Boats, buses & bicycles: the best ways to tour London
Taking a tour of London is a fantastic way to see a lot when you are short on time. But how do you choose the right tour for you?
We asked London travel writer Laura Porter to look over our 101 Things to Do in London for ideas and to give her recommendations on different ways to see London.
Open-top bus tours
Hop-on hop-off bus tours are a really good way to explore as they have onboard guides to point out the sights along the way. The 101 list includes the Golden Tours bus tour at no. 36 but there's also The Original London Sightseeing Tour and Big Bus Tours in London too.
All have a variety of routes so you can choose the one best suited to what you want to see or where you want to hop off. Plus there are free walking tours included and a trip on The Thames too.
Yes, it's a "touristy" thing to do but it's fun and a really good way to see lots of landmarks without negotiating public transport. The guides usually have good knowledge so they'll point out places along the way and you can also ask questions.
A bus tour with tea and cakes
At #10 on Travelzoo's 101 Things to Do in London list is the B Bakery's afternoon tea bus tour. It's got to be good as it's managed to get a mention in my Best Afternoon Teas in London and my 'Quirky London' round-up.
This is a chance to see the London landmarks from a red double decker Routemaster bus (the old-fashioned type where you could jump on and off at the back). It's been converted to accommodate dining tables so you are served a full afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, plus tea and cakes while riding around town seeing the sights.
The 'dining on the go' bus route takes you past the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Harrods and more so you'll get to tick off plenty of landmarks while partaking in this quintessentially English dining experience.
Thames River tours
A Thames river cruise is great way to get a different perspective on the city. City Cruises is one of the most well known. The central London stretch has the Houses of Parliament, London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral, Tate Modern, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. A decent Guide will point out all of these and lots more besides. The London Eye River Cruise is good as it's a 40-minute circular cruise so you see a lot in a short time and get back to where you started.
If you have a spirit of adventure I'd also recommend Thames Rockets (main picture above) as you can then combine seeing the sights from The Thames with commentary from some of the funniest Guides in town, and a speedboat frenzy once you get beyond Tower Bridge. You get to twist and turn at up to 35 mph with classic feel-good tunes blasting out.
If you'd like a more sedate way to travel on the water, how about a narrowboat waterbus along the Regent's Canal? This made it onto the 101 list at #60 and it's a lovely way to see a different side of London. The route from picturesque Little Venice to lively Camden Town passes along the edge of Regent's Park and through London Zoo.
Why not take the helm yourself with GoBoat London? These electric-powered self-driven boats are collected from Paddington and then you can can head off with up to seven friends and explore the Regent's Canal in your own time. The top speed is only 4mph so give in to the slow travel and enjoy the peace.
London cycling tours
The London Bicycle Tour Company operates out of Gabriel's Wharf on the South Bank and is probably the most well known operator of its type. They offer day and night tours, which means if your thighs can handle it you could see the city in completely different ways on both of these tours.
Fat Tire Tours has a popular Royal London Bike Tour. You don't need to be super-fit as it's four hours at a leisurely pace. And BrakeAway Bike Tours has an afternoon Secret London Bike Tour where you'll see the big well-known stuff and more hidden places too.
Walking tours around London
It's no surprise to find walking tours on the 101 list at #70. London Walks has guided walks on offer every day of the week and on a wide variety of themes. All walks cost £10, last around two hours, and kids go free.
There's the popular Jack the Ripper Tour but also guided walks within London museums (as some are huge!). You could go street art spotting or even explore the London Underground. Find Harry Potter's London or that of Shakespeare or Dickens. And there are pub walks where, yes, you get to stop off at plenty of pubs.
London driving tours
If you fancy pretending you’re in The Italian Job, then this is the tour for you. Your Small Car Big City driver is also a Tour Guide and you get driven around London in a Classic Mini Cooper. Up to three passengers can fit in these compact cars and you'll be amazed at the gaps the cars can fit through! I loved this tour and would definitely recommend it.
I've also been on a tour with Graham Greenglass from London Cab Tours. He drives an iconic London black taxi and has lots of tour options that can include London and further afield. You don't just get to drive by the sights, as Graham ensures you get lots of stops for photo opportunities too. He can also adapt any tour to suit your interests and, because you're in a taxi, you can be dropped off at your hotel at the end of the tour.
Laura Porter writes AboutLondonLaura.com and contributes to many other publications while maintaining an impressive afternoon tea addiction. You can find Laura on Twitter as @AboutLondon and on Facebook as @AboutLondonLaura