London in a day

I was beyond excited to finally visit London. A city that is steeped in history marked by loss, heartbreak, victory and triumph, it’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. Even though we had good five days there, with so many things to do and see, we needed to decide what to cover in that time frame. One of my favourite ways to start exploring a new destination is by doing the hop-on hop-off tour usually offered in most cities and luckily, in London. Here is why.

Get the lay of the land

Guidebooks and research are great, but they don’t always allow you to gauge how far things are and how long it takes to get from one place to another. Most tours provide a map of the routes so it’s easy to find the sighs and places you want to revisit. I always find the tours very helpful in planning the best way to organize my trip. Also, as the tours often offer multi-day passes, you can use them to travel from place to place without having to spend additional money on transportation.

London is quite a large city, however, once you know where things are it becomes very manageable. Luckily, many of the touristy destinations are close to each other, almost as if placed there on purpose to make them easier to visit.

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Maryann and I ready for our bus tour
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lovely views from the bus

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Combined deals

Quite often, the bus tours include discounted tickets to local attractions or include other excursions like a boat tour.  We definitely took advantage of this and sailed on the river Thames from the Tower of London to Westminster, enjoying the great views along the way.

It was a gorgeous day and we were able to see the city from a different angle.  We probably wouldn’t have done it on its own, but having it as part of the deal definitely made it that much more appealing. One point to keep in mind is that there are others doing the same thing as you so the wait for the ferry can be longer on a nice day.

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Line up for ferries
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Great seats with great views
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Ferry got pretty full
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Sailing under the London Bridge
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Views from the water
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London eye from the ferry

Discover local stories and gossip

Bus tours, both with a pre-recorded or a live guide, often offer interesting tidbits that might not be written in a guidebook. Whether it’s a local legend, ghost story or a former residence of a scandalous mistress, the guides make the history come alive and provide context to what’s in front of you. They can also explain any unusual architectural features that might appear odd, but had a purpose in another time or why thing were done a certain way.

In London, for example we learned that Portland Place is an unusually wide street dating back to the 18th century. During that time, Lord Foley who happened to have his mansion there, didn’t want his view obstructed by new development and used his influence to make sure it stayed that way.  To accommodate his wishes, the architects made the road the same width as his house (which doesn’t exist anymore), leaving the legacy behind. Fancy that.

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Langham Hotel from 1865 facing Portland Place today

Photographer’s dream

If nothing else, viewing the city from the bus’ open top allows for great views. As a photographer, I love the opportunity to see things from a different angle and get up close to things not always as easily accessible from the street level, be that windows, doors, arches or architectural features incorporated into the design.

Sometimes, the tours are offered in the evening when the lights transform the city into a very different place. Those are definitely a treat that is hard to pass up.

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. -Samuel Johnson

What are some of your favourite ways to plan your travels? Do you map them out ahead of time or wait till you get there?

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