Cheap sightseeing: the Number 24 bus – the perfect tour of Central London


It’s probably unlikely to occur to a visitor at first (especially one from overseas), but when they stop and think about it, they’ll realise catching an ordinary bus through Central London could be a great way to see the city’s major sights – for practically nothing too! A good example of this is the Number 24 route that runs from Hampstead Heath in the north right down to Pimlico, on the north bank of the Thames and just west of the city’s centre.

It’s best to catch the bus at the start of thishour-long route. So, should you be travelling from, say, a hotel near London Heathrow Airport, take the Tube and change on to an Overground train, then get out at Hampstead Heath station. Not only will this mean you’ve just a short walk to the bus stop at South End Green (to be found at the junction formed by South End Road and Pond Street), but if you fancy it, first you might have a quick exploration of the Heath itselfor fortify yourself for the trip via lunch at the lovely nearby pub, The Roebuck.

135252275When the bus arrives, for the best possible view take a seatat the front on the upper deck – by joining the route from the start you’llstand a goodchanceof getting a decent seat for the entire journey.Once you get going, relatively soon the quirky and colourful district that’s Camden will hover into view. Here, you’ll turn left onto Chalk Farm Road. You’ll be able to spot the world-famous markets should you glance up Camden High Street before you turn off on to Hawley Road – the location of the pub The Hawley Arms, which was the late singing superstar Amy Winehouse’s preferred watering hole.

You’ll know when you’ve reached Mornington Crescent because you’ll next spot the elegant, Leslie Green-designed Tube stationthat shares the area’s name, after which you should look out for another Art Deco highlight – the building that was once the Carreras ‘Black Cat’ Cigarette Factory, whose bold and stark architecture was inspired by ancient Egyptian design. A few minutes later, on passing the Euston train station hub, straight ahead you should spot the BT Tower –especially because, at around 200 meters tall, it dominates the horizon. Amid-20th Century edifice built for communications, it once boasted a revolving restaurant; a gloriously gimmicky attraction that’s sadly no more.

Following this, the bus reaches the distinguished academic area that’s Bloomsbury and, specifically, Gower Street, famous for being the address of University College London(UCL). In fact, on the university’s premisesyou can take a look at the body of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, its spiritual founder, somewhat bizarrely preserved for posterity in a glass-fronted case. Yes, really. Should you choose to stay on the bus and continue your journey (and who could blame you?), look ahead and to the leftto clock the James Smith & Sons umbrella shop, which has been trading on this spot since 1857 (although, if you’ve ended your Central London bus tourhere, note that it’s also the perfect stop for the amazing British Museum).

The bus next crosses New Oxford Street and eventually turns right on to Charing Cross Road. Here, you can’t fail to see another building of note – and another tall one at that. A mid-century tower block, Centre Point is 34 floors tall, on the 33rd of which is a viewing gallery that’s open to the public. Get out here to take in the panorama of the capital it offers and, should you be staying at the Park Grand London Heathrow, you’ll almost be able to see all the way back to whence you’ve come.

Back on the bus, you’llsoon reach Cambridge Circus – the busy junction where Charing Cross Road meets Shaftesbury Avenue and where you’ll spot the major stage musical venue, the Palace Theatre. Of note too is this area’s profligacy of touristy but brilliant bookshops. Now it’s onto Trafalgar Square. At first, you’ll pass the magnificent National Portrait Gallery to your right and then the utterly splendid St. Martin-in-the-Fields church to your left, then the whole of the square opens up before you, with the glorious Nelson’s Column at the base of which are the famous four stone lions.

Next, you’ll head down Whitehall with the Neo Gothic masterpiece that’s the iconic Houses of Parliament (and, of course, Big Ben) dead ahead. Be sure to look right to catch sight of Horse Guard’s Parade and The Queen’s personal mounted Guards. Almost opposite this is Banqueting House, which boasts a sensational ceiling painted by the Dutch master Rubens and once featured a balcony on which, back in the 17th Century, King Charles I was beheadedfollowing defeat in the English Civil War.