Welcome to the heart of London, where you'll find both historic and contemporary landmarks that define the city's cultural and political heritage. Many of these sites are featured in our Westminster and our London All-in-One walking tours. However, if our tour calendar doesn't work for you or if you would just prefer to explore London by bus on your own time, then here is an excellent tour for you.
To take this FREE self-guided bus tour, simply go to STOP "R" or "N" on Victoria Street and take the 11 bus route. The map below indicates each of the tour highlights. Expect the tour to take between 3o-45 minutes, depending on traffic. With a daily bus ticket of less than £5 (make sure you have the exact fare), you can spend all day hopping on and off public buses.
Follow these links for more information regarding our Self Guided Bus Tour of Posh Piccadilly and Kensington or our Self Guided Bus Tour of London Southbank River Route.
Start: Victoria Street (From Westminster Abbey’s exit, walk down Victoria Street. Cross the road to the side where traffic is heading TOWARD the Abbey. STOP “R” OR you can begin at Victoria Street across from Victoria Station at STOP “N”)
Finish: Liverpool Street Station
Click here for a movable map or click the image to enlarge it.
[For sites that you CAN NOT see from the bus, you will need to “hop-off.” For sites that you can see FROM the bus, look for the asterisk: *]
This is the mother church of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. A Victorian creation, the current Cathedral was completed in 1903 and was designed by architect John Francis Bentley. The Tower that dominates the Cathedral stands at 284ft (87m) and is open to the public who want to get a good view of London – at a reasonable price: just £5.00 as of early 2015.
Founded by Edward the Confessor, an early King of England, in the 11th century, Westminster Abbey today is linked with our royal family. It is here that we hold royal weddings (the Queen and Prince Philip…William and Kate), coronations (all but two of our Monarchs have had their coronations here), funerals (Diana, Princess of Wales) as well as burials (including Queen Elizabeth I). The Abbey is also the final resting place of non-royals such as Charles Darwin, Issac Newton and Sir Laurence Olivier, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Abbey is open to sight-seers and worshippers throughout the year.
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament*
The Houses of Parliament today are located inside the Palace of Westminster. Originally built in the 11th century, the Palace was home to Kings and Queens for centuries until King Henry VIII moved out in 1512. In 1547 the Palace was gifted to Parliament by King Edward IV and they have sat here ever since. However, that palace was lost in a fire in 1834 and was rebuilt in the neo-gothic style we see today by architect Charles Barry with work by Augustus Pugin.
“Big Ben” is actually the bell inside the world-famous clock-tower that stands here. The tower itself is actually The Queen Elizabeth II Tower…although we all still use it’s nickname of Big Ben! Named after a boxer or a politician, nobody knows how the bell got it’s name but it’s been in use since the tower was first constructed in the mid-19th century.
Downing Street *
It’s hard for anybody to get a glimpse onto Downing Street. Either side is blocked off with huge gates and armed officers on guard 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Downing Street today only holds two houses: Numbers 10 and 11. Traditionally, the Prime Minister lives inside Number 10 and the Chancellor of the Exchequer lives at Number 11…but neither are open for public visitation. In fact, visitors cannot step foot onto Downing Street at all.
Constructed in 1840, and designed by Sir Charles Barry, Trafalgar Square is a public space in London dominated by the National Gallery on the North (a FREE museum!) and Nelson’s Column in the centre. Named after the Battle of Trafalgar (a British naval Victoria over France and Spain in the Napoleonic Wars), Admiral Lord Nelson was the leader of the British navy, hence is commemoration in the square. Throughout the year Trafalgar Square is a popular place for celebration, protest, parties, events, and it is also home to London’s Christmas Tree in December!
The Strand is a major thoroughfare in London connecting the City of Westminster with the City of London. Centuries ago, when the River Thames was wider, the Strand would have run alongside the north bank of the water. In fact, Strand is an Old English word for ‘shore.’ In medieval times the road was known as Denesmanestret (‘street of the Danes’) because of the large community of Danish people living in the area.
Today, Covent Garden is in the heart of London’s West End, filled with street performers, theatres, shops and restaurants. Originally, Covent Garden was simply countryside OUTSIDE of London! Eventually the area became settled in the 16th century and there has been a market here since at least 1654. There is still a market here, visited by Londoners and tourists alike. Covent Garden is also a hot-spot for nightlife and shopping.
Royal Courts of Justice*
This massive building houses two-dozen individual courtrooms, constructed in the 19th century. Designed in the ‘neo-gothic’ style by architect George Edmund Street – who died before seeing his work completed – the building was officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. The courts inside are open to the public and it is free to go inside and sit in the courtroom public galleries.
Temple Bar is a monument that marks the Westernmost boundary of the City of London. The City of London (sometimes referred to as ‘old’ London) is roughly only one square mile. All roads that lead into the City of London have some kind of marker, but most are much smaller than this, although the majority DO have a dragon somewhere on them, dragons being the symbol of the City. The marker here is decorated with statues of Queen Victoria and the future King Edward VII, both designed by Joseph Boehm.
Prince Henry’s Room*
This is a unique building in the ‘square mile.’ Dating from 1610, this is one of the few remaining buildings in this part of town that date before World War II (when huge parts of London were completely destroyed in air-raids). In particular, the building is extra-rare in that it is a wooden building dating before the Great Fire of London in 1666 that destroyed most of the medieval city. Today the building belongs to the Lord Mayor of London and holds no public access.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
One of the oldest and best known pubs in London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a 1667 rebuild of the original pub that used to stand on this site. Drinkers here over the centuries include Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – just to name a few! The pub still maintains its’ historical authenticity and is definitely a must-visit for those wanting and authentic London pub experience.
St. Bride’s Church*
Designed by noted architect Christopher Wren, St. Bride’s Church was opened to the public in the 1670’s but the famous spire was added in 1701-1703. It is the second-tallest of Christopher Wren’s London churches and the spire of the building is the source of an urban legend in London which states that modern-day wedding cakes have been modelled after Wrens’ 226ft (69m) high spire.
St. Paul’s Cathedral*
There have been multiple St. Paul’s Cathedrals. The medieval one, at this same location, was where King Henry VIII married his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. The version that stands today was designed by Christopher Wren and was declared officially open by Parliament in 1711. The statue outside is that of Queen Anne, who was on the throne the year the Cathedral was completed. Inarguably Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St. Paul’s has hosted Diamond Jubilee services (Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, Queen Victoria in 1897), royal weddings (Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales) as well as funerals (Margaret Thatcher, The Queen Mother, Winston Churchill, Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington).
The Cathedral is open to visitors and worshipers all year long – including the gallery at the top of the dome, providing a 360degree view of London.
Bank of England*
The central bank of the United Kingdom, the Bank of England was established in 1694 making it the second oldest central bank in the world (after the Swedish National Bank). The building you see today was largely rebuilt after World War II, the original suffering severe bomb damage. Although the size of the Bank is impressive, it is worth remembering that the vaults are actually underground – a further 7 stories under! The vault is where the Banks gold reserves are held and in 2012 were estimated to be worth £156,000,000,000! The Bank of England also has a free museum that is open on weekdays, allowing visitors to get their hands on one of those bars! Unfortunately, the bar cannot be removed from the museum…
There are budget-friendly ways of sightseeing in London – really! Free Tours by Foot offers London walking tours for every budget, you name the price. As many travelers know, there is no better way to explore a city than by walking its many streets. But of course that can be strenuous, so why not complement our walking tours with self-guided free London bus tours. London For Free also offers some pretty good suggestions for a self-guided bus tour. Instead of spending lots of money on an organized bus tour, do it yourself and be your own guide!