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London bus near Westminister Abbey

See London – How to travel around the main tourist spots from free to £5

Walking and cycling around London is easy and far nicer than being stuck on an expensive tour bus. Or, if the weather’s bad or you’re not feeling mobile – you can use the regular bus service to sightsee cheaply in comfort, without the irritating commentary. Lots of normal bus routes will take you past some of London’s greatest sights, and TfL have provided some handy guides for the best ones. This blog post covers:

London by public bus – the cheap untouristy way!

Get away from the tourist crowds (though probably not the Londoner crowds) and see the city in comfort using TfL’s normal bus service. You can spend all day on London buses for just £5 – that gives you bus-only travel across all zones. Or for £1.50, you can hop on unlimited buses for free within one hour of touching in for your first journey. Or – most likely – if you’re bussing and tubing around zones 1 and 2 for the day anyway, all your bus travel will be covered in the £5.10 daily cap – so it’s free! See our guide to London transport for more about TfL, fares, Oyster etc.

Don’t forget – night buses run (as you’d expect) all night long, giving you a chance to see London out of hours when everyone else is asleep – handy if you’re awake at strange hours thanks to jetlag or insomnia, and want to make the most of your time! You may be sharing the bus with a merry crowd, though.

TfL’s guide to the best bus leisure routes is good – it gives stop-by-stop details of interesting sights along a bunch of the major bus routes, neatly themed. Each of the routes below is a single bus route – just look for bus number 9, 17, 22 etc at the points mentioned.

  • Bus route 9: London’s Museums and Palaces (leaflet)
    • Somerset House, Covent Garden Market, London Transport Museum, Trafalgar Square, St James’s Palace and Clarence House, Green Park, Wellington Arch and Hyde Park Corner, Natural History Museum, The Albert Memorial, Kensington Palace, The Design Museum, Holland Park
  • Bus 17: Heritage and Pubs (leaflet)
    • King’s Cross St Pancras Station, Charles Dickens Museum, Grays Inn Road, Square and Chapel, Cittie of Yorke Pub, Ye Olde Mitre, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Old Bailey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Monument to the Great Fire of London, George Inn
  1. Bus route 22: Antiques and Curios (leaflet)
    • Fulham Palace, New King’s Road antique shops and art galleries, Furniture and Arts Building, Lots Road Auctions, Wellington Arch, Green Park, The Ritz, St James Street, Old Bond Street, Fortnum & Mason, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly arts, craft and food market
  • Bus route 35: London’s Markets (leaflet)
    • Brixton Market, Borough Market, Leadenhall Market, Lloyd’s of London, Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane Market, Columbia Road Flower Market
  • Bus route 139: Classic London (leaflet)
    • Somerset House, Covent Garden Market, London Transport Museum, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Hamleys Toy Store, Bond Street, Selfridges & Co, Lord’s Cricket Ground, Abbey Road and Abbey Road Studios

It’s worth noting that the old traditional Routemaster buses with the open back have almost entirely disappeared – route 15H (heritage route) from Trafalgar Square to Tower Bridge is the only remaining route, and even that only uses the old buses at weekends.

A circular, multi bus option

Instead of following a single bus route, you might want be happy to take different buses between a range of places. Here’s a suggestion for a circular bus tour, hopping on and off different buses, taking in most of London’s major sights. This should take about 4 hours (avoid rush hour!) – and if you were using the tube anyway, it’s basically a free tour of the main sights as part of your day’s travel card! Here’s an animated map of the trip and sights

  • Start at Piccadilly Circus
  • Number 9 bus from Picadilly to Kensington Palace
  • Number 49 bus from Kensington High Street to Cromwell Road
  • Number 74 bus from Park Lane (Speaker’s corner) to Baker St Station
  • Number 453 bus from Regent’s Park Marylebone Road to Trafalgar Square 
  • Number 15 bus from Trafalgar Square to Tower of London 
  • Number RV1 bus from Tower of London to London Eye
  • Number 12 bus back to Piccadilly Circus

Long Walks (or Bike trips)

London’s great for walking – other than the weather. It’s pretty flat throughout, with lots of parks around the centre to get away from traffic and crowds. Enjoy our suggestions for great walking routes around the centre. Most of these are around 10-15 km, and could be done by bike.

Centre loop 1: London centre hotspots – north of the river

Takes in the obvious places by foot, via parks where possible – start at Lancaster Gate; go through Hyde Park; cut across Mayfair and Soho through to the British Museum; then down south through Covent Garden to – yes – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament. Via St James park (spot the pelicans!) and Downing Street (spot the politicians!) and Buckingham Palace (spot the royals!). Back up through Hyde Park to where you started at Lancaster Gate. 11.4km, Google Maps

Centre loop2 : Tower Hill and South Bank circuit – crossing the river

Another loop that lets you see lots of the main sights. Start at Tower Hill – yes, Tower of London – go south across Tower Bridge then follow the riverside on the south side passing the City Hall, London Bridge (maybe pause at Borough Market, or go up the Shard for free if you go to the bar on 30th floor). Onwards along the riverside past Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate Modern, and the slightly brutalist architecture of the South Bank and the Royal Festival Hall. Cross the river and go north via Covent Garden up via the British Museum, through Russel Square and Brunswick Square through Farringon to the intense brutalism of the Barbican. South via Old Street and Bank (yes, Bank of England) and Monument (to the Great Fire of London), and finish at Tower Hill. 11.3km, Google Maps

Canalside stretch: Limehouse along Regent’s Canal to Camden

10-15k. London’s canals are popular with Londoners, so the narrow paths can get a bit busy on sunny weekends. Start from Limehouse DLR and get onto Limehouse Basin for the Regent’s canal. Walk canalside via Mile End park, Victoria Park and Islington, then take a few streets till you’re back on the Regent’s canal again; carry on canalside from King’s Cross to Camden and have a nice drink in the market. 10.5k, Google Maps

  • Still got energy to burn? Carry on from Camden along the canal all the way through Regent’s Park, passing the Zoo, and ending in Little Venice, a lovely area of waterside cafes and pubs, near Warwick Avenue tube station. 14.7km, Google Maps.

Lea valley walk: riverside to cable car – Tottenham Hale to Bromley / Royal Docks

10 to 13 km. Feeling energetic and want to get away from the crowds for a leafy riverside walk? Travel north to Tottenham Hale, and walk along the Lee Valley to Bromley by Bow, taking in Queen Elizabeth Olympic park on the way. Mostly riverside paths, passing through a few other parks like Hackney Marshes and Springfield Park – but be aware that it’ll be industrial waterside for some stretches. 9.4km, Google map .

  • Still got energy to burn? Add another few kilometers and finish up at the cable car instead for a grand trip. Carry on from Bromley by Bow, to Emirates Royal Docks – the landscape will be getting increasingly industrial, but still partly waterside. You can detour to Trinity Buoy Wharf adding about 1km extra to see London’s only lighthouse where Faraday once worked, and listen to the longest piece of music in the world (1000 years – the Longplayer project). From Royal Docks, you can get the cable car across the Thames – yes, touristy but worth a go – and complete your trip by getting the boat from North Greenwich back to central London. Google Maps Tottenham to Emirates (12.6km) or via Trinity Buoy Wharf (13.7km)
  • Or shorten it slightly and just get the tube from Canning Town instead of finishing at the cable car for an 11.3k trip – Google Map

From cityscape to maritime London – Canary Wharf, Greenwich and South Bank

10k to 14k. This is a walk of contrasts. The walk starts at Canary Wharf, the financial centre of London – all shiny skyscrapers, waterside and suits. Then you cross Mudchute park and cityfarm – all nature and the smell of pigs – and take the old foot tunnel under the Thames to emerge in historic naval Greenwich, next to the old three-master sailing ship, Cutty Sark. From there, follow the Thames path (which goes inland a few times), getting to Stave Hill ecology park where from the top of the hill, you can look back across the water to your start point. Then back home from nearby Canada Water (or stop for a pint in the Mayflower, an ancient pub from which the Mayflower sailed). 9.6km, Google map

  • Still got energy to burn? You can add 5km by going from Stave Hill to the riverside Brunel Museum, then keep riverside for about 1.5km to Tower Bridge (you could cross the river to get the tube from Tower Hill station); then on for another kilometer or so along the river to London Bridge (check out Borough Market, Golden Hinde ship, Tate Modern, and lots of other stuff). Either take the footbridge across the river to St Pauls station, or carry on south of the river to Waterloo Station. In either case, you’ll have done about 15km and deserve All The Treats. Enjoy! 15km to Waterloo on Google Maps; 14.7km to St Paul’s on Google Maps

Bike touring around London

The long walks above are also all great to do on bikes – and you can dodge off on side trips to explore the various parks that they pass through too. But here’s more bike-specific info, for longer trips.

TfL is investing in cycle lanes. They’re great for people living in London commuting, but don’t really focus on interesting places – so not so useful for un/tourists. The superhighways follow direct main roads so are pretty traffic-full; the “quiet routes” around the centre are worth following when you see the signs – these use back roads with little traffic and will be the nicest central options.

Famous major trails in or around London are the Thames Trail – following the Thames for 184 miles (294 Km) from its origin in the Cotswolds west of Oxford, through London to the Thames Barrier at Greenwich.. Or the Capital Ring, 78 miles (126KM), can also be done over multiple days. Both are intended more for pedestrians, but large stretches of them can be cycled. Specifically for bikers, there’s the Thames Valley Cycle Route, a 97-mile (155km) route from London to Oxford

However, our recommendations are:

  • West from Waterloo, to Richmond – just under 30 km following the river (yes, it’s intended for pedestrians, but much used by cyclists). Start at Waterloo; either follow the river path or roadside to Waterloo, Lambeth, Vauxhall; the river path is a bit easier to follow past Battersea, along Wandsworth and Putney, Barnes wetland wildlife area, around Kew Gardens and ending in Richmond. You can take your bike on the train back to Waterloo – or cycle the more direct the road route back, if you want to do another 15km.
  • East from Waterloo, to Woolwich is some 22km (Google Maps), mostly riverside – but while the Richmond route follows a lot of parks and greenlands, this route south of the river is much grittier, with desolate old factories and wastelands – decide in advance which aesthetic you prefer. This, too, is not an official bike path, but is much used. You’ll have to go inland for a few places – there’s always some construction work in progress. But you finish at the Woolwich Thames Barrier, and yourself and your bike can take the Thames Clipper back to Waterloo for the most pleasant trip back (or take the more direct roads for another 15k back)
  • Lee Valley and beyond – if you want to do more than the walk above, try the Lee Valley cycle route – 33km (SusTrans Ordnance Survey Map) all the way from Cheshunt way north of London, back down to Greenwich via the foot tunnel. Get the train with your bike to Cheshunt; a few minutes on the bike gets you to the start of the trail, then keep going – it’s pretty riverside for most of the way, getting more urban as you approach the Thames. When you get to Greenwich, you can take your bike on the Thames Clipper to get back to the centre.
  • Hampton Court to Putney – similar to the ‘west from Waterloo to Richmond‘ but following the National Cycle trail (so no pedestrian-only bits) for 20km; starting with gorgeous architecture at Hampton Court palace, going via Richmond Park with its deer and the Barnes wetland.
  • Kingston to Hampton Court – another lovely green bike ride of 24km using the National Cycle Trail ‘west London Thames ride’, albeit starting and ending a bit further from London.
  • The Wandle Trail in South London also gives you 14 km of bike paths following the river Wandle from Croydon to Wandsworth.