How To Take The Bus in London | Iconic Double-Decker Bus

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Discover the essentials of navigating London’s bus system, from routes and fares to etiquette, in our comprehensive guide on how to take the bus in London.

London is famous for its bright red double-decker buses. But did you know that those are public transportation buses?! I had no idea and was stoked to find out once we arrived in London for the first time. Luckily, they are super easy to use and can get you anywhere in the city. Taking the Underground and double-deckers to get around London is a great idea.

Both are easy to use with Google Maps directions. You can pay for them via a contactless credit card (Visa or Mastercard). Just be sure to use the same card all day since they will max out your charges at a certain point (around $10), and you can keep riding for free! You will need a separate card for each person.

We’ll cover how to take the bus in London, how to pay on London buses, how to use buses in London, how much it costs, and more!

How to Take the Bus in London

This post is all about how to take the bus in London.

How to Take the Bus in London:

Routes

how to ride the bus in london

The first step to taking the bus in London is to understanding the routes. Luckily, you won’t need to learn calculus to do this. Google Maps will be your best friend for getting you where you need to go. You simply enter your destination and choose the public transportation option. You can also select various options like least walking or fewest transfers based on your preferences (Image 1). We usually like to do fewest transfers on London’s buses since it’s never too much walking.

 Here are some general tips on how to read the routes in Google Maps. 

  • Bus: the icon Indicates the type of transport; e.g. double-decker bus 
  • Bus Route: number with colored background (red for buses) is the bus route; e.g. Route 15 (Image 2)
    • Route will be found on the front, side, and back of the bus on the electronic screen.
    • If there are multiple numbers, that means that both are an option just depending on which arrives first.
  • Direction: the word directly next to the route number is the direction it’s heading; e.g. Blackwall (Image 2)
    • The direction will also show on the bus’ screen next to the number.
    • This is usually the last stop on the route before looping or turning around.
    • You may have to select “More Details” to see the direction.
    • Pro Tip: You can ensure you’re on the right side of the street by noting which direction the bus is heading based on the traffic compared to Google’s map.
  • Bus Stop: The stop you will get on the bus is at the top and the stop you will alight at is at the bottom; e.g., Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square and The Royal Courts of Justice (Stop L) (Image 3)
    •  Check the sign at the bus stop for your bus route number and direction
    • Some stops in London will have a letter associated with them (e.g., Stop L for The Royal Courts of Justice). This letter can be found at the top of the pole at the bus stop.

Google Maps will tell you what stop is closest to you and closest to your destination. You can easily follow the walking directions before and after the route. 

Fares

how to ride london bus
how to pay on london buses

The public transportation in London is by far the most affordable way to get around the city. You’ll find the estimated cost of each ride at the bottom of the detailed view of the Google Maps directions (image 3 above). 

While we rode the buses all around town, we averaged £1.75 ($2.23) per bus ride. In total, we spent $96 on public transportation in London over four days (average $24 per day) including the buses, trains, and subway systems. The largest expenses were getting to and from the airport. 

Tickets

My favorite part of the London bus system is that you don’t have to figure out any ticketing. All you need is a contactless credit card to ride. You can even use Apple Pay right on your phone. All public transportation is cashless so you will need an Oyster Card or travelcard if you won’t be using a contactless credit or debit card. 

Even better, you don’t have to worry about overpaying. Typically with public transportation, single ride tickets are more expensive than a daily or weekly pass. It can be a pain to calculate how often you need to ride it for it to be worth it or estimate how much you think you’ll use the transportation. In London, you don’t have to worry about it at all! 

By using the same form of payment throughout the day, the system will track you rides and max your payment. The maximum daily fare for bus-only travel is £5.25 ($6.69). Thich is equal to about three bus rides. That means if you take the bus five different times in one day, you’ll basically two rides for free since you will be maxed out after three! 

If you are riding the Underground and the buses, the maximum rate is a higher depending on the zones of travel. Ours maxed out around $10 per day since we used various forms of public transport. 

Riding the Bus

fares on london buses

To get on the bus, you’ll need to hail the driver down by raising your arm, letting them know you want to get on that specific bus. If you don’t, they may think you want a different bus and keep on driving by. 

Tip: You could even be extra courteous to other drivers, shake your head, “No,” and say you don’t need that bus. This is only really necessary if it’s a particularly slow route or stop since there likely will be someone else who wants them to stop to pick them up or drop them off.

When the bus stops, you’ll enter by the front door near the driver. People are very good at queuing up in London, so be sure to get in line. The bus is not going to leave without you. 

Paying Your Fare

Once on the bus, you’ll stop at the machine directly by the driver. All you need to do is tap your contactless card (or phone) on the spot with the contactless symbol. There are two RFID spots, one for credit cards and one for Oyster Cards, so ensure you have the right one (image X). The screen will light up green once it registers, and you can enter the bus. 

If it lights up red, your card was declined or there was some sort of error. I would recommend letting other people go first while getting a different card to try. You don’t need to tap anything as you exit the bus.

If you are traveling as more than one person, each person in the group will need a different payment method. Since it can be a hurried process of getting on the bus, I recommend each person to also hold their own payment method to scan as you enter.

Alighting the Bus

As for knowing when to get off, you can keep your Google Maps app open to track the bus as you go. It’s a little bit trickier than just counting the stops since the bus may not stop at every single stop on it’s route. I track the blue dot on the map as we pass each white dot (other stops). 

You can also watch the board inside the bus (if it is there/working) or listen to the announcements (if you can hear it). Both of these should announce the next bus stop and maybe the next few. 

You can see the list of stops you will pass on Google Maps by clicking the drop down where it says “Ride 3 stops” (e.g., Ride 3 Stops (7 min) in Image 3). 

When we are at the stop before our exit, we like to make our way towards the door. This is easiest to do while the bus is stopped, if possible, especially if you are coming from upstairs. 

We will also hit the red call button (located on various poles and under the windows) to request a stop, if it’s not already hit. You can ensure the call button was hit by a dinging noise and the sign above the doors reading “Stop Requested” will be lit up. If it’s already lit up, there is no need to hit the call button. 

Tip: you still can hit the button if it’s already hit, because let’s be honest, it’s the best part of riding a bus. It won’t keep dinging so don’t fret!

Transferring

If you are transferring from one bus to another bus, you will still need to scan your payment method as you get on the next bus. However, as long as you use the same payment method between rides, you will not be charged if the transfer takes place within the first hour of you first tapping in. This does not work if you are transferring from the Underground to the bus system.

General Bus Etiquette

how to use buses in london
london double decker public bus

It is important to remember that you are in a public space that many people rely on for their daily lives. This likely isn’t your hometown, so be sure to be as respectful as possible. Here are a few general guidelines for proper bus etiquette in London.

  • Don’t sit on the stairs, that’s like sitting in the aisle ways
  • Move your bags off the seat as it fills up
  • Offer your seat to those in need (elderly, pregnant, disabled, parents with small kids, etc.)
  • Use headphones or silent mode, not your speakers
  • Don’t block the exit. If the bus is really full, you can get off to let others off, then get back on (the bus won’t leave without you). I recommend just stepping off the bus and holding your arm in the door to signal, you’re just letting people out.
  • Don’t put your feet on the seat opposite you (or any seat)
  • Hold your luggage so it doesn’t roll
  • Take your backpack off if it’s crowded
  • Don’t talk too loudly

This post was all about how to take the bus in London. Enjoy your time on the famous red double-deckers!

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