When planning my trip to London, I knew I would be arriving mid-morning and that my lovely host Alex would be busy working, so I would have to entertain myself for several hours after landing - this is nothing new for anyone travelling to Europe. Luckily, she was working quite centrally, near the Green Park tube station, which made it very easy for me to find and meet her. That said, I had to store my massive roller bag for the day, and doing so at Paddington Station (where the super easy airport train takes you) didn't make sense for our rush-hour trip home, so I had to first get my bag over to Victoria station. The first thing to know about the London Tube: while very efficient to get around the city (usually), it is not particularly modern with few escalators in most stations, and therefore not very roller-bag friendly. Day one and I was highly annoyed with my new suitcase and missing my handy backpack. SIGH.
Once I got my bag settled and got some lunch, it was time to go exploring, but I was already a bit worn out and guess what I found just outside the Victoria station? The hop-on/hop-off double decker bus tours. Now, I will admit to some snobbery about these bus tours, but at the same time, I studied the map and realized it would take me pretty much everywhere I needed to go over the next day or two. Plus, it was a nice day, and I was already dragging a bit after my red-eye, so I decided to give it a shot. In this case, I'm overall quite happy I chose to get that 48-hour ticket, because I definitely got to see some neighborhoods I likely wouldn't have, and I was able to get around town easily, while actually seeing the city. The tube, while great and more economical, is unfortunately underground, so you do miss a lot of scenery in getting from place to place. Plus, especially if you get one of the busses with a live guide on it, you do learn some fun tid-bits as you go from place to place. That first afternoon I made it out to Kensington Palace, past Hyde Park, down Oxford Street and around to Trafalgar Square, all with very little effort on my part. Very helpful for a jet-lagged me! Plus, the next day I was able to take a cruise down the Thames (also on my ticket) which was a lovely, informative, and quick way into the center of town from my friend's apartment (which was a bit further east from the Tower). All-in-all, I do recommend these hop-on/hop-off busses, especially for an overview of the city, or if you maybe have some mobility issues. Here are a few of the shots I took from the open-top of the bus (use arrows to see more):
That said, you really don't get to know a place well enough by zipping around on a bus. If possible, I highly, highly, recommend walking around to get to know things, and walking tours are a great way of doing so. London is lucky to be filled chock-full of great neighborhoods with their own histories, and I highly, highly recommend the company "London Walks" for their excellent walking tour itineraries. I took quite a few during my time, and they really all were quite impressive. For example, though I had circled the area near St. James on my bus-tour, I didn't actually SEE St. James, so I took a walking tour and saw and learned just SO MUCH more. I saw the hotel where Diana stayed when the divorce was announced, the alley through which Rupert Murdoch & his News of the World head editor tried to avoid the press during the hacking scandal, along with three of London's exclusive gentlemen's clubs, amongst much, much more. Check out the daffodils on our route in between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House (Royal residence & part of the St. James complex):
There really isn't a better way to get the feeling of a city. Even on that first day, after I'd taken my bus tour and met up with my friend, we decided to walk our way back to a different tube station, rather than changing lines, and that's when I came across Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament in a quiet moment, at dusk, and took my favorite pictures from my whole time in London (to the right, and below):
SO- in the great debate between walking and hop-on/hop-off bus tours, it's obvious, and likely not a surprise that I come down on the side of walking. HOWEVER - if you have limited time, energy, (or mobility), then bus tours are not a bad option, at all, especially to get an overview of town.