

Updated: May 5


5 open top bus companies from london

London is home to one of the highest numbers of hop-on-hop-off bus companies, currently five operators serve the city. The competition pushes each tour to be better and more unique. Creating a definite rank of the best hop-on hop-off bus in London is quite a difficult task, but I will do my best in reviewing each company, so you can have a source to choose from.


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Here are my top picks for those who prefer not to scroll through the entire post.








Big Bus London passing by St Paul's

I recommend Big Bus as the best hop-on hop-off bus mostly because they have a long and reliable history in London. To put it simply, they know how to run a great tour. However, their experience comes with a higher price tag, so it might not be the best for everyone's budget.



Big Bus stands out as my top choice in the best hop-on hop-off bus in London battle for several reasons:


  1. Frequent Service: If you ask anyone about bus tours in London, the first thing that usually comes to their mind is Big Bus. Their buses everywhere!

  2. Extensive Network: Over the years, they've carefully designed their route to ensure they don't miss any important attractions. Other than Golden Tours, they are the only ones that go to Madame Tussauds and Oxford Street. 

  3. Clear Route and Map: The route is easy to follow, and the map provided makes navigation straightforward. 

  4. Friendly and Knowledgeable Staff: The Big Bus staff are not only friendly but also well-informed.

  5. Smart Route Design: The carefully designed route ensures that you can take buses in both directions, a feature quite unique among the tours. 

  6. Partnership with Merlin Attractions: Big Bus's collaboration with Merlin Attractions can end up as a huge advantage if you're planning to visit any of them. 

  7. Boat Ride: All Big Bus tickets include a boat ride, a must see in London.



Things to consider:


It's important to consider that due to its popularity, Big Bus may experience a higher number of passengers compared to other hop-on-hop-off companies. To overcome this, make sure you start earlier/later than the crowds and avoid school holidays as much as possible. 


Their tickets can be a bit pricey, especially if you're traveling with family or a larger group. If you're looking for a more budget-friendly alternative that still provides a similar experience, I think you should have a look at the next option.


Now, even though you pay more for Big Bus, there's still a chance you might get stuck in traffic, just like with any other tour. While they're pretty good at dealing with it, sometimes it's just out of their hands. The only way to stay prepared is by checking for service updates on their website.


All Big Bus tickets automatically include a boat ride. There can be situations where people aren't keen to jump on the boat or they've already done it, and Big Bus doesn't have the option to remove it. So you might consider going for another company that has this feature.






Toot Bus London passing by St Paul's

Tootbus is a rebranding of the famous Original Tour that's been cruising around London for over 60 years. While the newer company still has some catching up to do to match the quality and high standards of The Original Tour, Tootbus has its roots deeply planted. One big reason it made it to the second spot on this list is because they replaced their entire fleet with more eco-friendly buses that run on biofuels. None of the other companies have taken this step, which is much needed in a city like London.



Here are some reasons why I've chosen TootBus as my second choice:


  1. Eco-Friendly Buses: TootBus is the only sightseeing company that swapped their entire fleet for eco-friendly buses. 

  2. Set Timetable: TootBus follows a set timetable for its buses which can sometimes work in your favor.

  3. Affordability: They offer a more budget-friendly option compared to some other tour providers, making it suitable for cost-conscious travelers. For example they have a more afordable ticket that doesn't include the boat ride. 

  4. Kids Commentary: Toot Bus stands apart from its competitors by offering a fantastic Kids audio guide. This feature is available in both English and French.

  5. Extensive Routes: Their route closely  mirrors that of Big Bus, the main difference lies in the starting point and the direction of the buses. 

  6. Free Self-Guided Walking Tours: In the TootBus app you can find a bunch of complimentary self-guided walking tours, which provide you with additional opportunities for exploration. 

  7. Digital Tickets: TootBus makes things easy by using digital tickets on their app. Just download the app, and you're good to go! 

  8. Last Departure: One major advantage that sets Toot Bus apart from its competitors is their extended operating hours during the summer months. While most of their rivals have their last departure at 6pm, Toot Bus offers an exceptional convenience by providing service until 8pm.


Things to consider:


Commentary on TootBus can be hit or miss. For a better experience, use your own headphones with the app on your phone. Sometimes, there might be annoying background music during diversions or when there's no commentary. With your phone, you can mute it when needed.


The blue route might get delayed around Kensington area because of traffic. Keep an eye on the app and ask the staff for updates, so you don't wait too long for the bus.


The bus tracking app isn't always super accurate. It's best not to rely on it entirely. 


Even with a super strict schedule, sometimes the buses do not arrive, or they are less frequent compared to its competition. However, it is just London and unexpected situations can happen. The best idea is to check the app for service updates and communicate with members of staff. 





CitySightseeing London in Piccadilly Circus

CitySightseeing brings a fresh and visually appealing approach to sightseeing in London. While I've placed them on the third spot in this ranking, there aren't huge differences between them and Tootbus. The only reason is that CitySightseeing is a newer player in the London market, so it might take them a bit longer to establish themselves and gain experience.



Reasons for choosing City Sightseeing:


  1. Affordability: The price of the tickets is relatively fair for what they offer, and they also provide a more affordable one-day ticket option without the inclusion of a boat tour. 

  2. Frequent Service: Even though they are relatively new to the London market, they've made a huge effort to match the service frequency to that of their competitors.

  3. Multilingual Commentary: CitySightseeing London stands out by offering a wider range of languages in their commentary options compared to Big Bus and Toot (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Arabic)

  4. Route Design: The route is well-designed to cover key attractions. Friendly Staff: Passengers can expect a welcoming atmosphere with amiable and helpful staff members.

  5. Friendly Staff: I have nothing but positive feedback for their staff members; each one I interacted with was exceptionally friendly.



Things to consider :


It's important to mention that their buses are slightly shorter than those of Big Bus and Toot Bus, which means they can get overcrowded during peak tourist season. To secure seats upstairs, consider starting your tour early in the morning or later in the evening.


Another aspect that City Sightseeing can focus on is increasing the frequency of buses during times of traffic disruption. From my experience, it appears that other companies handle unexpected events slightly better than them.


City Sightseeing's blue route focuses on the south side of Hyde Park. While it doesn't cover areas like Notting Hill or Paddington, like its competitors, this can be an advantage. That particular area tends to experience heavy traffic, especially around lunchtime.





Golden Tours London passing by St Paul's

While Golden Tours may be 4th on our list, don't dismiss it just yet! Golden Tours has some pleasant surprises up its sleeve. Unlike its higher-ranked counterparts, some of Golden Tours' buses offer live guides. It might be a bit challenging to figure out which buses have a live guide, but it's worth the effort.



Reasons for choosing Golden Tours:


  1. Affordability: They have plenty of budget-friendly options. 

  2. London Pass Partnership: If you purchase the London Pass, you can use Golden Tours for one day without needing to buy an extra ticket. 

  3. Multilingual Commentary: Compared to Big Bus and Toot they have 6 additional languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Arabic).  

  4. Route Design: Golden Tours has a uniquely designed route that might suit some better than the more popular tours.  

  5. Upper Deck Seating: They tend to have more available seats on the upper deck during busy times.  

  6. Live guides: Some of their buses feature live guides, a huge advantage over the other companies. Their guides are also highly rated, so if u manage to catch them you are guaranteed a fun time. 



Things to consider:


Golden Tours London has landed at the bottom of this list mostly due to concerns about the reliability of its service. In comparison to its competitors, their service frequency falls short, resulting in longer waiting times.


Figuring out Golden Tours' map may be a bit challenging at first, and their routes can seem a bit confusing. One way to overcome this is by using their app, selecting one route at a time. 


Keep in mind that they typically wrap up their service earlier than some other companies, and as the day goes on, you might observe fewer buses on the road.




TopView Lonon sightseeing bus

TopView secures the last spot in this ranking, mainly because it's a newcomer to London, having been around for less than a year. Predicting how they handle more challenging situations is a bit trickier due to their shorter presence. 



Reasons for choosing TopView:


  1. Competitive Prices: TopView stands out for offering the lowest prices on the market. It can be a great choice for those who are short on time and on a budget 

  2. Live Guides: In my opinion, every respectable bus tour should offer live guides. The experience is much better and more personal. This is where TopView stands out; their guides are also highly rated.

  3. Digital Tickets: You no longer need to carry printed tickets with you. With TopView, you can use the app to board the buses. 



Things to consider:


TopView operates on a single route, covering specific areas of London. If your hotel is in West London or you wish to visit attractions like Kensington Palace, Harrods, The Natural History Museum, or Notting Hill, you might want to explore other sightseeing tours that cover these locations.


If English isn't your first language and you'd prefer a tour with commentary in your native language, choosing another tour might be a better option.


With any new company, things can be a bit unpredictable. This could lead to occasional delays in their service.




Conclusion


We've reached the end of our review, and if I have to choose a winner, it has to be Big Bus. They offer the highest probability of having a fantastic sightseeing experience.


If you prefer to hear the commentary in your own language and both Big Bus and Toot Bus don't offer it, consider CitySightseeing or Golden Tours. They provide a wider variety of languages on their commentary. 


If you are traveling with kids, Toot Bus might be the best option due to its unique Kids audio guide. It's specially designed to keep the little ones entertained throughout the journey. 


Maybe you're short on time, or you don't need a 24-hour ticket, or simply want to go for a more budget-friendly option, check out TootBus and Golden Tours. I've noticed they frequently offer some deals and discounts.


Regardless of which tour you choose, as long as you follow some simple rules, you're guaranteed to have a good time. Always remember to check for any events happening in London, make sure there are no diversions, start early or later in the evening, especially during weekends and school holidays, and always ask the staff when the last departure is so you don't end up stranded.



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