In 2005, when London introduced a new kind of bus, residents and visitors alike were saddened to lose the double-decker icons that had served London so well for more than half a century. While the new buses were more accessible and energy efficient, some of them weren’t red like the old Routemaster buses, and they no longer had the hop-on, hop-off rear riding ramp. All the new buses were designed for the driver to take fares, which eliminated the job of the passenger-friendly conductor/ticket inspector wearing a manually operated ticket machine around his neck.
London Mayor Boris Johnson has reintroduced the hop-on, hop-off feature in a sleek and shiny new fully accessible hybrid double-decker built in Northern Ireland. It's the Number 38, and you can watch for it between Victoria Station and Hackney, East London. But you can still hop a ride on the old Routemaster if you know where to find them.
So disappointed were Londoners to lose the old Routemasters that two routes, served by five buses each, kept them. It's a treat to sit up top and benefit from great views on a clear day or to keep dry while peering through the raindrops on a rainy one. The city chose double-decker No. 9 and No. 15 buses for shortened loops of limited service, running about every 15 to 20 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. and passing many highlights along their routes.
Not all the No. 9 and 15 buses are Routemasters, so wait for the right one to come along if you’re interested in a historic bus. Conductors accept Travelcard or Oystercard multi-use passes or cash fares. Fares are the same as those for regular London buses, and children under 11 ride free.
No. 9 heritage route
The No. 9 proceeds from Kensington High Street and travels along Kensington Gore at the southern edge of Hyde Park into Knightsbridge. This is a handy stop for Harrods and Harvey Nichols, Sloane Street shopping, the Mandarin Oriental and historic One Apsley House.
The bus travels along Piccadilly, past Green Park on the right, with Buckingham Palace beyond the trees. Stops include the Ritz, Fortnum & Mason, the Royal Academy of Art, Burlington Arcade, Bond Street, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, home to The National Gallery. Hop off anywhere along here for theaters and Covent Garden.
No. 15 heritage route
If you're enjoying taking a tour past landmarks, catch the No. 15 Routemaster at Trafalgar Square. This route offers another collection of top London sights. Look down Whitehall to Big Ben and see the National Gallery across the way as well as the St. Martin-in-the-Fields church and concert hall.
You will pass Somerset House and enter the square mile called the City via Fleet Street. See the newspaper buildings and the Royal Courts of Justice, on your left, and the Old Bailey. Then, it's on to St. Paul's Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, Pudding Lane and the monument to the Great Fire of 1666. The last stop is the Tower of London.
Content by Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Top: A heritage London Routemaster bus in Trafalgar Sqaure with a view down Whitehall to Big Ben. (Photo by David Holt via Wikimedia Commons)
Right: London Mayor Boris Johnson introduced the new red double-decker bus in Trafalgar Square last year. The design mimics features of the iconic red London Routemaster bus, some of which are still in use on heritage routes in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)