The London Underground may be efficient, reliable and convenient, but if you plan on touring around London on a budget travelling on the Tube could put a huge dent in your wallet. Not only that, if you're only in London for a few days then spending the majority of your time skirting through the Underground's mazes may not seem like the most ideal image of a perfect holiday.
But travelling by bus in London is not only cost efficient, it's also a great way to see the city while you're travelling from point A to point B; (not to mention it's just as convenient and efficient as the Underground as well). And most importantly, riding a double decker bus provides tourists with the ultimate London experience, as these flashy red buses have been an icon of London since long before the Underground was around.
Buses on each route usually run every three to 10 minutes and are sometimes even faster than riding on the Tube; plus you don't need to walk for what seems like hours on end just to switch from one Underground line to another. Furthermore, kids under the age of 11 can travel on buses for free, which makes them an ideal form of transportation for families.
If you plan on travelling around London by bus but you're not sure how to do so, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Check out the Transport for London website for bus route information
Not only is the TFL website ideal for tourists as it can provide you with timetables, bus route information, and even a journey planner, it also provides updates on bus route changes due to maintenance work as well as timetable delays under their “Live Travel News” section.
If you don't have access to the internet, many bus stops near the center of London have electronic timetables so you can see how many minutes there are until the next bus arrives, as well as which direction the bus is heading in.
Buy an all-day ticket
Even though a single journey can cost as low as £2.10, if you plan on spending more than a few days in London (or even one week) it might be a good idea to dish out the extra few pounds for an all-day ticket as well. Not only that, there are also Bus Saver packs of six tickets which are available for £6, and you can find them at any street-side news stand.
You can also buy your bus ticket from the driver on the bus, as well as from a machine at the bus stop. Keep in mind however that not every stop has a machine, and if there is a machine at the stop you will likely be required to buy your ticket before boarding. Also keep in mind that bus drivers don't accept cash, so make sure you have lots of change in your pockets.
Avoid travelling during peak hours
Much like the Underground, buses in London can be packed full of people during peak hours, so unless you don't mind being crammed onto a bus it may be wise to avoid boarding a bus during peak hours altogether. It's also important to note that single fares are more expensive during peak hours, so make sure you do proper research and budgeting beforehand.
Use your Oyster card
Also unbeknownst to many travellers, you can also use your Oyster card for a bus trip as well.
After paying a small deposit of £5, you can recharge your Oyster card whenever you want, so all you have to do is scan your card on the card reader near the bus driver whenever you get on or off the bus.
Know your colour-coded bus stop signs
Bus stops are as easy to spot as Underground station signs, and they also include maps of the nearby area as well.
If the sign background is white the bus will stop automatically, but if the sign background is red the bus driver will only stop via “request” (or more specifically, you will have to flag him down in order for him to stop for you). Be aware that if the sign background is yellow you will need to purchase a ticket before you board the bus. You can buy the tickets at the machines located at the stop, but be forewarned that the exact amount of change is required for single-rides as well as one-day tickets.
Know your direction
One of the most common rookie mistakes for travellers using a bus for the first time is to get on a bus that is going in the wrong direction. One way to avoid this is to check the list of stops on the sign (which is usually eye-level), and if your stop is not listed you will need to cross the street and find the stop on the opposite side of the road.
Attention party animals: Look for bus routes marked “N”
If you plan on having a wild night out in London, make sure you find out which routes are available at night as not every bus route continues during the early morning hours. The night routes are marked with an “N” before the route number, and you will need to flag down the bus driver if you're waiting at the stop.