Whether you join the Santander Cycles hire scheme or just, per usual, get one from a rental shop, remember that London is still a busy metropolis: unless you're familiar with riding in London traffic, the best way to see it on two wheels is probably to contact one of the excellent cycle-tour companies.
Santander Cycles. 0343/222–6666; 208/216–6666; www.tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles.
Cycle Tours of London. A selection of 3½-hour tours, with differing levels of difficulty, include an exploration of London’s many canals. 07788/994430; www.biketoursoflondon.com. From £20.
Fat Tire Bike Tours. With themes such as "Royal London," the "River Thames," and the "Thames by Twilight," tours last around four hours. 07882/338779; www.fattirebiketours.com. From £22.
London Bicycle Tour Company. A wide range of full- and half-day itineraries include a three-hour Mystery Tour. 020/7928–6838; www.londonbicycle.com. From £23.95.
Year-round, but more frequently April–October, boats cruise the Thames, offering a different view of the London skyline. Most leave from Westminster Pier, Charing Cross Pier, and Tower Pier. Downstream routes go to the Tower of London, Greenwich, and the Thames Barrier via Canary Wharf. Upstream destinations include Kew, Richmond, and Hampton Court (mainly in summer). Most of the launches seat between 100 and 250 passengers, have a public-address system, and provide a running commentary on passing points of interest. Some include musical entertainment. Depending on the destination, river trips may last from one to four hours.
Details on all other operators are available as a PDF from Transport for London's River Services page www.tfl.gov.uk.
River Cruise Operators
Bateaux London. Dine in style, with lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner cruises, plus a Jazz cruise every Sunday lunchtime. 020/7695–1800; www.bateauxlondon.com. From £32.
London Duck Tours. Big yellow amphibious trucks take you all over the capital and across (literally) the Thames. 020/7928–3132; www.londonducktours.co.uk. From £24.
Thames Cruises. Dance the night away on board a disco cruise boat (weekends only). 020/7928–9009; www.thamescruises.com. From £23.
Thames River Boats. This is a scheduled daily boat service from Westminster to Hampton Court, with stops at Kew and Richmond en route. Service runs March through October. 020/7930–2062; www.wpsa.co.uk. From £12.
Thames River Services. Year-round daily service is provided between Westminster and Greenwich, plus various sightseeing and guided tour options. You need to book in advance. 020/7930–4097; www.thamesriverservices.co.uk. From £9.
Bus, Coach, and Taxi Tours
Guided sightseeing tours from the top of double-decker buses, which are open-top in summer, are a good introduction to the city, as they cover all the main central sights. A number of companies run daily bus tours that depart (usually 8:30–9 am) from central points. In hop-on, hop-off fashion, you may board or alight at any of the numerous stops to view the sights, and reboard on the next bus. Most companies offer this hop-on, hop-off feature but others, such as Best Value, remain guided tours in traditional coach buses. Tickets can be bought from the driver and are good all day. Prices vary according to the type of tour. For that more personal touch, try out a guided tour in a taxi.
Bus Tour Operators
Best Value Tours. A wide variety of tours, both classic (Tower of London, Buckingham Palace) and quirky (the Ghost Bus tour) are offered. 0870/803–1316; www.bestvaluetours.co.uk. From £16.
Big Bus Tours. This hop-on, hop-off service tours all of London's top attractions. 020/7808–6753; www.bigbustours.com. From £24.50.
Black Taxi Tour of London. You can take a two-hour guided tour in an iconic London black cab. 020/7935–9363; www.blacktaxitours.co.uk. From £150 for up to five passengers.
Golden Tours. This company offers a hop-on, hop-off service as well as day-long guided tours. 020/7630–2028; 800/509–2507; www.goldentours.co.uk. Hop-on, hop-off from £21.50; day tours from £63.
Original London Sightseeing Tour. This company offers a choice of six hop-on, hop-off routes. 020/8877–1722; www.theoriginaltour.com. From £26.
Premium Tours. Most half-day and full-day tours begin with a private viewing of the Tower of London and end with a trip on the London Eye. 020/7713–1311; 800/250--5775; www.premiumtours.co.uk. From £46.
The tranquil side of London can be found on narrow boats that cruise the city's two canals, the Grand Union and Regent's Canal; most vessels operate on the latter, which runs between Little Venice in the west (nearest Tube: Warwick Avenue on the Bakerloo line) and Camden Lock (about 200 yards north of Camden Town Tube station). Fares start at about £9 for 1½-hour round-trip cruises.
Canal Tour Operators
Canal Cruises. Trips up (and down) the Regent's Canal are both friendly and informative. 020/8440–8962; www.londoncanalcruises.com. From £9.
Jason's Trip. There's a choice of cruises—with or without commentary—along the Regen'ts Canal. www.jasons.co.uk. From £9.
London Waterbus Company. Cruises between Little Venice and Camden Lock, with a guide on board, last 45 minutes. 020/7482–2550; www.londonwaterbus.co.uk. From £8.50.
Evan Evans, Green Line, and National Express all offer day excursions by bus to places within easy reach of London, such as Hampton Court, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Bath.
Evan Evans. A large selection of varied and interesting half- and full-day tours are available, including a London Rock (as in "music"!) tour. 020/7950–1777; 866/382–6868; www.evanevanstours.co.uk. From £18.
One of the best ways to get to know London is on foot, and there are many guided and themed walking tours available. For more options, pick up a copy of Time Out magazine and check the weekly listings for upcoming one-off tours.
Walking Tour Operators
Blood and Tears Walk. Fun, friendly, informative two-hour tours of London’s creepiest and scariest spots include a Jack the Ripper walk. 07905/746–733; www.shockinglondon.com. From £10.
Blue Badge. Full- and half-day detailed, informed tours are led by members of the British Guild of Tourist Guides. 020/7403–1115; www.britainsbestguides.org. From £40.
Context London. Small groups are led by expert archaeologists and historians on three-hour tours that are intensive and informative, covering art, architecture, and similar themes. 020/3514–1780; 800/691–6036; www.contexttravel.com/city/london. From £90.
London Walks. The London Walks Company hosts more than 100 walks every week on a variety of themes, including a Thames pub walk, Literary Bloomsbury, Legal London, a West End Ghost Walk, and Spies and Spycatchers. 020/7624–3978; www.walks.com. From £10.
Richard Jones's London Walking Tours. Daily (and nightly) tours led by author and broadcaster Richard Jones include a Jack the Ripper Walk, following in his footsteps. Other tours include Secret London, the West End with Dickens, and Hampstead—A Country Village. 020/8530–8443; www.londondiscoverytours.co.uk. From £10.
Shakespeare City Walk. This 90-minute tour takes you to some of the lesser-known hangouts of the Bard. 07905/746733; www.shakespeareguide.com. From £10.