Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
The best view in London is yours for £1.75: from the upper deck of a bus heading south over Waterloo Bridge.
At this time of year the journey is best made close to sunset. To the east, the sky and river are mirrors of silvery blue while St Paul’s Cathedral casts a spiritual glow amid the gleaming City skyscrapers. To the west, the London Eye and Palace of Westminster are silhouettes; the horizon is blurred by clouds turned to melting honey by the dwindling light.
Waterloo sunset is, indeed, a moment of paradise.
Any old bus will do. The front seats are best if you can grab one. But for many more thrills for your money, I commend London’s southbound express: the supercharged SL6, destination the deep south of the capital.
Each afternoon, a dozen or so specially branded buses depart from Russell Square in central London, destination West Croydon.
“SL” stands for Superloop, Transport for London’s big idea to improve links around the capital – literally around the capital, in all cases except the SL6.
From Bexleyheath in the southeast, a series of linked limited-stop buses connects (going clockwise) Bromley, Croydon, Heathrow, Harrow, North Finchley, Walthamstow and the Royal Docks in east London. The SL6, which runs arterially not orbitally, is an outlier. And all the better for it, I concluded at the end of the 95-minute journey.
Buses in the capital are relatively cheap: board as many as you like within an hour for that £1.75. But they are painfully slow. Frequent passenger stops add to the chronic heavy traffic and ponderous traffic-light sequencing designed to rob motorists of the will to drive.
Express buses are services with most of the passenger stops cut out. The SL6 pauses six times in central London after setting off from Russell Square – but upon leaving Waterloo station passengers are scheduled to be on board for the next 33 minutes (more like 40 in reality). So if you need to get to the straggle of suburbs in the deep south of London, it is a reasonable choice. And, unlike a Tube or train, you benefit from 360-degree views.
Being high above pedestrians and traffic, you get a close-up of the magnificent…