London’s a pretty big city. If you don’t look around a little, you might miss it. Okay. I’m paraphrasing Ferris Bueller, but you get me. London is HUGE. How on earth are you gonna get around? The underground of course! Everyone’s first answer! But I’m here to propose to you a second option. A leisurely, cheap way to sightsee. The London Bus. You see them everywhere, you can’t cross the road without one zooming past. But why aren’t you sat on it?

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You’re saying I should take the bus?

Why should I take the bus, when the tube’s much quicker, I hear you cry? Well, yes. The tube is quick for long distances across the city and there’s one every few minutes. What’s not to love! But the bus offers a gentler, cheaper option. If you’re looking for what can essentially be a £1.50 tour across central London then look no further. You can get a long way for very little money. If you’re a traveller on a budget or just looking for an alternative ride, the bus is your answer!

How does it work?

A lot of my friends won’t catch the bus in London because they don’t know where they stop at, or how long they take. It’s okay! There’s a trick. First thing, they (obviously) say on the front where they’re going to, so if you can guess the general area it’s going to pass through that gives you a few ideas. There’s also a spoken announcement at every stop and a sign on the bus to tell you where’s coming up next. An alternative is at the bus stop itself. The numbers of all the buses that stop there are displayed, and a list of all of the stops given. There are also little minutes underneath each stop to give you a rough idea of how long it will take. Simple, right?

In different areas of London, you’ll catch a bus to different areas. That might sound weird. Let me explain! On the Strand, most of the buses will go to St. Paul’s and Liverpool Street, and the other way towards Victoria or through town to Regent’s Street. On Tottenham Court Road you can catch yourself a trip over to Camden, and buses going over the bridge will stop at Waterloo or London Bridge. It’s hard to fully explain in text, but location is key! The TFL website has comprehensive guides to the underground and the bus network, so hop on over and type in where you want to get to. It’ll plan you a route and tell you how long it takes. Handy if you like to be pre-prepared before you go!

How do I pay?

London buses are now cashless, meaning that you can’t pay by cash for your journey. If you’ve got an Oyster card then that is how you pay for your journey, tapping on the yellow reader as you enter the bus. Don’t tap out as you exit the bus though! Only as you enter. Another alternative is a contactless debit card if you have one. I do, so when I’m in town and there’s no money on my oyster I’m sorted! It works the same way as an oyster card, and costs the same.

A single journey, no matter how long, costs £1.50. The daily cap is £4.50 so once you reach that after 3 trips, you won’t be charger any more for the day. Amazing, right? There are also now hopper fares. Provided it’s within one hour after your first bus, you can touch in on the second for free. Yay! Travel cards are also accepted on buses, just show your ticket to the driver when you board.

Recommended routes

Here are a few routes that are worth taking, crossing most of central London and being the routes that a visitor to London might find most useful:

15 This bus begins in Blackwall, working its way through Limehouse, Aldgate and on to the Tower of London. From here it heads to St Paul’s and down Fleet Street, before ending up on the Strand and Charing Cross station.
11 Beginning in Liverpool Street, rolling on down towards Bank and past the Bank of England, through to St. Paul’s and Fleet Street again, the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, Whitehall and Westminster Abbey through to Victoria. It ends in Fulham Broadway but you needn’t take it out that far.
29 Starting in Trafalgar Square you can catch this one as it travels up Tottenham Court Road, past Goodge Street and Warren Street stations, all the way into Camden!
RV1 Primarily a tourist bus, this one begins in Covent Garden and crosses the river over to Waterloo. It then passes the London Eye and the Royal Festival Hall on its way to London Bridge. From here, it works its way over to Monument before ending at Tower Gateway, close to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

I think I’ll take the bus next time!

Yay! I am a big advocate for the London bus. When I lived there for university, it was cheaper for an annual bus pass rather than a tube pass. I could only afford the bus pass and so learned to rely on them to get me to and from uni. Having an unlimited pass also meant I abused it on the weekend to get me around. It wasn’t always fun – being a commuter sometimes meant running to the next stop like a mad woman (but I always made it! YEAH!), or having your bus not turn up at all and ending up walking half way home because you’re tired of waiting. But as a tourist these are things you’ll likely not experience, and instead you’ll be in for a pleasant and short trip on an iconic London bus. What’s not to miss? Give it a try on your next trip. You won’t regret it!