About our Bus Tour

Our popular self-guided bus tour uses London’s buses to travel out to west London, back through the West End, the City and the east end, travelling both north and south of the Thames. All for the price of a one day travelcard or oyster card, which is around £10.

The details provided enable you to do the tour in any direction, and begin / end at any point. Your travelcard allows you to re-board buses as often as you like, jumping on and off at leisure to visit attractions you will see.

Allow half a day to do it fully.

Its best to start it after 9.30 am on a weekday and finish before 4pm (to avoid rush hour).

Written in 2002 and updated in 2014.

General Route

Start at Piccadilly Circus- Number 9 bus to Kensington Palace – Number 49 bus to Cromwell Road – Number 74 bus to Baker St Station – Number 453 bus to Trafalgar Square – Number 15 bus to Tower of London – Number 343 bus to London Bridge – Number 381 to Waterloo – Number 139 bus back to Piccadilly Circus

You can start this self guided tour from the following points / bus routes

From St James’s Park

Number 9 bus on Piccadilly

From Kensington Gardens

Number 49 bus on Kensington High Street

From Speakers Corner

Number 74 bus on Park Lane

From Regents Park

Number 453 bus from Marylebone Road

From Tower Bridge

Number 343 on Tower Bridge, heading south

From London Bridge

Number 381 to Waterloo

From Waterloo

Number 139 to Piccadilly Circus


click to view tour map in full screen


Using London Buses

Most buses are driver-only operated and require you to board at the front (scanning your pass) and exit from the back (at one of the regular stops.)

If you happen to be lucky enough to be able to board a Routemaster bus (these run on routes 9 and 15), you can get on and off at the back. These buses have conductors and you simply board the bus and take a seat, then wait for the conductor to come to you to see your pass.

To board a bus, firstly find the stop for the bus you want. (It should have the number of the bus marked on the sign at the stop). Then check the timetable displayed to see the direction the bus is going in – or ask someone else who is waiting at the stop. Finally, when the bus arrives at the stop it will normally pull in and open its front doors – but there’s no harm in putting your arm out to signal it to do so, just in case.

For this tour, I have provided details of both the buses and the stops you need to change at. But feel free to jump on and off wherever and as often as you want – the oyster card allows you to do this.

Featured in Destination Mundo

As featured in Destination Mundo’s travel blog review of The Best London Bus Tours

Buy this bus tour in a handy booklet

Just £2.00 for a pdf booklet of this bus tour including a map, directions and attractions

The directions below follow a circular route starting and ending at Piccadilly Circus and initially heading west. You can start the tour from any point on the route. Simply change buses where indicated.

Walk along Piccadilly from Piccadilly Circus to Green Park station and board the number 9 bus towards Royal Albert Hall.

Piccadilly Circus

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 to it.

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.

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.

Did You Know?

The statue 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.

When walking along Piccadilly, look for:

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.

The number 9 bus will take you around Hyde Park Corner, through Knightsbridge, then along Kensington Road, passing the Albert Memorial (right) and Royal Albert Hall (left), after which you should hop off.

What to Look for between Green Park and Kensington Palace

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.

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?

The two 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.

at 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 Albert Memorial.
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).

Kensington Palace

Probably most famous as the London residence of Diana, Princess of Wales at the time of her death in 1997, and the current home of William and Kate, 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 where Princess Margaret lived until her death. Parts of the Palace are open to the public (admission charge).

Did You Know?

Kensington Gardens have been open to the public since the 18th century.

at the main road, which is Kensington High street, turn left. Either 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.
Or, if you feel like walking, walk along Kensington High street until you reach Queen’s Gate, then turn right and walk to the end of it, then turn left at the Natural History museum on the corner.

Baden Powell House and the Museums

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?

The Science 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.

What to Look for Between Cromwell Road and Baker St 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?

Only senior members of the Royal Family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are allowed to pass through Marble Arch.

at 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).

221B Baker Street, the Planetarium and Madame Tussauds

Baker Street (opposite the station) is probably most famously known for its fictional resident, Sherlock Holmes, who lived at number 221B.

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.

Madame Tussauds was established in Baker Street in 1835. It moved to its present location in 1884.

Did You Know?

The Bakerloo 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 Railway.

The 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 old BBC Broadcasting House (on your left), along Regent Street, through Piccadilly Circus and then to Trafalgar Square.

What to Look for Between Marylebone Road and Trafalgar Square

Harley Street is associated with medical specialists and private hospitals. It also has some wonderfully restored Georgian buildings.

BBC Broadcasting House, in Portland Place, was once the flagship building for the corporation. Built in 1932, it has retained much of its original external character. It is now luxury apartments.

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?

Regent 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 Trafalgar Square and walk through the square.

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

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?

In front 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 had ever been 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 (opposite Charing Cross station) 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.

What to Look for Between Trafalgar Square and St Pauls

The Strand was originally a bridle path running alongside the Thames. The first buildings on it were mansions owned by the wealthy. Nowdays there are several theatres and stores along it. 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.

The Royal 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 Twinings Tea.

At 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 Cathedral

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 City of London

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?

The underground 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.

get 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.

Tower of London

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 on site.

The small portholes at the bottom of the tower were medieval drainage outlets.

walk 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 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 1750).

The area along the riverfront is known as Bankside.

At 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 up 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?

At the 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.