London: 5 bus routes every visitor should know

Heritage Bus 9
Number 9... Number 9... The Heritage Route is the most famous bus in London. Photo: Uli Harder

If you want to get to know London properly, why waste your time being crushed too close to a commuter on the Tube when the London bus offers a far more pleasant way to get around?

And it’s also far cheaper. Using an Oyster card, it’ll cost you £4.40 a day at most to get anywhere on the London bus network, compared to double that on the Underground (find out more about how to use London buses in our guide).

With over 700 different bus routes in the city, there’s no need to pay for traditional sightseeing tours. Here are the five buses that every visitor to London should know about.

RV1 London

The RV1 is sometimes referred to as the “tourist bus.” Photo: Sludgeulper

RV1

We’ve sung the praises of this bus on EuroCheapo before and with good reason, as its route takes in some of the city’s most famous attractions (Londoners commonly know it as “the tourist bus”). It starts in Covent Garden before heading to the river for some stunning views, including the London Eye and the South Bank Buildings, and it trundles over Tower Bridge for a picture postcard perfect shot, before delivering you virtually to the door of the Tower of London.

All in all, a much better experience than that enjoyed historically by most visitors to the Tower.

#9 Heritage Route

Think of a traditional London bus and you’re probably thinking of a Routemaster: a red double decker, with a platform at the back for passengers to leap on and off. This style of bus had been on the road since the mid-1950s and its withdrawal from service in 2005 lead to howls of protests from its fans. Because of the protests, the Routemasters were allowed to keep operating on two “heritage” service: the 9 and the 15. The Heritage number 9 route is suitably scenic, running through Kensington, past the Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park and Green Park for Buckingham Palace, before terminating in Trafalgar Square.

A huge disadvantage is that the buses aren’t built for wheelchair or pushchair access (a reason behind them being taken out of service). However, there are also modern and access-friendly number 9 buses running along an extended version of the same route. Although slightly confusing, it does mean that the views are available to everyone.

38 bus London

The hardworking 38 bus heads from Victoria to the centre. Photo: Wirewiping

#38

The number 38 is a hardworking route, going all the way from Victoria Station to the south of the centre, up to Clapton in the East End. In fact, it’s the perfect route for visitors who have come straight off the bus or the train, as its hour-long journey (on a good day) takes in Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch and Bloomsbury, before heading north to King’s Cross and Euston stations, and up east through Hackney.

As testament to its usefulness, this route was selected as the first to run the “new bus for London.” Introduced at the end of 2011, these new buses were designed by Thomas Heatherwick, the man behind the London Olympics cauldron. Their sleek and space-age style will give you something else to ponder as you cross the city.

The 24 shoots from Pimlico straight through the heart of London. Photo: Zongo

The 24 shoots from Pimlico straight through the heart of London. Photo: Zongo

#24

No meandering around back streets for this bus. The 24 takes a very useful and direct route through the centre of the city. Starting in Pimlico, it travels through the heart of Westminster and past the Houses of Parliament, before shooting northwards. Use it to take you to drinks in Soho, or to check out Camden’s famous market, or to head for a bracing walk on Hampstead Heath. With the route taking an estimated 40 minutes in total, it’ll probably get you there quicker than the Tube, and certainly with more interesting things to look at along the way.

#8

For exploring the east of the city, you’ll need to get to know the number 8. It starts in the depths of the East End, and its route takes in some of London’s most fashionable bars, clubs and shops that are clustered around Brick Lane and Shoreditch. Then it’s onto the City itself – one of the oldest bits of London and where historical institutions brush up against today’s modern financial market. You can find out more in the Museum of London, one of the next stops on the route. A final sweep through Bloomsbury and then you’re bang into the centre of the city.

Did we miss your bus?

What are your favorite London buses? Tell us about the ones we’ve missed.

About the author

Frances Ambler
Frances Ambler has been doing her best to live in London on the cheap since 2003. She works as an editor in one of London’s best – and free – museums, as well as writing for various websites including domesticsluttery.com. An avid second-hand shopper, ten years of "research" culminated in her most recent project: writing for the soon-to-be-published "Rough Guide to Vintage London."
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Cheapo Comments

One Response to “London: 5 bus routes every visitor should know”
  • shozm says:

    Very nice column! One of my favorite bus routes in London is the 188, which takes you from Greenwich to Russell Square.

    Traveling in that bus in the early morning hours, brings to life some of the most typical London neighborhoods, exposing the raw nerves and guts of a fascinating city. Going through vibrant quarters with a nitty gritty past, such as Surrey Quays, Bermondsey, Tower Bridge Road; passing along the frenzy of Elephant & Castle and Waterloo Station, and finally crossing the river to reach the stately profiles of Holborn and Russell Square, this is a most enlightening tour.

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