Bus: No.11 -- London's cheapest sightseeing busCraigEasy to get to? ★ ★ ★Good for kids? ★ ★ ★Value for money? ★ ★ ★Worth a visit? ★ ★ ★203
My wallet is a bit threadbare this week so I had a go on the No.11 bus -- London's cheapest sightseeing tour. It's just a normal everyday bus that happens to run through the heart of London, and for a few measly quid you can plonk yourself down on the top deck for 60 minutes of sightseeing. I decided to do it right, and went all the way to the start of the line at Liverpool Street station. But you might want to pick it up at Bank instead -- there isn't really any need to go to Liverpool Street because there's not much there. It was pretty hard to find the bus-stop as well, because you have to go inside the concourse and find the sign. For some bizarre reason known only to them, they have decided not to label it from the outside. So it's like a treasure hunt -- with no treasure. Just a white-haired old guy smoking his roll-ups by the stop. I think he was on a day out like me, just looking for something to do, and I wondered whether I was looking at myself in thirty years. Ten minutes later the bus rolled up and we both climbed up the stairs and sat at the front. He turned out to be a bit nuts though, because he started talking to himself every time we stopped at the lights. That is what sixty years of bus travel does to you -- it slowly roasts your brain until you turn into a gibbering wreck.
Once the bus pulls away from the station it quickly gets into a routine. You have 30 seconds of moving forwards, and then two minutes of standing still. I started at 10:10 AM, and within 60 seconds I was already sitting in my first traffic jam. Welcome to London, folks! But luckily you quickly hit the sights so there are plenty of buildings to look at. Five minutes after setting off you are already going past the Bank of England and Mansion House. The Royal Exchange is one of London's best buildings, and you have to remember to crane your neck to the left to see it. I also quite like looking into the posh foyers of city skyscraper blocks. The marble floors look slippery enough to skate on, and the modern art on the walls probably cost about a billion quid. The city businessmen really do carry umbrellas and briefcases -- it's not a stereotype. I didn't see a single bowler hat though, I guess they have gone out of fashion.
You have to prepare yourself for the traffic. It's all taxis, beeping cars and buses, and a string of speeding cyclists weaving in and out of the lanes. When the red traffic lights turn green nothing happens. One car manages to sneak through and then it's back to red again. You slowly inch your way forward until a chink of daylight opens up, then the driver puts his foot down for ten seconds before he's back on the end of another traffic jam. But I don't mind it so much. I quite like watching the world go by on the top deck of a bus. It's all busy shoppers, busy businessman, busy camera-clicking tourists, busy busy busy. Everybody is very busy except us on the bus -- sitting in the traffic jam watching them trying to dodge the raindrops.
After Bank you head down Cannon Street towards St. Pauls. You get a perfect view of the Cathedral's dome as you pass it on your right, and then you go round the front as well for a full view of the steps. After that you head down Ludgate Hill towards Fleet Street. That's when you pass Temple Bar and the Royal Courts of Justice. By this time it was already half-past 10, so I was 20 minutes into the journey. The Royal Courts of Justice is quite a grand looking building. While I was sitting in the traffic (again) I saw a black-frocked priest lounging in the doorway. Was he on trial for something? You never know these days. I wonder what his story was.
Into the Strand now, and heading towards Trafalgar Square... not content with digging up the roads I noticed that they were digging up the pavements too. I think they are running out of places to put their holes. They will have to dig up the Thames next. It was a real symphony of beeping horns and bike bells here, quite a musical tune. Everyone trying to get where they're going at the expense of everyone else. It gives you a lot of time to look inside the shop windows to see what they're selling, and I have come to the conclusion that London is 90% sandwich shops, coffee bars and banks. The other 10% is roadworks.
At the end of the Strand comes Nelson's Column and Admiralty Arch, with the National Gallery on your right. Then you turn left into Whitehall, and Big Ben immediately becomes visible above the treetops. It was 10:45 by this time. As you ride down Whitehall you'll get a good look at the tourists outside Horse Guards, the soggy rain-drenched wreaths at the base of the Cenotaph, and the big black iron gates of Downing Street. Then you head into Parliament Square, with Big Ben on your left and the gruff black statue of Churchill glaring at you on the right. Then you ride round to Westminster Abbey (remember to crane your neck to the left to get a view of the front). Now, if you take my advice then you'll get off at this point, because the tour is a lot less interesting once it passes Westminster. But I did my duty and carried on to Chelsea so I could tell you what's it's like.
The next bit is severely lacking in landmarks, but the roads around Victoria do contain some nice old buildings. It's a bit of a building site at the moment though, because they're busy erecting some giant glass and steel structures by the station (ie. more roadworks!). The bus continues on past Victoria Coach Station, where about fifty million tourists will get on with their big bags and wheely-suitcases, all looking totally knackered from their 10-hour trips on the continental coaches. I would have got up and offered them my seat but I have a rule: I only get up for pregnant ladies, pretty ladies and old ladies. And maybe old men too, if they can prove their age. It was 11:00 now, and I had been on the bus for 50 minutes -- which is about as long as you want. Any more than that and it becomes a bit boring. There is no real reason to carry on to Chelsea. There are some pretty little brick buildings and bulging baskets of flowers hanging from the lampposts, but that's about it. It's the kind of place where millionaires live. The shops all seem to sell wooden chairs for 10 grand a pop, and bars of soap for fifty quid. If you stay on to Sloane Square then forget about finding Lidls and the pound shop -- it's all Hugo Boss and Peter Jones.
The entire journey took 60 minutes from Liverpool Street to Chelsea, and 40 minutes to Westminster. The timetable says it was supposed to take 35 minutes, so maybe you'll get lucky with the traffic. Is it worth doing? Sure! If you like watching the world go by from the top deck of a bus it's quite a decent way of spending an hour. And I definitely recommend it over blowing 25 quid on the Original Tour.
The number 11 bus trip was the highlight of a trip in December 2013. We got off at Sloane Square and had lunch in a Department Store there.
What I most remember of this trip was the statue outside the front of Liverpool Station. It is a rather poignant statue of a group of children who represent the refugees from war-torn Europe with their little suitcases and their labels on their jackets.
Craig18 Jun 15, 19:08
So you did the whole journey then, from start to finish (well, apart from Fulham, but everyone skips that!). It's pretty good isn't it. I've done another bus journey recently which you might like, which strings together five different buses. this one goes around the whole of London -- i'll be writing about it next week. (see here)
Guest6 Jul 15, 19:10
Yes a good way of seeing some of the major sights
As we had a few days in London to see a show We took underground from Wembley Park to Liverpool Street(1 change at Baker Street onto Circle)
Did it last December from Liverpool Street to Trafalga Square where we had lunch in St Martins Crypt.
Walked down Whitehall & around Parliment Square, the Abbey, St Margaret's crossed Westminster bridge than back into Whitehall to catch bus back to The station.' With a pensioners free bus pass it was free! Have you any suggestions to help us see Buckingham Palace, The Mall and Kensington Palace area by bus?
Admin6 Jul 15, 20:53
unfortunately there's no way to see any of those by bus, because there isn't a single bus that goes down The Mall (they can't get through Admiralty Arch). they don't go up constitution hill either, or birdcage walk, so you can't see the front of Buckingham Palace by bus. its got to be a taxi or walking shoes to the palace
The best you can do for Kensington Palace is a very distant view of the side gate as it passes down Kensington Road (the one that runs in front of the Royal Albert Hall). Nos 9,10,49,52,70 and 452 go down there, but i don't think its really worth it to be honest. It's not possible to see the front or back of Kensington Palace by bus, because one side faces straight onto the park, and the other is in Kensington Palace Gardens (buses don't go down there either, because the road is full of embassies and is guarded by gun cops!)
i recommend having a stroll through St. James's Park though -- have you done that? that's not too far, and it is totally flat. that gives you a great view of Buckingham Palace across the lake. There are lots of nice places to sit by the lake too, and there's a nice cafe for a cup of tea -- https://www.londondrum.com/blog/?b=186. Start off by getting a bus to Whitehall and then head through the central archway at Horse Guards, and you'll find yourself at the eastern end of the park. Kensington Palace is too far to walk from there, but you can always head across Green Park to Piccadilly (have a drink in the Rivoli Bar at The Ritz as long as you are wearing shoes and a shirt), or try the Royal Academy of Arts. Fortnum & Mason has got a posh tea room worth trying as well
Devon7 Jul 15, 07:24
Thank you for the advice. Will walk across St James park.
Guest20 Jul 16, 08:44
Im taking the bus to stamford bridge, sounds fantastic, but on matchday i dont think i could get it back to liverpool street, whats the quickest rout back via the underground.... thanks again and a great website.
Admin20 Jul 16, 10:05
You'd have to get the district line from Fulham Broadway, and then change onto the Circle line to get to Liverpool Street... or you could just walk it from Aldgate, if you don't mind a bit of exercise, because it's not very far from there.
burnie2 Aug 16, 13:28
Hello. Is it possible to purchase your book at a PDF file? I don't have a kindle. Thank you
Admin2 Aug 16, 19:42
Hi Burnie. Unfortunately I don't sell it as a .pdf file, but it should be on iBooks (for iPads) and Barnes & Noble (for Nook) in the next few days. It will be appearing as a paperback on Amazon as well. I'll be putting the links up this week.
Guest16 Sep 16, 01:28
I was a 14 year old kid from Manchester when I got on the number 11 by mistake in 1971. I had no idea where I was going and thought the bus would take me to Wembley stadium. However, I did enjoy the sights and years later in 2006 when visiting from Australia I took my wife on this bus rather than the open topper. A lovely female West Indian bus conductor took pity on me back in 71 and kept me on the bus until we got back to Victoria Station and gave me advice on how to get to Wembley. Good memories.
Admin16 Sep 16, 20:06
it's funny how when you're a kid things like that seem exciting and interesting... but if you have a massive bus detour like that as an adult then it would probably ruin your day.
From the author: “The best thing about this book is that I’m a local, and I’ve been to all of these attractions myself (all 200+ of them – honest!). And I don’t just regurgitate the same old spiel that you find in 95% of guidebooks. It’s not the kind of book where I just tell you the address, how much it costs, and leave it at that. I take you inside each location and share my experiences with you. Maybe I enjoyed them, and maybe I didn’t, but I’ll always give you an honest opinion – alongside a chapter full of Top 10 lists, two weeks-worth of example itineraries, and a guide to using the buses and trains.”