The Best Bus Route For Seeing London's Christmas Lights
London's Christmas lights bring a little slice of magic to each festive season in the capital, and are best seen from the warmth and comfort of a bus. But which route best showcases the finest selection of London's Christmas lights? Why, route 23 of course, BUT ONLY IF YOU GO TONIGHT.
Route 23: Westbourne Park to Aldwych Location: Central London Length of journey: 7 miles, 100 minutes
For the finest festive lightshow in town, hop aboard the 23 at its very first stop, just round the corner from Westbourne Park tube station. Please note that you are only boarding at the first stop to make 100% certain of a top deck front row seat, otherwise you could get on board four miles later. Some Japanese tourists made this mistake on the bus I took and had to make do with taking part-obscured photos from the seat behind me, and they were silently livid.
Enjoy the illuminated concrete grid of the Trellick Tower. Admire the neon blue arch across the Golborne Road railway bridge. See the dancing TV screens behind the windows of Kensal Road's council estates. Wow at the festive burger advert facing the big Sainsbury's by the canal. Gasp in admiration at the twinkly foliage across the front of Portobello House. Watch the headlamps on the Westway dance with silvery hues. All the traffic lights down Ladbroke Grove are blazing red or green. What an amazing illuminated journey it's been so far.
Just to say, if for some reason you were planning to go to Hammersmith instead of Aldwych, you should have got off at Sainsbury's and hopped onto a number 295. What you definitely wouldn't do is carry on east to Marble Arch, alight and take another bus down the far side of Hyde Park, then catch a number 10 back west to Hammersmith, because that would be madness. Just saying.
On Elgin Crescent the window of Evans Pharmacy is bedecked with dangly silver and blue lights. The Grocer boasts a giant glittery wreath. Daylesford on Westbourne Grove has placed illuminated Christmas trees outside on the pavement. BoConcept has a fully decorated tree in its window. At Electrical Wholesalers, the entire front of the shop brims with baubles, tinsel and strips of fairy lights. No other shops appear to have made a blind bit of effort, but the half hour spent aboard the bus so far has certainly had its highlights.
Paddington's massive Crossrail station is brightly lit, but still a mess of scaffolding and sheeting. It simply doesn't seem possible it could ever have been opening in two weeks time. On Praed Street, only the Aberdeen Steak House stands out with its bright shimmery window display. All the lampposts down the Edgware Road have been decorated with Christmas trees, so long as you think thin sparkly triangles with stellar infill look like Christmas trees. A fifteen minute traffic jam provides ample opportunity to admire the umpteen triangles.
To be fair, sorry, it's been rubbish so far. Nobody in their right mind would ride the first four miles of route 23 to enjoy the Christmas lights. The only decent bit or route 23 is the three miles ahead between Marble Arch and Oxford Street. But YOU CAN ONLY RIDE THIS TONIGHT.
Wow, Winter Wonderland is up and running in Hyde Park, its whirling wheels and funspikes now visible through the trees from Marble Arch. The big spectacle ahead is the collection of white and mauve globes which've been hung all the way down Oxford Street. We've seen them all before, of course, but from up here on the top deck they're just a fraction larger. Look, M&S has gone a bit purple. Some of the trees have been draped with lights. Selfridges has a series of tinsel-dressed windows with a rockstar theme. Quick, look at the feathers down Bond Street as we go by. The lights covering the front of House of Fraser are a shade creamier than those covering John Lewis. The radiant colours surrounding Oxford Circus are brighter than all those dull old globes put together.
Travelling down Oxford Street took me ten minutes, which isn't fast, but could've been a lot worse. Most of the delay was waiting at the traffic lights, not getting stuck behind other buses. A lot of the upper decks were quite empty. A lot of the upper decks were quite full.
Regent Street's angels are damned impressive. Their flashing fishnets light up the street with a kinetic dazzle. The Japanese tourists in the seat behind me have been forced to take a series of sub-optimal photos and are now mutely apoplectic. A chain of white snowflakes disappears off down New Burlington Street. Hamleys is Hamleys is Hamleys. The absolutely blinding adverts at Piccadilly Circus make no reference whatsoever to the fact that Christmas is coming. On the top deck of a 23 going the other way, a man has dangled his phone over the handrail to video the magnificent stream of angels as they unfold.
A shoal of radiant white octopuses hovers above Coventry Street. Jermyn Street has distant angels. Trafalgar Square doesn't yet have its underwhelming Christmas tree. Now barely half a mile from home, the traffic ahead is appalling. Strand is a clogged queue, some of it buses, but most of it actually taxis. It takes a full twenty minutes to crawl to the end of the route at Aldwych, but at least this gives me longer to enjoy the glowing branded baubles of the Northbank Christmas lights. I cannot understand why everyone else got off and walked. Wow, what a lightshow it was. All hail the 23!
So here's the catch. Tonight route 23 runs from Westbourne Park to Aldwych via the West End hotspots of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Trafalgar Square. Tomorrow it doesn't. Tomorrow it gets merged with route 10, which runs from King's Cross to Hammersmith. Tomorrow route 23 only gets as far as Marble Arch before diverting down the far side of Hyde Park, then heading back west to terminate at Hammersmith. Tomorrow route 23 becomes a route nobody would ever want to ride end to end, and route 10 is scrapped forever.
This merger of routes 23 and 10 removes two bus routes from Oxford Street, so should have been brilliantly timed. Oxford Street was due to be pedestrianised in December 2018, so these buses were no longer needed. Crossrail was due to be opening in December 2018, so a rail alternative would be available instead. Alas the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street has been scrapped, and Crossrail has stalled, but the hybridisation of routes 23 and 10 is going ahead anyway, with route 23 becoming a twiddly bus which bends back on itself along an irrationally devious route.
Which means today is the last day route 23 is The Best Bus Route For Seeing London's Christmas Lights. From tomorrow you'll have to take route 139 instead, which misses out on Marble Arch but still connects the lightshows on Oxford Street, Regent Street and the Strand. Or, if my early evening experience is anything to go by, forget that and just find yourself a bus that goes down Regent Street. The angels were great, but the other 90 minutes were a completely underwhelming waste of time.