London Drum

No.26 – London’s cheapest sightseeing bus past lots of famous landmarks

No.26 Bus
Where? Various locations When? Every day Buses run every 9-13 mins from 5.49 AM to 11.51 PM Journey time from Liverpool Street: 23 mins to Trafalgar Square; 29 mins to Westminster Abbey Journey time from Bank: 17 mins to Trafalgar Square; 23 mins to Westminster Tickets? This is a regular London bus, so you just pay the normal adult bus fare, senior bus fare and child bus fare

Craig’s review… There aren't many things that we did as a kid that we can still enjoy as an adult. We can't leapfrog over dustbins, can't slide down the stairs on our backside but hey, at least we can still sit at the front of a double-decker bus (assuming that your creaking knees can get you up the stairs, of course).

Unfortunately sightseeing bus tours are ridiculously expensive these days and a family of four can easily blow the best part of 100 quid on a two-hour ride. So if you don't fancy the idea of spending a small fortune on a sightseeing tour, but you still want to go on a tour anyway, then try riding the number 26 bus instead. It's just a normal London bus who's route happens to take it past lots of famous London landmarks. So it's a cheap sightseeing bus!

Catch the bus outside Liverpool Street station

I recommend boarding the 26 bus outside Liverpool Street station. The actual start of the route is only a short distance away but there's nothing worth seeing up there and this is a nice lively part of London, full of city suits and newspaper vendors.

The only guy ahead of me today is a white-haired old gent struggling to smoke a roll-up that he's accidentally bent whilst lighting it and I think he's probably just on a day out like me, looking for something to do, and I'm wondering if I'm looking at a mirror-image of myself in thirty years. Ten minutes later the bus turns up and it's only now that I discover he's a bit nuts because he's started mumbling to himself as he shuffles up the stairs. That's what sixty years of bus travel does to you.

The famous landmarks don't start until the bus reaches Bank but if you board it outside Liverpool Street then you'll have five minutes to warm up your eyes on a couple of lovely old buildings wedged in between the modern offices. The corner of Threadneedle Street is the best one but it's difficult to see its decorations from the bus.

Mansion House, Bank of England & Royal Exchange

The Lord Mayor of London's residence at Mansion HousePhoto: Craig Cross
The Lord Mayor of London's residence at Mansion House

When you see Mansion House up ahead you'll have the Royal Exchange and Bank of England on your right. Remember to twist your head right round as you enter the junction so you don't miss the front of the Royal Exchange. Luckily you should have plenty of time to take a few photos because you'll quickly clog on to the end of some traffic around here.

The Bank of England and Royal ExchangePhoto: Craig Cross
The Bank of England and Royal Exchange

That's something that you'll quickly get used to in London. I started out at 10:10 AM and within sixty seconds I was already sitting at the back of my first traffic jam. You typically have thirty-seconds of moving forwards and then two minutes of standing still in a bottleneck of taxis, buses and beeping cars. When the traffic lights turn green absolutely nothing happens. You slowly inch your way forwards until a crack opens up, then the driver puts his foot down for ten seconds before he's back on the end of another traffic jam.

Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's CathedralPhoto: Craig Cross
View of St. Paul's Cathedral from the No.26 bus

Once you're onto Cannon Street get your camera ready for St. Paul's Cathedral up ahead. You'll get a great shot of the dome as you drive past the side (it's probably one of the best views you can get of it from anywhere) and if you squeeze in a quick look to your left as you drive past that weird angular-shaped building then you'll see the Tate Modern across the Millennium Bridge.

Fleet Street is bunged up with building works today and there's a load of temporary traffic lights and fluorescent yellow wires strung across the street -- it looks like they've put the Christmas decorations up six months early.

Whilst we're sitting here I've been busy listening to a little drama unfolding in the seat behind me. I can't understand the passenger's language but he's been shouting down his phone for five minutes and getting increasingly irate. The guy in the double seat beside me has perched his flip-flopped feet up on the front and his hands are slapping invisible cymbals to the silent sounds in his headphones. I spend some time peering inside the shop windows and have come to the conclusion that London is 90% sandwich shops, coffee shops and banks.

Sweeney Todd's church in Fleet Street

The bus finally gets going again. The first half of Fleet Street is a bit bland but try and find St. Dunstan's on the right (did you see the statue of Elizabeth I above the door?). That's where Sweeney Todd was supposed to have had his barbershop -- next-door to that church.

Temple Bar & Royal Courts of Justice

The Temple Bar MonumentPhoto: Craig Cross
The Temple Bar Monument

I love the stretch from Temple Bar to Parliament Square and if I were the driver I'd be on the tannoy telling everyone to look out the window because it's going to be one great building after another from here.

When you pass the dragon-topped monument in the middle of the street everyone makes the mistake of focusing solely on the Camelot-like turrets of the Royal Courts of Justice and they completely miss all of the Tudor-style shop fronts on the left. Try and find Ye Olde Cocke Tavern and Prince Henry's Room because that one really is Tudor -- a survivor from the Great Fire of London.

The Royal Courts of JusticePhoto: Craig Cross
The Royal Courts of Justice

Then you pass a religious roundabout marooned in the middle of the road -- St. Clement Danes.

Waldorf Hotel, Savoy Hotel & The Strand

As soon as you you're past the Waldorf Hotel and into the Strand see how quickly you can spot the top of Nelson's Column poking over the rooftops. Then keep an eye out for the Savoy Hotel just past Simpson's on the left. Covent Garden is down the side streets on the other side. If you look to the right when you get level with Charing Cross then you'll get a nice view of the National Gallery.

Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards & Downing Street

National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar SquarePhoto: Craig Cross
National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square

I wouldn't normally wish terrible traffic on you but I hope you're driving slowly round Trafalgar Square so you can get a distant glimpse of Buckingham Palace through the middle of Admiralty Arch. Then you're into Whitehall and depending on what time of day you pass Horse Guards you'll either see some foot soldiers or mounted sentries guarding the gates. You'll also see a crowd of about three million tourists all queuing up for a selfie.

Sentry boxes outside Horse GuardsPhoto: Craig Cross
The sentry boxes outside Horse Guards

Immediately after that comes Downing Street's big black gate and if you're quick you might be able to spot the policeman standing halfway up the street on the righthand side -- that's where the Prime Minister lives at No.10.

Big Ben, Parliament & Westminster Abbey

Big Ben and the Houses of ParliamentPhoto: Craig Cross
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in Parliament Square

When you enter Parliament Square you'll see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on the left and Westminster Abbey over the other side. The bus will whizz around to the right and unless you've got fingers quicker than Frederic Chopin you won't have enough time to take photos so I recommend getting off here.

The final stop - Westminster Cathedral

Westminster CathedralPhoto: Craig Cross
Westminster Cathedral

If you decide to stick with it to the very end then you'll be heading towards Victoria station. The first half of Victoria Street looks like something out of East Berlin but once you reach the red brick buildings you'll be treated to Westminster Cathedral on the left.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… . If you want a proper sightseeing bus then try the Big Bus Tour or Tootbus Tour. You might also like a ride on one of the old Routemaster heritage buses

London Squire bookThe owns londondrum.com and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

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Your comments and questions

Claire The number 11 bus trip was the highlight of our trip in December. We got off at Sloane Square and had lunch in a department store there. What I most remember of this trip was the statue outside the front of Liverpool Station. It is a rather poignant statue of a group of children who represent the refugees from war -torn Europe with their little suitcases and their labels on their jackets.

Matt Yes a good way of seeing some of the major sights. As we had a few days in London to see a show we took the underground from Wembley Park to Liverpool Street, then to Trafalgar Square where we had lunch in St Martin's Crypt. Walked down Whitehall & around Parliment Square, the Abbey, St Margaret's crossed Westminster Bridge than back into Whitehall to catch bus back to the station. With a pensioners free bus pass it was free.

Frank I was a 14 year old kid from Manchester when I got on the number 11 by mistake in 1971. I had no idea where I was going and thought the bus would take me to Wembley stadium. However, I did enjoy the sights and years later in 2006 when visiting from Australia I took my wife on this bus rather than the open topper. A lovely female West Indian bus conductor took pity on me back in 71 and kept me on the bus until we got back to Victoria Station and gave me advice on how to get to Wembley. Good memories.

Pat Can you use an Oyster card on this bus?

Craig Sure, it's just a normal everyday bus

Pat Thanks for the reply, does the bus take you back to where it starts its round?

Craig It doesn't run in a loop, but you can always catch another one back the other way when it gets to the end of its route (you'll have to pay another fare though). Bear in mind that once it reaches the end of the route you normally get turfed off while the driver has a break

Maya We will be staying in Leicester Square. Where should we take the bus? How do we get back to Leicester Square without missing any of the sightseeing places?

Craig The closest stop is at Trafalgar Square, which is about a 3-4 minute walk away. But that is right slap-bang in the middle of the route, so if you wanted to see all the sightseeing places you'd have to catch it twice - once in each direction from Trafalgar Square. But that's not really worth it. You'd be better off just walking from Trafalgar Square to Big Ben yourself, because that's not very far, and then catching it from Parliament Square back towards the City

Ash Hi. Your suggestion to board Bus 11 is very good and it saves a lot against Bus Tour Operators' charges. Let me know while starting journey in Bus No.11, if you get off, say at Trafalgar Square, and after 1 hour of walk, you board the next bus No.11, does that mean you will pay every time you board?

Craig You usually pay for each separate journey, yes. But they also have something called a 'Hopper Fare' which gives you the next journey for free if you board the bus within sixty minutes of the first one. But they work it out from the time you board the first one to the time you board the second one, not from the time you get off the first one. so you won't have long to walk around

Ash Thanks for that, great site and so useful

Sam Route 11 bus tour, plse advise if this is well worth doing instead of the hop on hop off tour?

Craig I think it's definitely worth a go, as long as you remember it's just a normal everyday bus. So it might be packed, you might not get a window seat, and obviously you don't get any commentary. But I quite enjoy sitting on the top deck as the bus winds its way through London, especially on the stretch between The City and Westminster - that's the best bit. And it's only a couple of quid

Nime Is a pensioner's bus pass valid on the No.11 bus

Craig Hi Nime. Sure, it's just a normal bus, but you'll still have the usual time restrictions.

Bob I will be staying in the St Pancras area. Which bus stop is close to catch bus 11? We only have two days London, so we may not have lots of time to sit on the bus.

Craig Hi Bob. St Pancras is nowhere near the bus route. If you really want to do it I would suggest catching it at Bank and riding it to Westminister (Big Ben) and then get off there. Don't bother riding it any further than Westminster if you're short of time

Jill Where should I get off.

Craig Hi Jill. If it was me I would ride it all the way to Parliament Square and get off outside Westminster Abbey, because there's not a lot to see after that... just Westminster Cathedral in Victoria

Faith Erickson Are your buses accessible to wheelchairs?

Craig Hi Faith. They are, yes. What you have to do is wait by the middle doors, then the driver will lower a ramp onto the pavement and you can park your wheelchair in the space behind the doors. Wheelchair users don't have to pay either

Joanne Hi Craig just read your No.11 bus route and could’nt stop laughing at your witty comments. I’m going to London next week and will try this bus

Craig Cheers Joanne, the bus is definitely worth a try you should enjoy it

Donna Does the No.11 Bus go near Paddington Statiom

Craig Hi Donna. No, it doesn't go anywhere near it

Denise What does the arrow next to a designated bus stop indicate? For example ->S for Bus #26 stop at Horse Guards Parade.

Craig Hi Denise. You get ones with >N >S >E and >W as well so we've always assumed it shows which direction the buses are headed. (Theres another bus stop over the other side of the road with >N on it)

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