London’s most scenic bus routes you’ve got to ride this summer

The best way to see London is by bus. Best of all, from the front seat of the top deck as you glide over the Thames, snake down Shooters Hill or climb up to Ally Pally. London’s bus network scours the capital in a way no other mode of transport can – it’s accessible to everyone, you don’t have to worry about parking, you don’t spend your time in tunnels and best of all you can take in the capital’s most amazing views.

Every type of scenery you can think of is there – from concrete jungle in dense urbania to verdant Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That’s because there are over 700 bus routes operating across the capital, including 620 which are run by Transport for London (TfL) – from Zone 1 to beyond the M25, you can tuck into some pretty delicious scenery. They also offer good value for money, with the £1.65 Hopper fare allowing you to ride as many buses as you can within an hour. Bus fares are also ‘capped’ at £4.95 on TfL routes per day, meaning if you’re looking to have an affordable adventure through the city’s streets, the big red bus is the perfect solution.

MyLondon’s Transport Editor Callum Marius has travelled extensively all over the capital on the weirdest, wackiest and most wonderful bus routes the city has to offer and reveals his favourite scenic jaunts. Here are his picks split up into NW, NE, SE, SW and Central London, with some bonus routes just outside London for the more adventurous among us.

READ MORE: ‘London’s bus routes aren’t always the best – there are ones with better service outside the capital’

One of the oddest sights on the route 210 is oncoming buses making the tight squeeze around The Spaniard’s Inn in Hampstead

North West London

Norf Weezy is where Metroland suburbia meets gritty industrial North Circular Road industry, with urban sprawl interspersed with small pockets of greenery. Much of it is factories, trading estates and business parks, but there are a handful of hidden gems which offer something more aesthetic. Route 52 (Victoria-Willesden Bus Garage) is a great route to start off with. Incredibly bougie, you can enjoy whizzing past Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Palace, Portobello Road Market and Kensal Rise.

If you want something more green, take route 210 (Brent Cross-Finsbury Park Station) across the northern fringe of Hampstead Heath, hop off at Kenwood House along the way and look down on the city and the heath below for a truly spectacular view. House hunters might also want to check out The Bishop’s Avenue, also known as billionaires row for some prime property.

An honourable mention also has to go to route 258 (South Harrow-Watford Junction) for its ultimate suburban appeal. Crossing ‘Metroland’, the route passes the famous Harrow School and a impressive viewpoint at Old Redding, where you can see all the way to Canary Wharf. Heading into Hertfordshire, the route descends into the charming commuter town of Bushey before terminating in Watford.

North East London

Route 108 (Stratford International-Lewisham Station) is not the most conventionally scenic route, but offers a genuine snapshot of London life. The only route to link NE and SE London outside of Zone 1, the scale of London’s development is blaringly obvious as the route skirts the Olympic Park and Westfield, then the classic Chrisp Street Market, under the Blackwall Tunnel, across the Greenwich Peninsula and finally descending into Blackheath and Lewisham.

Right on the outskirts of NE London, you’ll find route 313 (Potters Bar Station-Chingford Station), which is the only route which uses the infamous ‘Boris buses’ outside the M25. As the route makes its way into Greater London from the Hertfordshire commuter town of Potters Bar, you get the most impressive view of North London despite being surrounded by fields – which makes a great photo op!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Finally, possibly the best view of the entire capital from the front seat of a London bus is on route W3 (Northumberland Park-Finsbury Park Station) as it climbs and then descends the summit at Alexandra Palace. If you’ve never done it before, you’re truly missing out – it’s a photographer’s dream and offers clear, unobstructed views of some of the capital’s most recognisable buildings. Sister route W7 also gets a mention for the view as it climbs Muswell Hill.

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The gorgeous countryside retreat of Chartwell in Kent is served by TfL bus route 246

South East London

Although it has a low number, symbolising its ‘importance’, route 3 (Whitehall-Crystal Palace) is a bit of an oddball route, which sneaks around the back of Inner South East London as it links several key locations. A couple of these ‘shortcuts’ actually offer very pleasant vistas including Lambeth Bridge, Brockwell Park and Dulwich Wood Park. It also stops at several iconic locations including Horse Guards Parade, Downing Street, Houses of Parliament, Brixton Electric Avenue and Crystal Palace Tower. Treat yourself to a stroll through Crystal Palace Park at the end of the route.

London’s fastest bus route, 246 (Bromley North-Westerham/Chartwell), reaches the highest point in London – Westerham Heights – which obviously offers great views! You also get plenty of fantastic scenic views of the ‘chocolate box England’ Kent countryside as the route heads to its southern terminus at Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s gorgeous country home which is now a National Trust property.

Whilst down in Bromley, also take a ride on route R8 (Orpington-Biggin Hill), which uses a series of country lanes around the village of Downe to get between its termini. Many of the roads are so narrow they don’t have fixed bus stops meaning the bus stops on a ‘hail and ride’ basis, which offers quite possibly the most rural feel to a bus route you can get within Greater London.

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The 465 can drop you off here at the top of the village

South West London

Route 88 (Parliament Hill Fields-Clapham Common) passes so many iconic London sites, it’s hard to list them all. Camden, Regent Street and the Tate Britain are all en route. It’s also the mayor’s favourite bus route (bar the 44 which his father once drove) so is certainly one worth checking out.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED : The southernmost route on the entire TfL bus network, route 465 (Kingston-Dorking) is an anomaly spending more time outside London than in it. The route crosses the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including the viewpoint at Box Hill, the historic village of Mickleham and the UK’s answer to Provence at Denbies Wine Estate. Spend a whole day on this route hopping on and off with your camera and you’ll truly make memories!

Route R68 (Kew-Hampton Court Station) meanders along the River Thames across South West London, crossing it twice. If you love being by the water, you can take in the view as the route crossed Richmond Bridge and Hampton Court Bridge, which are both breathtaking, particularly at sunset.

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Think of the 11 as a scenic District line

Central London

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED : The worst kept secret on the London bus network is that route 11 (Fulham Broadway-Liverpool Street) is effectively the cheapest sightseeing tour in the capital. MyLondon has even ridden it to that effect! If you want snapshots of all the most iconic London landmarks but you’re short of time and money, catch the 11 and tick them off one by one. It passes: King’s Road Chelsea, Victoria Coach Station, Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Royal Courts of Justice, St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank of England and Heron Tower.

If you want the same thing as the 11 but north to south, try London’s oldest unchanged busroute 24 (Hampstead Heath-Pimlico) which passes Camden Market, the BT Tower, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and Grosvenor Railway Bridge. Be quick though, the 24 (and the 11) are set to be axed soon, with changes to the 88.

Route 139 (Golders Green-Waterloo) is also pretty scenic, gliding through the village-like affluent community of West Hampstead, Abbey Road Studios (going across the famous ‘Beatles’ zebra crossing), Sherlock Holmes’ house (which is a museum in the fictional detective’s honour on Baker Street), Selfridge’s, Oxford Circus and the South Bank.

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The X80 bus in its distinct Ensignbus blue and grey livery

Just outside London

It goes without saying, but if you want the most traditionally scenic views of greenery, flora and flauna as far as the eye can see, you ought to take a bus ride just outside the M25. The following routes aren’t operated by TfL so fares are usually higher than the £1.65 Hopper fare but the views are more impressive so worth the investment!

  • Route 304 (St Albans-Hitchin) is a pleasant route through the Hertfordshire countryside, linking charming villages and the historic, cathedral city of St Albans which is well worth a visit on its own. The route sometimes has large gaps between buses of around two hours so it’s important to check the timetable.
  • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED : Routes X39 and X40 (Oxford-Reading), branded as ‘River Rapids’ as they follow the course of the Thames, are very charming. Offering great views of the Upper Thames Valley and South Oxfordshire, the routes stop in the quaint market town of Wallingford and a number of villages that look straight out of “The Wind and the Willows.” The route is operated with modern, comfortable, premium-specification double decker buses which make the journey even more appetising and features in its parent company’s ‘most scenic bus route’ list. An honourable mention on that list should also go to the Coaster routes (12, 12A, 12X, 13X) between Brighton and Eastbourne along the coast which are mesmerising.
  • Route X80 (Chafford Hundred Lakeside-Bluewater) is another route that isn’t conventionally scenic but the view over the Queen Elizabeth Bridge towards Bluewater into London and out to Kent is worth the trip out.

What do you think the most scenic bus route in the capital is? Have you been on any of these routes and what did you make of them? Tell us in the comments below!

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