London’s extensive Underground system is the easiest way to navigate the sprawling city when you have large distances to cover, but the Tube map isn’t truly accurate — sometimes you’re closer to a destination than it looks. It’s no surprise most Londoners would sooner walk or hop on a bus than disappear underground with the swarming masses.
A Bus with a View
The city’s bus network is comprehensive and with double-deckers operating on most routes — provided it’s not rush hour — you can often get a gentler ride and a better view from the top of a bus. My favourite (yes, I have a favourite bus route) is the No. 36. It’s a 24-hour route that runs from northwest London (Claremont Road) to the southeast (New Cross), right through central London and some of the city’s most famous sights.
The whole route, end to end, would take an hour and a half, but I recommend boarding in the middle. While living and working in London, I often took the 36 from Paddington Station, the major train station that connects central London to the west of England. From there you see the large hotels and transience of the Paddington area before moving onto Edgware Road, where there’s a thriving Middle Eastern community and shawarma restaurants and shisha cafés abound.
The Sights and Delights of Park Lane
The route then joins Bayswater Road, to the south of which is Hyde Park and Speaker’s Corner, where historically people would stand on soap boxes to voice their opinions and where you can still sometimes see groups gathered today. At the very northwestern point, where Bayswater Road meets Oxford Street is Marble Arch, a huge intricate stone structure that was originally designed to mark the entrance to Buckingham Palace, but was moved to this location in 1851. Next, the bus runs down the length of Hyde Park and along Park Lane. A prestigious street in Mayfair, the most elite neighbourhood in the city, it’s lined with luxurious hotels such as The Dorchester, which is frequented by London’s celebrities and where Kate Moss celebrated her 40th birthday.
After that, the bus travels alongside the grounds of Buckingham Palace, where you can take in the stunning gardens and greenery and even catch a glimpse of the grand building itself. The route then goes down to Victoria Station and along Vauxhall Bridge Road to the River Thames. While crossing Vauxhall Bridge, you can spot Battersea Power Station to the west. The biggest of its kind in Europe, it was built in the 1930s and while no longer in operation it is a commanding and impressive art-deco structure that’s long been featured in popular culture, including The Beatles’ film Help! To the east lies the London Eye and straight ahead is the geometric, contemporary headquarters of the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service, its dozens of security cameras discreetly positioned all over the building. The last part of the route that’s worth taking in is on the south bank of the river where the bus passes the Oval Cricket Ground, the first place in England to host international Test cricket and home to regular matches today.
On a journey that takes about 30 minutes passengers of No. 36 see a cross-section of central London and take in some major landmarks for a single journey fare of £2.30. And they say London’s expensive…