London’s long and colourful history is writ large at every turn, with its winding streets and centuries-old buildings having stood, often unchanged, since Charles Dickens was immortalising the era. You can get a taste for the atmosphere of Victorian London with an Omnibus Tour, which gives you a different perspective from a walking, bus or boat tour from a traditional, horse-drawn Victorian omnibus: the very first bus service in London.
Omnibus tours are run by Stanfords, the vast map and travel book store in Covent Garden – the shop itself is well worth a visit to inspire the adventurer in you, too. George Shillibeer started operating his horse-drawn omnibus on the streets of London in 1829, taking passengers on a route from Paddington to the City. These tours are run on fully restored, eighteen-seater versions of the original omnibus, with both indoor and rooftop seating – they promise a less crowded ride than the original buses, which were often so full that people clung on to the sides.The omnibus is drawn by three beautiful Belgian carriage horses and driven by Tim Wood, a horse trainer with over 25 years’ experience. If you’re looking for a hotel in central London, The Montcalm at Brewery London City is a luxurious property brilliantly located for the Stanfords tour and many of London’s other tourist attractions.
Covent Garden in London
Tours last for one hour, taking in the areas around Piccadilly, Covent Garden and Westminster at a leisurely pace which allows for photo opportunities, while your expert guide brings the ancient streets to life and tells you all about the local area’s history and landmarks.Starting outside Stanfords in Covent Garden, you’ll set off on a loop through some of central London’s most famous landmarks. Trafalgar Square is home to the internationally famous Nelson’s Column, commemorating the great Admiral with four lion statues guarding its base; statues of King George IV and Generals Charles James Napier and Henry Havelock; and the Fourth Plinth, which stood empty for over 150 years and began in 1998 to display temporary sculptures and works of art.
From there, you’ll go along Whitehall to the Palace of Westminster – or the Houses of Parliament, as they’re universally known. The seat of British democracy for centuries, these magnificent buildings have survived the ravages of fire (twice, including the Great Fire in 1666), and the Blitz, and have been intertwined with much of Britain’s history. Given that tours of the buildings themselves are hard to come by – and some are only available to UK residents –this kind of tour is the best way to take in the Houses of Parliament. The most famous and oft-photographed component is Elizabeth Tower, the clock tower universally known by the name of its bell: Big Ben.
From Westminster you’ll head down Pall Mall, a thoroughfare famous for its presence on the Monopoly Board and as the home of many of London’s most prestigious member’s clubs, including the Athenaeum, the Travellers Club, and the Army and Navy Club. You’ll then proceed to the iconic junction that is Piccadilly Circus and on to Soho. At this time of year, there’s also a Christmas Lights Tour, which takes in some of London’s most festive spots.