The Original London Transport Sightseeing Tour was the first sightseeing tour of its kind in London, formally introduced by London Transport as ‘Service J’ on 11th June 1951, when thousands of visitors descended on the capital for the Festival of Britain. It was described at the time as a non-stop circular tour of London operating with double-decker buses from Buckingham Palace Road, South Kensington Station and Bloomsbury Place.
The tour was promoted with the slogan ‘around the town for half a crown’. As part of the tour, visitors were given a free London Transport Guide Book with the aid of which they had to identify the major sights of London for themselves. By the early seventies the service had expanded to offer conducted coach tours in the City, Windsor & Hampton Court, all “live guided” by the renowned Blue Badge Guides. Back in 1971 the fares for an ‘Around London Sightseeing Tour’ were 50p for adults and 30p for children, whilst the conducted coach tours in the City cost £1.40 and £1.10 respectively.
The first live guides were introduced on the Around London Tours in 1984, with taped commentaries in French and German following the next year. In 1990 the service was further improved with digitally recorded commentaries, in up to eight languages. 1991 saw the launch of the most popular hop-on, hop-off service allowing passengers the freedom to get off and explore the sights they passed.
Over the years there were several name changes from the initial uncharismatic Service J until 1992 when the name ‘The Original London Sightseeing Tour’ was finally adopted. In the same year the company was sold to the Pullmans Group Limited and traded as London Coaches Ltd.
In December 1997, The Original London Sightseeing Tour Ltd was taken over by Arriva, one of the largest transport service organisations in Europe. In addition to the provision of bus and train services, Arriva plc also operates a Bus and Coach dealership; and holds the Cross Country rail franchise.
In March 2001 London Pride Ltd was acquired and merged with The Original London Sightseeing Tour, creating the largest single operation of its kind anywhere in the world.
In August 2010 The Original Tour's parent company, Arriva plc, officially became a part of DB UK Holding Limited (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn AG) for £1.5bn. The Deutsche Bahn group has 295,000 employees in 130 countries.
Today, over 60 years later, trading simply as “The Original Tour”, this multi-award winning company continues to provide visitors to London with a relaxed and enjoyable view of the capital’s famous landmarks from open-topped buses operating throughout the year.