London has almost as many different ways of sightseeing as there are sights to see in the city. I’ve been on duck tours, walking tours, double decker bus tours, cycling tours – you name it. The one thing that I had not done until last week was the Omnibus Tour.
The Stanfords’ Omnibus
The Omnibus Tours are run by Stanfords, the travel maps and books store, in Covent Garden that I love. When my friend Melanie from Sunny in London asked me to be her plus one on a complimentary Omnibus tour, of course, I agreed enthusiastically. As far as I’m concerned, anything associated with Stanfords should be fabulous.
The unmistakable red, yellow and green omnibus
The restored Victorian Omnibus is by pulled three horses and technically can seat 18 people. I’m thinking Victorians were a lot smaller even with their poufy skirts because that seems like a tight fit to me. Apparently people would hang off the sides and squeeze in where they could. Clearly, health and safety was not much of a concern.
The horses drew many admirers.
The coachman and driver were in full Victorian regalia which, of course, meant they were immediately easy to spot even in the crowds of Covent Garden. They told me the team of horses are imported from Belgium because Belgian horses make the best carriage horses. When they are not navigating the streets of central London, the horses are stabled near Watford.
The Omnibus Tour of London
True to her name, the day of our tour was indeed gloriously sunny. We took a late afternoon jaunt through the main tourist areas of London on the top deck. Although the tour was an hour, the ride seemed a lot less. We weaved our way through traffic at a surprisingly fast clip.
Stuck in London traffic but at least you are perched in a cool vehicle.
Of course, the tour starts in front of Stanfords in Covent Garden. The rest of the route takes you on a loop through Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, the Palace of Westminster, Pall Mall, Picadilly Circus and Soho as well. There is a tour guide on board whose patter I thought was fairly basic. Usually tour guides are chock full of trivia but I didn’t learn very much new. I’m sure it’s fine for a first time visitor to London.
Eye level with the top deck of a double decker
Here’s a short video of what you can expect to see – many of the clips are from the Omnibus Tour.
The Omnibus Tour Photo Gallery
Although I’ve seen these sights many times before, it’s still thrilling to see London as a tourist. It’s all very grand and beautiful.
Pretend the Banana Republic isn’t there and you are in Victorian England
For more than map storage nowadays
Pretty and he knows it.
What’s the Verdict?
I had a very enjoyable time and I know my kids would love the Omnibus tour. We have taken horse and carriage rides through many a European city (yes, we are those people). I want to take the kids next time when the Christmas decorations lights are up in London. It’ll be like stepping back in time riding an Omnibus through London’s historic streets. What better way to start the Christmas season in London?
The Omnibus Tour can be booked through the Stanfords website or in the store itself. The tour runs three times in the afternoon every Tuesday and Thursday. The tours started in the summer and will run through December. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £60.
The Tower of London is one of the must-sees in London. It’s therefore a bonus that it is always a fun place to take the children. It’s got lots of history, plenty filled with gore, to keep them interested as well as the amazing Crown Jewels.
All around the Tower are these amazing chicken wire sculptures of animals that used to be in the Royal Menagerie. For example, the polar bear was a gift to Henry III from the King of Norway. The polar bear was kept on a long leash and allowed to swim and fish in the Thames. In the 18th century, the monkeys were kept in a palace room so that visitors could be amused by their human-like antics. The sculptures are found throughout the Tower area and makes a fun finding game for children.
monkey mother and child
Another animal, ravens, are integral to the myth of the Tower of London. Apparently the Tower of London will fall if there are no more ravens left. They have their wings clipped every couple of weeks to keep them from flying away. They are fed 4 times a day a diet of meat and blood-soaked biscuits. Having originally been one of the 20 castles established by William the Conqueror to symbolise his dominance and conquest, this site is steeped in history (and blood). A plaque marks the place where 3 Queens of England were beheaded, including the most well-known, Anne Boleyn. In happier times, Henry VII had these buildings made as quarters for the Boleyns when they weren’t at Hever Castle. This past of mayhem and murder means the Tower has its share of ghost stories especially the White Tower. Our children were fascinated to learn that the wardens’ dogs will not enter the White Tower. Apparently, the dogs will just stand outside and whimper.
The White Tower also has an armoury which children will like. In addition to the armoury itself, there are interactive exhibits to demonstrate how to shoot a bow and arrow or what a knight could see through his helmet’s eye slits (not much!). In addition, there was a dragon which was made of fighting apparel because historically, armies had displayed arms captured in battle in a pile. The modern version was much more artistic.
The dragon’s tail and foot
My daughter (and even my son) were completely enthralled by the Crown Jewels. She couldn’t believe the Cullinan diamond would have been the size of her head before it was cut into 10 diamonds, including one for the monarch’s sceptre. There are approximately 11 tons of gold in this collection and thousands of precious stones.
Image credit: Historic Royal Palaces
Image credit: Historic Royal Palaces
Some random Tower trivia:
Not only boiling oil was poured out of the murder holes in the castles walls but also boiling tar, and boiling urine (in that order). The tar was to represent being tarred and feathered, a form of humiliation, as was the urine, the ultimate insult.
Many of the prisoners in the Tower carved graffiti into the stone walls using just their fingernails which resulted in lots of blood, of course.
The last prisoner in the Tower was Rudolf Hess, second in command to Hitler, who parachuted into Scotland on a secret mission during World War II and was captured. (Wouldn’t that be a great parody along the lines of ‘Allo Allo?)
In the obligatory gift shop stop, I found a book which was written as if Henry VIII was a blogger. In this witty take on the king’s life, Henry wrote blog posts about his women troubles, his annoyance with assorted ministers etc. I’m waiting for the Twitter version of Henry VIII’s life. I’m thinking he would be a prolific tweeter, obvs.
We were visitors at the Tower of London courtesy of City Wonders.
In Marrakech, you can see the Atlas Mountains hovering in the distance. I have always heard how beautiful the mountains were and my interest was piqued. So we tore the kids away from the hotel pool and hired a guide to drive us into the Atlas Mountains. He took us to the closest villages near Marrakech which were in the Ourika Valley and a world away from the cosmopolitan buzz of the city.
Life in these villages appeared pretty traditional and the outside world seemed far away. There were people carrying their wares on donkeys, little children just hanging around and houses clinging to the cliffs onto which they are built. On the less quaint side, you did get the hard sell from trinket sellers and children begging for money.
We were invited into a Berber home for tea. I expect this home makes a pretty good living out of inviting tourists into their house.
The house is built into the hillside and there are lots of little internal stairs. It was built on 3/4 levels and also a terrace from which there were amazing views.
I liked the colourful baskets which hung on the walls.
Old tagines stacked in the corner give evidence of feasts past.
This one-person hamam (steam bath) would be useful for those cold nights. You lit the fire outside and then took a bucket of water into the little hut and waited for the steam to build. Very efficient.
Our snack was made in the home’s kitchen. It was bread with delicious butter and honey on the side for spreads.
The butter was made in the home from milk made by the family’s cow who also had his little room right after the house entrance but before you entered the family living area.
Piles of wood are stocked up for the wood-burning fires. The walls hold the bellows to keep the fires burning. Both the heating and the cooking used wood-burning stoves.