If you have an abundant amount of time that gives you the luxury of exploring London in a leisurely pace, or if you are on a budget, utilizing the London Bus is really a great way to see the city. There are various routes that would take you right by most of the major sights (and tons of lesser known places). And if you have a Visitor Oyster card (or a Travelcard), once you hit the daily spending cap, you can then make as many stops as you’d like, since all of the subsequent rides would not cost you anything more (for the day). This means you now essentially have yourself a self-guided Hop-on Hop-off bus tour, at a fraction of the cost. The obvious downside of busing around is that you may encounter some pretty horrendous London traffic at times, but as long as you are not in a hurry to get anywhere, I say to sit back and relax while observing the city life as you go by.
After some online reading (I think I just googled ‘london public bus sightseeing’), I decided to go with bus route #11 that runs between Liverpool Street Station and Fulham, and it takes you by places such as Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral, historic Strand, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, just to name a few. Since time was of the essence for us, we did not get to utilize it as our own hop-on hop-off bus. Instead we got on from Liverpool Street Station and were able to grab the front seats on the upper deck. We had an unobstructed view of the city as we cruised along while enjoyed a relaxing picnic lunch on the bus.
Some final thoughts…
I think our overall timing of this trip was perfect in many ways. Going to England in the fall instead of the summer meant that the weather was pleasantly comfortable, and there were not as many tourists around. We also learned that Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower will be covered up by scaffolding starting in early 2017 for the next 3 years for repair/maintenance work. Big Ben will even be silenced for a few months at some point. Boy was I glad that we made it there before it all happens. Additionally, the dollar to pounds exchange rates have gone in our favor not long before our arrival was such a bonus. And to travel around London a couple of months before the Boy turned 10 meant that both kids got to ride in all public transit for free which certainly didn’t hurt our budget either.
There were also a few things that were tremendously helpful in making it an enjoyable experience for us. In addition to a pre-paid SIM card for my iPhone and the wonderful Google Maps which we relied on heavily, I really loved the convenience and the efficiency of London’s Underground system. It was very easy to navigate, even for those of us who never really had public transit experience. There is a lot of useful information on the Transport for London website and I utilized its wonderful ‘Plan a journey’ tool for our daily trekking in the city. The Visitor Oyster Card was another great thing to have. We bought two cards (for the adults since the kids under 10 ride free) as soon as we arrived at the Gatwick Airport with pre-determined amount deposited (and you can easily top off if the funds were getting low). The benefit of using the Oyster Card is that the lowest fee is debited for each tube ride, and it’s capped with a daily maximum. You can also use the card to pay for buses and DLRs. And we even got unused money back when we returned the card at the airport before leaving the country!
Not counting the travel days flying between the continents, we spent a total of 10 days on this trip, which is by far the longest vacation we have taken together as a family (I don’t count the trips visiting family in Taiwan as vacations). We all got along beautifully even after being with each other 24/7, and this normally impatient mommy was actually able to stay pretty relaxed and chilled the entire time. We all love and treasure the memories we made together. I think this goes to show that traveling is really good for us as a family, right? And speaking of the length of the trip, we already took some ‘heat’ by taking the kids out of school for two weeks. But we met two different Australian families while in London who were on a 5- and 6- weeks holiday. I was beyond envious. Their children do attend school back home and the parent(s) have regular jobs. So can someone PLEASE explain to me how they could do this? That is just unheard of for those of us coming from the US!