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Route 23 on the London Bus network must be one of the most interesting and touristy routes in central London. In fact, route 23 is one of my local buses and I feel very lucky that I'm able to make frequent use of its services.
Route 23 was one of the last of the London bus routes to relinquish its Routemaster buses. While the new modern buses certainly make life easier for wheelchair users or parents with pushchairs, it has put an end to being able to jump off the back of the bus whenever it stops, whether it's at a bus stop or not.
~~~So, where does route 23 go?~~~
The bus service begins at Westbourne Park bus station and travels through Ladbroke Grove, Paddington, Oxford Circus, Aldwych and finally terminates at Liverpool Street station. The entire journey can usually be completed in around one and a half hours, roadworks permitting!
If you're lucky enough to be one of the first on the bus, you have the opportunity of sitting on the top deck, right at the front - the best seat in the house. From this viewpoint you have panoramic views of the streets in London. It gives you a chance to gain some perspective of where you're going which is something you simply can't do when travelling on the underground.
So, once it leaves Westbourne Park bus depot, it travels through Westbourne Park and stops at a large Sainsbury supermarket in Ladbroke Grove. No, it's not very touristy, but it's convenient. All the buses have to divert into here. Travelling down Ladbroke Grove isn't particularly interesting either. It's somewhat dingy and tatty down the North Kensington end and the bus turns off before it reaches the posh Holland Park end.
Leaving Ladbroke grove the bus crosses over Portobello Road. On Saturdays the view either side of the bus down Portobello Road is quite amazing. It's literally heaving with people visiting the market stalls and shops. Next it's down to Westbourne Grove. Here you'll find plenty of boutique style and designer name shops and a few organic food stores. Keep going and you're heading through the bottom end of Bayswater.
There are a multitude of places to eat along here with cuisines of every description. We promised ourselves that we would eat in every one of them by the time we move away. Next it stops by Queensway, home of the Whiteleys shopping Centre (where 'The Wright Stuff' talk show is filmed).
Then it's onto Paddington. The bus stops right outside St. Mary's Hospital, where one of my children was born. Staff at this hospital were among some of the first on the scene helping out the victims of the 7/7 bombings at Edgeware Road station just along the road. As you leave Paddington, the bus turns onto Edgeware Road and down to Marble Arch. From here you can admire the Arch while you're waiting at the traffic lights at the roundabout which the bus will take onto Oxford Street.
Oxford Street is undoubtedly the slowest part of the journey. In fact, many times I've just hopped off and walked if my destination is Oxford Street or thereabouts. Here it's wall to wall red buses and black cabs. Cars don't really get a look in. But, from a viewpoint on the top deck of the bus, you can gaze down at the throngs of shoppers, heaving and weaving their way down the pavements. The bus trundles along past Bond Street then at Oxford Circus, it takes a right turn and heads down Regent Street.
Regent Street is home to Hamleys, London's largest and most famous toy store. In fact, the bus stops right outside. At the end of Regent Street you can take in the sights of Piccadilly Circus as the bus negotiates the roundabout to enter the Haymarket. From here the bus goes around Trafalgar Square with the famous Nelsons Column as well as the fountain and millions of pigeons. Actually, there aren't quite so many pigeons now as you aren't supposed to feed them. Tourist attractions here include the national gallery to the north and Whitehall to the south. After that it's onto Aldwych, where you'll find many of London's famous theatres such as Her Majesty's, the Lyceum, Savoy and Adelphi to name a few.
Route 23 finally ventures into the city good and proper. This time it's into the red areas of the Monopoly board with The Strand and Fleet Street where you pass by the beautiful Royal Courts of Justice, often seen on news items on TV. Then it's up Ludgate Hill with the Old Bailey to the left then past St Pauls cathedral. After this it makes its way down to Bank. Here the impressive Bank of England stands in the centre of the London's financial district. At lunch time on a sunny day you'll find the area crowded with city workers eating their lunches while sitting on the steps because there's really nowhere else to sit if you want some sunshine.
And finally, the bus makes its way down towards its destination of Liverpool Street, right next to the main line railway station.
Any single journey on a London bus will cost £2. However, for those with an Oyster card, (a sort of discount card used throughout the London public transport network) you'll halve the cost to £1. If you hop off though, and hop on again, you will have to pay another £1. If you plan on making many stops in one day, a travel card is usually the most cost effective. At the time of writing a one day bus pass costs £3.80 and children under the age of 16 are free. Alternatively, Oyster cards will stop deducting money once they reach the cap which is currently at £3.30.
When you're travelling through central London, you must buy your ticket before boarding the bus. Such bus stops will usually have a ticket machine for you to use from which you can also buy a bus pass. At other stops, it can be possible to buy your ticket from the bus driver. It's also possible to buy tickets from underground stations and newsagents displaying a 'bus passes and tickets'.
~~~When Does it Run?~~~
Route 23 is a 24 hour service with buses running frequently throughout the day. During the weekdays buses run about every 6-8 minutes. Throughout the night there's usually one every half an hour.
Of course, we're often faced with the age old problem of no buses for ages then three showing up at once. Many of the bus stops in central London, Oxford Street, for instance, now have an electronic time table which tells you how many minutes until your bus reaches your stop. This is extremely useful, particularly if you see your bus is going to be longer than expected, then you have the choice of taking an alternative bus or catching the tube.
If you are planning on taking the bus to work, then it's always a good idea to allow extra time for your journey. The bus inevitably takes longer than the tube, having to negotiate bus stops, traffic lights and road works. But if you can do this, it usually makes for a far more pleasant journey than the alternative of travelling like a tinned sardine on the tube network.
So, if you're ever in London and want to see some of the tourist sights, you may find it cheaper to hop on a 23 rather than splash out on one of the special tourist buses.