Forget paying a fortune to go on one of the many organised London siteseeing bus tours. Do it yourself for around a fiver using London's own transport system and experience London life as Londoners do.
All you need is a London Transport One Day bus pass and the details provided on this site.
This self-guided London sightseeing tour will take you out to west London, then back across the West End and through the City to the east end of London, travelling along both north and south sides of the Thames.
You will pass many famous London tourist attractions including Harrods, Madame Tussauds, Kensington Palace, St Pauls, the Tower of London and Big Ben.
This is a circular bus tour involving changing buses at certain points as indicated by this symbol on the map.
Though you can join it from any point on the route, the details below assume you are starting from Piccadilly Circus, heading west.
At Piccadilly Circus, walk to the bottom of Piccadilly (the road), and board the number 9 bus from the busstop near the side of (as at August, 2010) a store called The Sting. Check that the bus is travelling west towards Royal Albert Hall.
Originally a crossroad of Piccadilly and Regent Street, the area took on
its present appearance in the late 1800's when Shaftesbury Avenue was connected
One of London's busy traffic junctions, it features include the Statue of Eros (erected in 1893) in the centre and enormous illuminated advertising signs overlooking it.
Did You Know?
of Eros has pointed in three different directions since being erected, but
never in the direction to which it was intended : facing Shaftesbury Avenue.
In the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, Dr Watson and Stamford meet in the bar of the Criterion Hotel, which faces onto the Circus.
Lilywhite's sports store, also nearby, was established by James Lilywhite, who captained the English cricket team against Australia in 1876.
number 9 bus will take you along Piccadilly, around Hyde Park Corner, through
Knightsbridge, then along Kensington Road, passing the Albert Memorial (right)
and Royal Albert Hall (left), after which you should alight.
Piccadilly is named after a draper named
Robert Baker who became wealthy during the reign of Charles I by selling
stiff ruffled collars called pickadils, and used his money to build a big
house in the area. It is a fairly upmarket, "old money"
area as you may see from the types of shops and buildings you pass.
When travelling along Piccadilly, watch out for the following:
Fortnum and Mason (on your left): This wonderful shop has been on Piccadilly since 1756. It sells excellent tea and chocolates.
The Ritz Hotel (also on your left): The hotel, a symbol of opulence, opened in 1906 and is named after its Swiss architect, Cesar Ritz.
Hyde Park Corner was once where a toll gate stood to mark the entrance to London from the west. Constitution Arch and a statue of the Duke of Wellington both sit on the island in the middle of the roundabout.
Knightsbridge is actually the name of the street from Hyde Park Corner to Kensington Road. Dating from the 11th century, the area was once a favourite place for duels and was prowled by highwaymen.
The Albert Memorial and Royal Albert
Hall were both built after the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's
husband, in 1861. The Albert Hall is used for concerts, including, since
1941, the famous "Proms".
Did You Know?
founders of Fortnum and Mason are represented by the figures beside the
clock over the entrance. The figures come out and bow to each other on the hour.
Mr Fortnum wears a red coat which indicates that he was a footman in the Royal
Household. He went into partnership with Mr Mason, a grocer. The staff
of the store still wear tail-coats.
the first stop after passing the Royal Albert Hall, get off the bus. Walk back
to the Royal Albert Hall, then cross the road at the pedestrian crossing to the
From the Albert Memorial, walk down the hill parallel to the main road but remain inside the park. After a few minutes, you will pass some public toilets on your left and arrive at a main path. Cross the path and continue straight ahead until you see Kensington Palace on your right.
Walk up to the front of the Palace then go left and cross the private road. Continue ahead (through a private car park area) to the junction with another road, opposite the Romania Consulate. Turn left, and walk down the hill, passing the Israeli Embassy (on your right).
Probably most famous as the London residence of Diana, Princess of Wales at the time of her death in 1997, Kensington Palace has been a royal residence since the 1600's.
It was also where Queen Victoria was born in 1819 and lived to her accession, and recently, where Princess Margaret lived until her death. Parts of the Palace are open to the public (admission charge).
Did You Know?
Gardens have been open to the public since the 18th century.
at the main road, which is Kensington High Street, turn left. Board the
number 49 bus (a single decker hopper bus) and take it along Gloucester Road to the junction with
Cromwell Road (only a few stops away).
Get off at the stop just before the corner with Cromwell Road. Go straight ahead then turn left and walk down Cromwell Road. Soon you will come to Baden Powell House on your left and opposite you will see the Natural History Museum.
Baden Powell House is a museum dedicated to the Scout Association and its founder. It is open to the public.
Opposite Baden Powell House, on Cromwell Road, you will see the Natural History museum and then, the V & A museum. The Science museum is around the corner. (To visit it, turn left up Exhibition Road after the Natural History museum.)
The Natural History museum was purpose-built in the 1880's. It contains a range of fossils and exhibits from the natural world.
The Science museum contains exhibits such as Stephenson's Rocket, Edison's phonograph and an early Bell telephone.
The museums no longer have admission charges, apart for some special
events and exhibitions.
Did You Know?
and V & A museums were originally two sections (science and arts) of
the same museum. However, in 1899 the arts section was moved to a new building
along the road, named by Queen Victoria - the V & A museum.
Walk along Cromwell Road, crossing the junction with Exhibition Road
and passing both the Natural History and V & A museums. Just after
the V & A, board the number 74 bus heading towards Hyde Park Corner.
This bus will take you along Brompton Road (passing Harrods), through Knightsbridge, around Hyde Park Corner, along Park Lane, Marble Arch and Gloucester Place to Baker Street tube station.
Brompton Road is built on an ancient track linking London to the village of Brompton. As you go along it, you will pass Brompton Oratory and, soon after, Harrods.
Brompton Oratory, on the left, was the centre of Roman Catholic activity in London until 1903, when Westminster Cathedral was opened. The church was built between 1878 and 1884.
Harrods, on the right, was named after Henry Harrod, a wholesale tea merchant from the East End, who took over a small shop in Knightsbridge in 1849. The store was destroyed by fire in 1883 and re-built a year later. In 1898, the first escalator in London was installed here. Store expansion was completed by 1939 and it is now one of the world's largest, and probably one of its most expensive, stores.
One of the most exclusive addresses in London, Park Lane did not become sought after until the 1820's, following a period of building reconstruction. It is home to two of the most exclusive hotels in London: The Dorchester and The Grosvenor.
Marble Arch is the arch at the junction of Park Lane and Oxford Street, near Speaker's Corner. It was originally erected in front of Buckingham Palace, and moved to its present location in 1851.
Gloucester Place was built in 1810. It
has had some famous residents: No. 99 was Elizabeth Barrett's first London
home; John Godley, the founder of Canterbury, New Zealand, lived at no.
48; and Wilkie Collins lived at no 65, where he wrote The Moonstone.
Did You Know?
members of the Royal Family and the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery are
allowed to pass through Marble Arch.
Baker Street station, get off the bus. Walk along Marylebone Road a short
distance to the Planetarium and Madame Tussauds, both on your left.
Re-trace your steps back to Baker Street station and board the number 453 bus from the stop in front of it. (Same side of the road).
Baker Street (opposite the station) is probably most famously known for its fictional resident, Sherlock Holmes, who lived at number 221B. The address is currently occupied by a branch of a UK building society and they often receive letters asking Holmes for assistance in solving mysteries.
The Planetarium, next door to its more famous neighbour, Madame Tussauds, was opened in 1958 and contains an enormous projector, enabling visitors to see outer space.
Tussauds, often voted the most popular tourist attraction in
London despite its high admission prices, was established in Baker Street
in 1835. It moved to its present location in 1884.
Did You Know?
Line, from Baker Street station to Kennington, was the first Underground
railway across London from north to south. The word "Bakerloo"
was first used by a newspaper to refer to the Baker Street and Waterloo
number 453 will take you past Harley Street (famous for its expensive doctors
and private hospitals), near the corner of Regents Park, into Portland Place,
past BBC Broadcasting House (on your left), along Regent Street, through
Piccadilly Circus and then to Trafalgar Square.
Harley Street is associated with expensive
medical specialists and private hospitals. It also has some wonderfully
restored Georgian buildings.
BBC Broadcasting House, in Portland Place, is the flagship building for the corporation. Built in 1932, it has retained much of its original external character.
Regent Street was planned by the architect,
John Nash, around 1810. The area between Oxford Street and Piccadilly
Circus is known as the Quadrant and was intended to be the retail part
of the street, with the section towards Portland Place being mostly residential.
Did You Know?
Street has been home to some of London's most famous stores. Those
that still exist include Hamley's (founded
in 1760 and moved to Regent Street in 1881), Austin
Reed (founded in 1900 and moved to Regent Street in 1911) and Cafe
Royal (founded in 1870).
Get off the bus at the stop just before Trafalgar Square in front of the
National Gallery Sainsbury Wing (on your left) and walk through the square.
In the eleventh century this was a major traffic junction.
In the centre of Trafalgar Square stands Nelson's Column, at 170 feet tall. Buildings surrounding the Square include South Africa House, Canada House, the National Gallery (free admission), the National Portrait Gallery (free admission) and St Martin-in-the-Fields church.
Pigeon-feeding used to be a popular activity for tourists to the square and some still
feed the birds, even though it is no longer legal to do so.
Did You Know?
of Nelson's Column at the top of Whitehall there is a statue of Charles
I. All distances from London are measured from this point. In mapping
terms, it is therefore the "centre" of London.
Until recently, the Square had never been completed: while at the right hand side of the Square (in front of the National Gallery) there is a statue of George IV on horseback, no statue was placed on the corresponding plinth on the opposite corner until 2000. There is now a piece of modern artwork on it.
In June, 2003 the square was largely pedestrianised.
Walk across Trafalgar Square to the beginning of the Strand and board the
number 15 bus heading east.
This will take you along the Strand (passing the Savoy), Aldwych, past the Royal Courts of Justice, along Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill and on to St Pauls.
The Savoy Hotel (on the right, just before Waterloo Bridge) opened in 1889 and was one of the first to have electric lights and lifts. The first manager of the hotel was Cesar Ritz, who was also the architect of the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly. This was also the hotel where Peach Melba was created.
At the eastern end of the Strand, the road turns into a crescent leading to the Royal Courts of Justice. This crescent is called the Aldwych, and though only opened in 1905, the name is actually a very old word for the area, dating from King Alfred's time.
Courts of Justice ("the Law Courts") were built in the
nineteenth century to group together all superior courts associated with non-criminal
cases. Currently there are 60 courts in use, including the
Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Crown Court.
Three traditional legal ceremonies take place each year : in one, the Corporation of the City of London pays its "rent" to the Crown for land near Chancery Lane. The rent is six horse shoes and sixty one nails which have been paid since 1118.
Named after a nearby river (which is now completely underground), Fleet Street has been synonymous with printing and publishing since the 1500's. These days the printing presses are long gone. However, the street is still home to the National Union of Journalists, Reuters (established in 1855) and the Press Association.
At the end of Fleet Street, across Ludgate Circus, is Ludgate
Hill. Until 1760, there was a city gate here (Lud Gate) that once
led to a Roman burial ground. On the left-hand side up a side street
sits the famous Old Bailey, more officially known as the Central Criminal Court.
Did You Know?
The Royal Courts of Justice are situated in the heart of legal London. To the north of them are Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn and to the south, Temple, making it simple for barristers to reach the courts from their chambers.
Directly opposite the Royal Courts of Justice is the original shop of
St Pauls, either hop off the bus to visit the cathedral or remain on it and continue
to Tower HIll station, opposite the Tower of London
St Paul's was founded in 604. However, the present building, the fifth on
the site, dates from 1675.
It took 35 years to build, following the Great Fire of London in which the previous structure was almost entirely destroyed.
In 1981, the wedding of Charles and Diana took place here.
Did You Know?
In front of the cathedral there are some wooden posts representing the last City toll gate, built in the thirteenth century. They mark the old route to Cheapside. The gate is now opened only during ceremonial occasions.
Famous people who are buried in St Paul's include
Sir Christopher Wren (architect of the present building), Lord Nelson
and the Duke of Wellington, whose monument took 56 years to complete.
re-board the number 15 bus at the stop where you got off. It will
take you through the city of London to Tower Hill station, opposite the Tower of London, where you should hop off.
The area you are now in is called the City of London (or the Square Mile). It is the oldest part of London, having been settled by the Romans in AD43 - 50. It was 1,000 years old when the Tower of London was built.
It is independent from Westminster and the Crown, and home to the Bank of England and several hundred other foreign and UK banks. It also has its own police force.
Did You Know?
vaults of the Bank of England still hold Britain's gold reserves.
From the late 17th to the 19th century the Bank issued lottery tickets as a way of raising money to meet state expenditure. These days, the Government runs a National Lottery to help fund the Arts and community projects.
off the bus at the stop in front of Tower Hill station, opposite the Tower of London, and cross under the
road via the underpass.
The most popular tourist
attraction in London, the Tower of London is steeped in history and scandal. Begun
by William I around 1066 and extended by a number of monarchs until Edward
I, it has been a palace, prison, menagerie, place of execution and stronghold
for the crown jewels.
Famous occupants have included Sir Francis Drake, Anne Boleyn (executed by sword), Sir Walter Raleigh and Rudolph Hess (during and after the second world war).
Did You Know?
The dogs and
cats of the guards of the Tower are buried in a pet cemetery within the
moat of the Tower. You can see their headstones from over the wall when
in the grounds. The Beefeaters you see around the Tower live
The small portholes at the bottom of the tower were medieval drainage outlets.
left towards the top of Tower Bridge and cross the road so that you
are on the side where the traffic is heading south. Board the
number RV1 bus on the bridge, opposite the Tower.
This will take you over Tower Bridge, past the London Dungeon (on your left), Southwark Cathedral (on your right, near London Bridge), and near the Globe and Tate Modern.
Get off the bus at the stop opposite the Royal Festival Hall. Cross the road and walk through, or past the side of, the Hall to the riverside.
What to Look for Between Tower Bridge and
the London Eye
Tower Bridge was built in 1894 and needs to be raised to enable tall ships to pass under it. It is often mistakenly thought to be London Bridge by tourists.
There has been a church on the site of Southwark Cathedral for over one thousand years : it was founded by St Swithun in 860. Inside the church there are two rounded Norman arches that survived the fire in 1213.
The new Shakespeare's Globe theatre was opened to the public for both visits and performances in 1997. The recreated Globe stands about 200 yards from the site of the original theatre, which was opened in 1599.
The Tate Gallery of Modern Art opened in May 2000 in the old Bankside Power Station, which was built in 1963. Whether or not you enjoy modern art, the building itself is worth a visit (free admission.)
The South Bank area consists of a number of buildings where plays, films, concerts and other events are regularly held. The world renowned National Theatre is based here.
Opened in 1848 but re-built in the early 1900s, nearby Waterloo
station is one of the busiest stations in London. From here you
can get trains to the continent and southern England.
Did You Know?
The area around the Globe and Southwark Cathedral is called Southwark, the oldest borough of London. Southwark was settled by the Romans around London Bridge and was the home of many famous people including Dickens, Chaucer, Thomas Beckett, Charles Babbage and Michael Faraday.
Until 1750, London Bridge was the only
bridge across the Thames in London. (Westminster Bridge was opened in
The area along the riverfront is known as Bankside.
the river, turn left and walk past the front of the Hall and along the South
Bank towards the London Eye.
The London Eye
Another popular tourist attraction in London, the London Eye is a ferris wheel with large pods, allowing riders to see great views of London.
The wheel was meant to be up and operational in time for the millenium celebrations - unfortunately for technical reasons, it wasn't open until mid 2000.
Did You Know?
The large "Edwardian style" building next to the London Eye and overlooking the river is called County Hall. It was opened in 1922. Though now a hotel, it was once the home of London government (from 1900 to 1986).
From the London Eye, continue walking ahead towards Westminster, passing the Aquarium. Go up the stairs to Westminster Bridge, then cross the road to the bus stop for the number 12, in front of St Thomas' Hospital.
Take the number 12 bus across Westminster Bridge, passing Big Ben and
Westminster Abbey (both on your left), around Parliament Square then along
Whitehall, passing both Downing Street and Horse Guards (both on your left),
around Trafalgar Square and back to Piccadilly Circus.
Get off at the stop just after Piccadilly Circus.
This ends the tour, back where you began it.
What to Look for Between Westminster Bridge
and Piccadilly Circus
The correct name for the Houses of Parliament is the Palace of Westminster. It was built in 1040 by Edward the Confessor, although the present building dates from the 1800's. It is the largest Gothic building in the world and was the main Royal residence until Henry VIII moved to Whitehall.
Big Ben is the name of the bell in the Clock Tower. Its familiar ring is caused by a crack which appeared in 1859, within a few months of the bell being installed. It has never been repaired.
Westminster Abbey (short walk from Parliament Square) was built by Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror was crowned in it on Christmas Day 1066. Thousands of people are buried or have their ashes interred there. Many others have plaques. The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales was also held here in 1997.
Number 10 Downing Street (street entrance on the left as you travel along Whitehall) is the official residence of the British Prime Minister and has been since 1732. The street is named after Sir George Downing, the second graduate of Harvard College, who bought the land and built houses on it in 1680.
Horse Guards Pavilion (also on the left) is an end point for the Changing of the Guard each day, and there are often sentries on horseback standing at the entrance to it.
Did You Know?
bottom of the steps facing the London Eye stands a green turret. This
is the Westminster tide recorder and it measures the depth of the Thames
at this point. (You can climb up the rails on the side of it and look
inside to see the computerised depth reading).
Look back across the river towards the London Eye and observe the riverwall. You will see a number of lions' heads with mooring rings hanging from their mouths. These are part of London's flood warning system: "when the lions drink, London will flood" is still a saying that to some extent holds true. If the water reaches the lions' mouths, the Underground would need to be closed.