If you’re on a short break in London you’ll quickly become aware of just how many iconic buildings, monuments and attractions the city offers. So much to see and do; so little time in which to do it. Yet, the UK capital can be a bit on the pricey side, let’s be honest. In which case, wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to see a fair number of the sights in a short space of time – and not having to splash the cash to do so?
Well, I’ll let you into a little secret; there is. It’s called the RV1 bus route. And, yes, it is an ordinary route operated by an ordinary red Transport for London (TfL) bus, thus will cost a mere snip should you have invested in an Oyster card for your visit.
The ‘RV’ in RV1 is supposed to refer to ‘river’, the reason being that this bus follows and crosses the Thames for much of its route. Specifically, it links the Tower of London, London Bridge, the Southbank and Covent Garden, taking in Tower Bridge, Borough Market and Waterloo Bridge as it does so. And, if that’s not enough to tempt you, then the fact the red machine is, in fact, green surely will – a sleek-looking, state-of-the-art bus, it’s powered by hydrogen fuel cells ensuring all it releases into the air is water vapour.
When the bus arrives, choose for yourselfa seat on the right-hand side, at the front of the highest level seats(note: the bus is a single-decker, but some seating’s set higher than others). As the journey begins, you’ll find you’re first and (admittedly) rather unimpressively taken around the local vicinity, but within 10 minutes you’ll be heading past the magisterial medieval museum that’s the Tower of London – originally a fortification, then a palace, then a prison and then a treasury of riches – and the similarly impressive Tower Bridge is dead ahead. With its two towers appearing like battlements, the appearance of this structure belies the fact it’s a combined bascule and suspension bridge;a crowning glory of Victorian construction. As you cross the bridge itself, remember not just to gaze up at the towers, but also to your right for the impressive view that boasts HMS Belfast and the sky-piercingoffice building that’s The Shard.
On the other side of the bridge – and the other side of the river – you now enter Tooley Street and quickly pass, on the right, the youth-focused Unicorn Theatre, the modern urban development that includes the seat of London’s democratic power,City Hall (the glass building that looks a bit like a leaning giant onion, which you’ll also have seen from the bridge), and then the beautiful Grade II-listed shopping precinct Hay’s Galleria. In its former incarnation as a Victorian warehouse, this was the site of a major fire back in 1861, the worst in the capital since the Great Fire of just over 200 years before.
Finally on this stretch, if you glance to your right as the bus turns to the left to pass the famous London Bridge train and bus stations, you should be able to spot the golden topped summit of the Monument, back in the direction you’ve come from – the 62 metre-tall Doric column which, as chance would have it, was erected to commemorate the 1666 Great Fire.
Next you’ll find the bus passes the much talked about Borough Market, a haven for foodies that’s brimming with stalls selling excellent ingredients and outlets serving up delicious dishes. In fact, Borough Market is such an attraction that it’s nowadays pulling in visitors from all over the world – reason good enough maybe to step off your Central London bus tour for a while and check it out, whether you’re staying nearby in London or even somewhere further out near Heathrow, such as among the hotels in Hounslow West.
Following this, a real highlight to look outfor, should you be a beer enthusiast, is the Hop Exchange. Another Grade II-listed building, it served as the financial centre for the nation’s brewing industry in Victoriantimes; nowadays, fully renovated, it’s a corporate hospitality venue.
Now the route effectively double-backs on itself as it turns and heads back west along Upper Ground and Belvedere Road, parallel to the Southbank and the river, just a block away on your right. As it progresses, the bus passes by the back of (in order) the National Theatre, the British Film Institute (BFI), the Southbank Centre and the Royal Festival Hall – all four of them world-class performance centres in cinema, theatre, music and figurative art.Eventually, these buildings pass by and your right-hand side opens out in the shape of the green expanse that’s Jubilee Gardens, always occupied by tourists and families on warm, sunny days, while beyond that proudly stands the London Eye, always revolving whatever the weather. You’ll also, of course, now be able to see the jewel in Westminster’s crown on the other side of the river – that is, the Neo Gothic glory that’s the Houses of Parliament, containing Big Ben.
At this point, the bus will take a detour to take in the area around Waterloo mainline train station – an impressive and enormous Victorian building of red brick – before turning back towards the river and the bridge made notorious by The Kinks’ 1960s rock ballad Waterloo Sunset; Waterloo Bridge. Just as the singer Ray Davies opined in that tune, you’ll find the view – especially to your left – from the bridge paradisiacal, especially at sunset or at night. Now back on the north bank, the route winds its way up to Covent Garden, where it concludes, allowing you to discover the delights of the piazza itself.