For a step back in time that will have you feeling like a London aristocrat, you can’t beat a horse-drawn carriage! Covent Garden bookstore Stanfords sells maps and unique souvenirs, but they also have an authentic horse-drawn omnibus that will take you on a tour of central London like no other. Forget the black cabs and overpriced rickshaws – there’s nothing else quite like this in London and it’s an excellent way to get a feel for the city’s rich history.
You can find Stanfords on Long Acre in Covent Garden, just a few stops on the Underground away from accommodation in Paddington London. Tickets for the omnibus ride are available in-store. The fully-restored omnibus has eighteen seats and is pulled by three beautiful horses, who tend to attract a fair-sized crown. Londoners are used to seeing horses, since mounted police are common, but it’s always a treat to have them standing still so you can get up close. Feel free to snap a photo with your favourite and give them a pat!
On sunny days, the rooftop seats are in high demand, reached by a narrow metal staircase at the back of the bus. You’ll get a spectacular view from the top, though you’ll need to hang on, and if the weather turns colder you can retreat inside. As you go, your top-hatted guide from Stanfords keeps up a running commentary on the sights you pass. The journey starts by whizzing past Covent Garden Underground Station, before passing the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden Market. You’ll feel like a celebrity as people pause to stare and wave!
Next, you’ll head down the Strand, where you might find yourself stuck in traffic – an odd experience in a quiet horse-drawn vehicle like this one. But you’ll eventually pass Charing Cross station and come to the famous Trafalgar Square. Snap your photos fast, because you won’t be staying: the route now takes you alongside the River Thames on the Victoria Embankment. There are plenty of pretty river views here to satisfy the photographer in you.
As you come to Westminster and traverse Parliament Square you’ll get a great close-up view of Big Ben and Parliament House as well as Westminster Abbey. This is a valuable opportunity for you to get a photo of the clock tower uninterrupted by other tourists, with nobody’s head in the way!
From here the route travels along Whitehall, which is lined with monuments to various wars and those who fought in them. You’re now approaching 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British Prime Minister, and you might notice the horses starting to get excited. This is because you are near Horse Guards of Whitehall, where the military horses are paraded and trained. The carriage horses are looking forward to meeting their friends! If there are some horses on duty, you might get to witness a beautiful reunion.
Explore Piccadilly Circus & China Town
Now come some of the sights you’ll have been waiting for: Piccadilly Circus, the exotic sights and scents of Chinatown, and the glittering lights of Theatreland. During November and December, the whole area is strung with Christmas lights and it makes a wonderful sight when the sun goes down early. Keep an eye out for any shows you might like to see: tickets will be on sale for all of them online and in the ticket booths around Leicester Square.
This kind of tour is the perfect introduction to London’s most famous sights for a first-time visitor and a great complement to hotel deals in London. Kids will love the horses and the old-fashioned omnibus, and it’s something a little different to the hop-on, hop-off tour buses that regularly ply the streets of central London. Be sure to check the Stanfords website for tour times and dates.