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EXPLORING THE CAPITAL WITH BIG BUS LONDON TOURS

It’s not often that I find myself in London with enough time to spare to fully engage ‘tourist mode’, go for a wander and see some of the numerous landmarks the city has on offer. So when I found myself with a day off work to spend in the city last week, myself and Laura teamed up with Big Bus Tours to go on adventure around The Ol’ Smoke, cameras and waterproof ponchos in tow.

Big Bus Tours offer a hop-on, hop-off service of London, offering you a choice of a recorded commentary in a range of languages if you’re not native to the UK, or a live commentary delivered by a local guide on the bus itself. There are three routes which cross over at various points, allowing you to mix and match your buses depending on what you want to see, with Big Bus offering the most extensive service in the city. As we’d spent the night in the new Mondrian London, we decided cross Blackfriars Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral, which was the closest stop to our hotel. We’d opted to take the ‘Red Route’ which offers the live commentary and 31 stops across central London. However in typical London chaotic fashion, we were greeted at the stop by several ambulances, a fire crew and an apologetic member of the Big Bus staff, who informed us that just moments earlier a poor cyclist had been knocked off her bike, just a few metres away  from us.

Concerned but hopeless to help the situation, we carried on our journey by foot, stopping at Borough Market, London’s most renowned food market, to explore the goodies the traders had on offer. I’ve visited the market several times in the past, but usually on Saturday afternoons where tourists and locals alike flock to the area to pick up fresh fruit, fish, delicious fast food and home-made smoothies in their thousands. Surprisingly, walking around on a Friday afternoon was perfect; the crowds were smaller, the queues were non-existent and we were free to wander around the stalls without bumping into to many people. My first port of call was ‘Comptoir Gourmand‘, a small patisserrie stand that sells authentic French cakes and pastries. I picked up a salted caramel macaroon for just a pound (I know, £1 for a macaroon!), which was so delicious that I immediately wished I’d bought some more. I will definitely be heading back here to try one of their Earl Grey ones when I return to London in November! We carried on walking, nibbling cookie, cheese and bread samples, but most notably delicious fresh smoked salmon chunks from ‘House of Sverre‘. Our sample-grazing helped us avoid the temptation to buy some of the delicious-looking scotch eggs and sweet potato fries from a stand called ‘Scotchtails‘, which Laura has actually reviewed here in the past…you can see for yourselves what we had to tear ourselves away from! Before leaving, we made our way to the Chegworth Valley stall to pick up something to drink. They are a family run fruit farm, specialising in apple and pear produce and were offering a variety of different apple juices, which are gently pasteurised from fresh apples from the farm. After much deliberation, mainly due to the variety on offer, I went for apple and raspberry, which I sipped merrily on the way to find our bus stop.

We finally managed to jump on our bus at London Bridge, which is stop 18 on the ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ routes. From here we headed towards Tower Bridge, enjoying the views and commentary from our open-top seats.

Big Bus actually have an app which you can use during their tours, which is available for both iPhone and Android users. It’s great to use in between stops, for interesting facts and information on nearby attractions, landmarks, shopping and dining to make the most of your time in London. It also acts as a useful guide to help you plan your day if you need to stick to a tight schedule.

Our first landmarks were Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, the latter of which was one of my main reasons for wanting to take the tour in the first place due to the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation which is currently being built up in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday next month. For those of you that haven’t heard about it, volunteers and staff are currently planting 888,246 ceramic poppies into the grass surrounding the tower to commemorate the lives lost in WWI, on this the centenary anniversary…but more about that later!

From the Tower, we carried on upstream, following the banks of the Thames towards Westminster, passing our hotel along the way. While there are no ‘famous’ landmarks along this stretch of the route, our guide explained the history of some of the more unknown buildings which line the road, including Somerset House, The Savoy and Cleopatra’s Needle.

We soon arrived in Westminster, and took a few more snaps of the World’s most photographed landmark, before travelling full circle across Westminster Bridge to see Lambeth Palace, Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square.

We continued to follow the ‘Red Route’, past St James’s Park, Victoria Station. Belgrave Square and Wellington Park, admiring the view as we went. When we reached Green Park, we swapped buses as we’d reached the end of the route, before carrying on through Hyde Park Corner, Buckingham Palace andmPiccadilly Circus. It was also interesting to pass through the main shopping districts of Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, however we managed to get caught in the rush-hour traffic, so we were there for quite a while! To see the stops for all available routes.

Included in the price of a day ticket from Big Bus is a river tour, operated by City Cruises, which we decided to take from Westminster Pier to Tower Pier, making the most of the opportunity to head back to our starting point, as well as get a better look at the Tower Poppies. If you have purchased a 24 Hour ticket, you hop on and off the boat between Westminster Pier and the Tower of London, or if you’ve purchased a 48 Hour ticket, you travel all the way to Greenwich, but we had to give this a miss as we didn’t have time. The one let down to this part of our adventure was the queue, as we were waiting for nearly 45 minutes after we arrived.

They took us downstream along the Thames, and was commentated by a humorous Cockney guide with a typical dry, yet somewhat rehearsed British humour that was definitely lost on some of the foreign tourists, who were glancing at Laura and I laughing with looks of confusions and bewilderment. The river cruise itself was quite interesting and enabled us see the sights of London from an angle you don’t usually get to see, including Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern Art Gallery .

After around 15 minutes of journeying down the river, we reached and docked at Tower Pier, admiring the view of the best bridge in London (in my humble opinion!) before heading up to the Tower to view the poppies. When we arrived, a real life Beefeater was showing around two guests and I was immediately envious that I couldn’t get closer than the perimeter wall. The scene was beautiful, heartbreaking and poignant all in one go and I’m extremely happy to have been able to see them before they all get shipped to their new owners; an amazing end to a great day in the capital.

I recommend purchasing your tickets online as you’re eligible for more discounts, and also allows you to board the buses more quickly as some stop can get very busy during peak times. Prices start at £32 for adults and £12 for children, and as a web exclusive you can get a 48 hour package for the price of 24, perfect for if you fancy a trip to Greenwich on the boat. Big Bus also regularly run special offers on fixed date tickets purchased.

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