TfL have justlaunched a collection of tourist itineraries to showcase some of London's most famous landmarks and attractions.
So far there are three suggested itineraries, each outlined in their own three-page pdf, and each beautifully designed. One itinerary lists London's 10 most popular attractions, with information on the closest stations and the best times to visit. This is rather good, and I can imagine many visitors to London finding it useful to plot their way around. Another itinerary lists 10 of London’s most popular transport design icons, from tiles to architecture to heritage Routemaster buses. This too is rather good, and I can imagine even Londoners finding it interesting to follow. And the third itinerary suggests you ride the number 94 bus. This is very much not good.
It's a smart idea, to encourage visitors out of the centre of town to some attractive spots further out. The advent of the Hopper fare makes brief bus journeys more cost effective, so it's an idea whose time has come. The map makes it look all so simple, with the ten neighbourhoods neatly shown.
Each neighbourhood has its own information panel, with the bus stop you're supposed to get off at clearly stated. Even tourists unfamiliar with how London works should be able to follow along.
But somewhere along the way the idea of visiting neighbourhoods by number 94 bus has gone badly awry, and any tourist taking the advice is likely to enjoy a less than perfect day out. I know, I've tried following it all.
1. Covent Garden
Bus stop – Charles II Street
Covent Garden is simply a must see for those who enjoy shopping, theatre, history and culture. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Market, Somerset House and our very own London Transport Museum are all a short walk away.
Covent Garden is evidently an excellent place for tourists to visit. Not only is there the iconic market, but there's also a museum owned by TfL, and they're not going to pass on the opportunity to recommend that. There's only one problem, which is that the number 94 bus doesn't go to Covent Garden.
Route 94 starts at the foot of Regent Street, approximately two tube stations away, beyond the far side of Trafalgar Square. To walk to the first stop from the Royal Opera House or London Transport Museum takes 16 minutes, according to my stopwatch, and from Covent Garden Market 14 minutes. As for Somerset House that's 19 minutes away, indeed so distant as to be five stops away by bus. By my calculations there are at least 30 bus routes which pass closer to Covent Garden than the number 94, so the 94 definitely isn't the way to go. What's more, Charles II Street isn't exactly well known, nor easy to find, so any tourist attempting to start their Bus Route 94 itinerary in Covent Garden faces a lengthy and bewildering walk. And that's just the beginning.
Bus stop – Conduit Street/Hamley’s Toy Store
Situated in the heart of London’s West End, Soho has long been established as London’s most lively entertainment district. It offers a diverse mix of live entertainment, global cuisine and a thriving nightlife. Soho is also home to Hamley’s, the largest and oldest toy store in the world.
Actually this recommendation is fine. Route 94 runs along Regent Street up the western edge of Soho, and the designated bus stop is almost directly opposite Hamley's, which is pretty much perfect... although you'd actually have been much better off catching the 6, 23 or 139 bus direct from the Strand rather than hiking to catch the 94.
Bus stop – Selfridges
This area is renowned for some of the best shopping in London. As well as luxury shops, it is packed full of fine restaurants and sumptuous hotels. The art galleries of Bond Street are also well worth a visit.
The 94 bus runs round two sides of Mayfair, stopping six times on the perimeter, including the stop outside Hamley's where you last got on. If you're a tourist going shopping it makes perfect sense to recommend the stop outside Selfridges, although all the commercial opportunities mentioned in the text are on the opposite side of the road in Mayfair proper. As for the art hotspots of Bond Street it would have been better to get off at the previous stop, or indeed any of the four previous stops, it being a seven minute walk from Selfridges back to the nearest gallery.
4. Hyde Park
Bus stop – Marble Arch/Bayswater Road
One of the Capital’s largest and most iconic parks, you can easily spend a day in here. Be sure to hire a boat on the Serpentine Lake and pay a visit to the Princess Diana Memorial.
In good news, the recommended bus stop is right alongside Hyde Park, up close to Marble Arch. But as for the attractions mentioned, the boathouse is 10 minutes walk away, and would have been better accessed from the next stop, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is another 10 minutes walk beyond that. A special mention to whoever placed the 'Hyde Park' logo on the map, and who managed to miss the largest green space in central London, plonking it on the wrong side of Oxford Street instead.
5. Kensington Gardens
Bus stop – Palace Court
Once the private gardens of Kensington Palace, this stunning area is now open to the public and lies immediately to the west of Hyde Park. Featuring the Peter Pan statue and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, it is the perfect place for a family day out.
The 94 stops three times along the northern edge of Kensington Gardens. Unfortunately whoever devised this itinerary hasn't chosen any of these three, but the next stop beyond the edge of the park, adding an unnecessary additional walk to your journey. The Memorial Playground is thus five minutes away, rather than three, Kensington Palace is 11 minutes away, and the Peter Pan statue 15 minutes away. Adding to my suspicions that the person who devised this itinerary has never been here, the claim about "once the private gardens" is lifted from the opening line of Kensington Palace's Wikipedia article, and "this stunning area" has in fact been open to the public since 1637.
6. South Kensington
Bus stop – Palace Court
Boasting a range of free-to-visit museums such as the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington remains an area of great cultural and scientific importance. Just a short walk from Hyde Park, it has a stunning backdrop of London’s most sought-after residences and the Royal Albert Hall.
Here's where the itinerary goes truly mad. Route 94 runs along the northern edge of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, whereas as every Londoner knows, South Kensington is to the south. This means that anyone trying to access the museums from the number 94 bus faces a lengthy walk across the entire breadth of the park, and a hike down Exhibition Road after that. I timed the journey, walking fast, and it was 25 minutes to the Natural History Museum, and 24 minutes to the Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. At least a dozen buses actually go to South Kensington, rather than running over a mile away, and you'd have been hugely better off riding one of those.
See how deceptively the South Kensington marker has been placed on the map - almost directly on top of Bayswater station, rather than anywhere near where the Royal Albert Hall actually is. I get that this itinerary is about 'neighbourhoods', rather than individual attractions, but there is no way anyone could describe the number 94 as going anywhere close. What's more, the recommended bus stop is again Palace Court, which is again sub-optimal, indeed there are seven other bus stops along the top of the park which would have been fractionally less ghastly options.
All in all, in following the itinerary's suggestions for neighbourhoods 4, 5 and 6, I walked for over three miles down to the Cromwell Road and back. By the time I got back to the bus it had been over an hour, so my Hopper fare would have expired, plus I was walking much quicker than a tourist would manage, plus I actually knew where I was going. I fear for anyone unfamiliar with London, particularly with children, and trusting in the document TfL have produced - their intended journey to the museums could become a nightmare.
7. Notting Hill (Portobello Road)
Bus stop – Notting Hill Gate Station
Notting Hill is one of London’s most desirable boroughs where you will find fabulous restaurants, theatres and galleries. Every August the area plays host to Europe’s largest street festival, the Notting Hill Carnival, with millions attending each year. Portobello Market, situated nearby, is also one of London’s finest, crammed with antique dealers and retro memorabilia.
I boarded the number 94 at stop number 6, Palace Court, to discover that Notting Hill Gate Station was only one stop down the road. I could have walked it quicker than waiting for the next bus, just about. Having alighted, it was then an eight minute walk to the first stretch of Portobello Road that has a market, which isn't great, but by previous itinerary standards wasn't all that bad. Meanwhile I'd like to point out to whoever wrote the itinerary's copy that Notting Hill isn't actually a borough, and also suggest that Carnival weekend is the very worst time to try to travel through the area on the number 94 bus.
8. Holland Park
Bus stop – Holland Park
One of London’s finest green spaces, Holland Park houses the stunning Japanese-style Kyoto Gardens as well as large areas of woodland abundant with wildlife. If visiting in the summer, be sure to catch a performance in the open air theatre; opera under the stars is not to be missed.
Here's a stop on the itinerary that actually delivers. Holland Park is a treasure well worth visiting, and the number 94 bus is indeed one of the best ways of getting here. The Kyoto Garden (singular) is gorgeously blossomy at the moment, and seven minutes walk away, while the open air theatre is ten. But again I'm willing to bet that whoever wrote the itinerary has never visited, because the open air theatre has a geometric canopied roof which means the stars are always obscured.
9. Shepherd’s Bush
Bus stop – Goldhawk Road Station
Home to Shepherd’s Bush Market and Westfield’s vast shopping centre, Shepherd’s Bush is a hub for shopping. After some retail therapy, why not catch some of the biggest names in music performing at the world famous Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
If most people were going shopping in Shepherd's Bush they'd probably get off the bus at Shepherd's Bush station and go to Westfield. This itinerary peculiarly keeps tourists on board until two stops later, delivering them instead to the gates of Shepherd's Bush Market... which, perhaps not uncoincidentally, is owned by TfL. From here it's a five minute walk back to the Shepherd's Bush Empire, and ten back to the nearest corner of Westfield. I'd also like to suggest to the author that one of the worst things to do "after some retail therapy" would be to take all your shopping to a music concert.
Bus stop – Turnham Green Station
Leafy Chiswick is a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of central London. Situated on the banks of the Thames, it is the perfect spot to sample a pint of ale from the local brewery. The recently restored Chiswick House and Gardens are well worth a visit, as is the Chiswick High Road, full of local pubs, bars and restaurants.
And finally, after the longest bus ride of the lot, the 94 deposits travellers just round the corner from Turnham Green Station. Annoyingly the 94 doesn't run along Chiswick High Road, even though seven buses do, and itinerary-followers would have been much better off catching the 237 bus from Goldhawk Road station because it runs direct. Riverside Chiswick is indeed gorgeous, but the 94 stops so far away that a walk of at least 20 minutes is required to get there. There are no Fullers pubs on the waterfront, not unless you go all the way back to Hammersmith, but The George and Devonshire at the top of Church Street might well be close enough. As for Chiswick House, which is nowhere near where the blob on the map suggests, that's 24 minutes walk away from the number 94 bus, and there are better ways to get there too. There are better ways to get almost everywhere.
In conclusion, the Bus Route 94 Itinerary is an excellent idea thoughtlessly delivered. It links broad neighbourhoods rather than actual places to visit, and in at least two cases goes nowhere near the neighbourhoods claimed. It tempts tourists out of the centre of town to enjoy some top class attractions elsewhere, which is admirable, but misleads them in terms of accessibility, and fails to mention more efficient ways to get there. A ride on route 9 would have ticked off seven of the ten neighbourhoods, for example, without several of the long walks that route 94 requires.
I recognise that TfL's itinerary is meant as something to dip into, rather than to slavishly follow, but anyone who dipped in and only visited stops 1, 6 and 10 would have had a thoroughly miserable time. All in all I spent four hours following the itinerary, only 40 minutes of which was on the bus, and this was without stopping walking to spend any time at any one place. Do not under any circumstances do what I did.
Imagine how good this itinerary could have been, either along a bus route that did actually go to brilliant places, or better still one whose text didn't over-promise and had been carefully checked. Best stick to the other non-bus-related itineraries for now, or risk ending up tired and frustrated.