How do I ride the bus in London? With gusto!

London Bus in front of Parliament and Big Ben

The London Underground is the mass transit darling, but I happen to be a big fan of the iconic double-decker red buses. It’s my preferred mode of daily transportation.

  • For one, the bus is cheaper than the tube: £1.50 per ride (Daily cap of £4.40, or three rides. Tube caps at about £7).
  • For two, you can see where you are as you ride (versus being in a dark, dank tunnel).
  • For three, it’s fun to ride on the top level!

However, riding the bus usually takes longer than the tube to travel the same distance, and it is susceptible to traffic jams and stray pedestrians. Similar to the Tube, rush hour is still a spirit-crushing mass of humanity (and Londoners can be quite cranky if they haven’t seen the sun in a few days).

The bus system is very easy to navigate using Google Maps or CityMapper. Plug in where you want to go and either app will offer a route or three, plus tell you which stop to find and how many stops between you and your destination.

You still have some questions about riding a London bus? Start here.

How do I know I’m at the right bus station?

  • Check the letter(s) in a red circle on the sign post. Stations may be named the same, but each station within a few blocks has a different code. Also helpful if you’re new and still getting turned-around (or if you still think cars drive on the right…not that I’d know much about that…) Find the station code to know that bus will go in the right direction.
London Bus Station Signs
Ok, *which* Notting Hill Gate Station? Check the red circle codes.
How do I know the bus is going to the right place?

  • Note the direction as “Number ## to Place.” For example, “Number 73 to Victoria Bus Station.” Each bus displays this on the front. 
How do I know which stop to alight? (Yes. London uses the word “alight”.)

  • Remember the name of your destination stop. Once on the bus, it only displays and announces each stop’s name, so the lovely station codes mentioned above won’t help. Pro tip: memorize the name of the station prior to your final stop it so you can throw elbows er, move toward the door if necessary.
  • Don’t rely on counting stops between your origin and destination. If no one needs to get on or off the bus at a certain stop, the bus won’t stop at that stop. (Stop.) (Maybe this is why stops are called stations…)
How do I pay for my trip on the bus?
  • Tap in only — DON’T tap out. Tap an Oyster card or contactless debit to the yellow circle as you board the bus. Buses are single-fare (versus the distance-based fare on the tube) so how long you ride doesn’t matter. When you’re at your destination, simply hop off! 
Oh no! The bus isn’t stopping!
  • Be sure to signal the driver to pick you up (like hailing a taxi) or to let you off (push the button labeled “stop”). 
How late do the buses run? Can I get home?
  • Some busses are 24 hours, and it says so on the station sign, above the bus number (check out #94 and #148 in the image above). There are also night busses. For the most part, Google and CityMapper know which buses run and when.
And finally:
  • Don’t stick your nose in your phone! Look up, look out, look around! You can check your map, your tweets, your news when you’re off the bus again. 

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