When I moved to London, like most newcomers I was afraid of buses (there were too many/it seemed too complicated) so I took the tube, even when it was entirely counter-intuitive to do so. The tube is fine, it is what it is. Simple maths tells us that when more people than can humanely fit into a space attempt nonetheless to fit into that space, unpleasantness is inevitable. Its just an unpleasant thing that we sometimes have to deal with, like going home at Christmas.
But after a few months I toughened up and bravely strode over to the bus stop to see whether I might actually be able to get everywhere I wanted through a combination of buses and walking really fast. And it turned out that I could, so I’ve done that ever since.
My advice to tourists for getting around: take the bus like a ‘pwopah Londoner’. It’s comfortable, it’s relaxing and it’s funny. You’ll see brilliant things, inside and out, for very little money. Here are my two favourite routes:
63 – Honour Oak to Kings Cross
The 63 starts out adjacent to Honour Oak Park and then Peckham Rye Park, so for the first 20 minutes it’s all middle-aged women and dogs, which was exactly the sort of plainly positive image I needed on my way to the office on a monday morning. The bus then shimmies its way through Peckham Rye, where your eyes, ears and nose are awoken by a combination of fish being slapped on counters and more hair styling shops per square inch than anywhere else in the country. Then up the Old Kent Road – which sadly I can still only equate with being the cheapest place on a monopoly board – until it heads through Elephant and Castle to see how many cyclists the driver can petrify on what is surely the world’s scariest roundabout. Then over Blackfriars Bridge with a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and into Farringdon to witness even larger quantities of meat being slapped on counters at Smithfield Market. After going through Clerkenwell and gawping at the infinite number of frustratingly good-looking people heading into cool-looking offices, we arrive at Kings Cross, awake, entertained, slightly-frustrated and ready to go.
176 – Penge to Tottenham Court Road
Ok so I haven’t got the 176 from Penge and don’t really know where Penge is (frankly, I’m not sure it exists) but generally I pick it up from East Dulwich or Camberwell. Along Camberwell High Street look out for the churches that look like shops, there are loads of them. After scaring cyclists at Elephant and Castle again (evidently this is something all drivers are contractually obliged to do), it heads past the Old Vic theatre (where you won’t see Kevin Spacey no matter how hard or how many times you look) to Waterloo and across Waterloo Bridge. This is surely one of London’s best bridges, with a great view of Westminster, Southbank, the London Eye, St. Pauls, and right across to Canary Wharf. It then turns on to the Strand, goes through Trafalgar Square, weaves around to Leicester Square and finishes at the back of Denmark Street, where musicians go to buy instruments, rehearse or to stand around and look melancholic. For £1.35 (with an Oyster) you get to see some of London’s most iconic sights.
I also recommend the 12 which takes you on a whistle-stop tour through Parliament Square and Regent/Bond Street (or as my step-dad calls it, the ‘posh bit’); the 78 which goes over Tower Bridge and through Shoreditch, and the 37 which goes from Peckham to Putney. (Incidentally I think ‘From Peckham to Putney’ is an excellent name for a film, possibly about an old cockney gangster from Peckham who falls for a well-to-do yoga instructor from Putney).
So jump on a bus. And remember your London bus etiquette: a) lend your seat to those in need; b) try not to read other people’s newspapers. They hate it, and c) when you need to get off or when someone sits on your coat, just make a barely audible grunt or mumbling sound. Sounds odd but this is just the way we do it in London. Any more etiquette I’m missing anyone?
And do let us know your favourite routes too…