Now that mid-November is here, 'tis the season for the publication of articles about The Best Bus Routes For Seeing London's Christmas lights. Londonist gave theirs a polish on Monday and have carefully ironed out all the whimsical implausibilities which beset their first attempt at the genre. Now TfL themselves are getting in on the act (on their community blog) with an article they've called Festive bus routes. Both @TfL and the Mayor tweeted excitedly about it yesterday morning.
London’s festive lights are at full beam 💡, and what better way to see the city at its most sparkly than on the bus! 🚌 We’ve put together the best bus routes for viewing the most spectacular displays, and stopping off for a spot of festive shopping! Your sleigh awaits… ✨
I could query the tone of the article, which is liberally sprinkled with three dozen emojis, but that's just TfL social media house style. I will query the assumption that people want to go shopping, repeatedly, in the middle of their top deck bus journey. But most of all I want to debunk the claim that these are "the best bus routes" for seeing London's Christmas lights, because some of them very much are not.
"This journey starts off at Bond Street, where you can discover Christmas at Selfridges. Join the famous store for extraordinary festive experiences, from a feel-good Christmas market to magical moments with Santa himself!"
By starting at Selfridges you have already missed a goodly chunk of Oxford Street, which isn't ideal.
"Hop on the number 139 bus towards Waterloo and head down Oxford Street then Regent Street to admire the spectacular Christmas lights displays. The fun doesn’t stop there, hop off outside Hamley’s and step into an enchanting world filled with fun for all the family."
It doesn't get much better than seeing the Oxford Street and Regent Street lights from the top deck of a bus, but our journey has only lasted three stops before we've been urged to get off again. Thus far we've spent a lot more time in Selfridges and Hamley's than on the bus.
"Catch the next 139 bus to The Strand for Covent Garden. Kick off a very merry Christmas in the famous piazza, home to London’s biggest hand-picked Christmas tree, which is a huge 55 feet tall! The Apple Market lights are also not to be missed, pick up a festive drink and take a wander around all of the market stalls and stores, perfect for picking up a little something for under your own tree."
We're going five stops this time. This includes passing through Trafalgar Square where the big tree doesn't get a mention, then along the Strand where the Northbank illuminations don't get a mention either. Instead you're supposed to guess which stop to get off at for Covent Garden and end your trip looking at the same giant mistletoe that's been there since 2015.
Our trip aboard the 139 has been brief and incomplete, but at least not incorrect. However...
"Start your journey at Duke of York Square where you can admire their Christmas lights and pay a visit to Chelsea’s Christmas Grotto."
Wrong, Duke of York Square doesn't have a Christmas Grotto this year, that was a 2019 thing. Also the King's Road's lights aren't switched on until Saturday.
"Next, hop on the number 22 bus heading towards Oxford Circus where you’ll pass Harrods, a London icon all lit up for the festive season. Hop off at Knightsbridge for a spot of Christmas shopping!"
Wrong, route 22 doesn't actually go past Harrods so you won't see it all lit up.
"Continue on the number 22 to Hyde Park and embrace the Christmas spirit at Winter Wonderland."
It's only one stop from Knightsbridge to Hyde Park Corner, hardly worthy of a bus ride. More importantly Winter Wonderland is pre-book only this year, you can't just turn up mid-bus-ride and hope to get in.
"The fun doesn’t stop there, hop back on the number 22 and take a trip down Oxford Street to see the Christmas lights in action."
Wrong, route 22 doesn't go down Oxford Street, it cuts through Mayfair.
"Alight at Bond Street for Selfridges, their Christmas shop is not to be missed!"
Wrong, it doesn't stop outside Selfridges, it terminated at Oxford Circus.
That is a shockingly poor "best bus route", almost as if whoever wrote this hasn't actually taken the journey to check.
I won't cut and paste the other three bus routes in such detail but I will do you a summary of each.
• Start at "Marylebone Village" (to admire the lights and go shopping)
• Continue to Trafalgar Square (for a "tree-mendous time")
• Then along Oxford Street and Regent Street (alighting for the Carnaby Street lights)
• Back aboard to Westminster (specifically Westminster Abbey)
• Back aboard to County Hall (for the South Bank and its winter market)
...there are no buses down Marylebone High Street, so admiring the lights will be on foot.
...Trafalgar Square comes after Oxford Street and Regent Street, not before.
...the 453 doesn't go along Oxford Street, it merely crosses it at Oxford Circus.
...the South Bank's winter market is nearer Waterloo Bridge than Westminster Bridge.
• Start at King's Cross (for Coal Drops Yard)
• Hop on the 390 to Tottenham Court Road (to explore Soho)
• Hop on the 390 along Oxford Street (alighting at Selfridges)
• Hop on the 390 to the Dorchester Hotel (maybe for afternoon tea)
• Hop on the 390 to Hyde Park Corner (for Winter Wonderland)
...Coal Drops Yard hasn't announced any festive lights yet (as the article admits).
...it's 2 miles by bus from Coal Drops Yard to Tottenham Court Road, with no lights to enjoy.
...getting off to look round Soho and Selfridges mid-journey is so unnecessary.
...stopping for afternoon tea would wreck your chances of using a Hopper fare.
...you don't need a bus between the Dorchester and Winter Wonderland, it's across the road.
• Start at Hyde Park (for Winter Wonderland)
• Hop on the 94 which will "take you down Oxford Circus"
• Stay on the 94 down Regent Street
• "When you're all shopped out, hop back on the bus"
• Stop by Fortnum & Mason, then head to Leicester Square
...the 94 takes you down Oxford Street, not down Oxford Circus.
...five buses go past Fortnum & Mason but the 94 is not one of them.
...Leicester Square is nowhere near Fortnum & Mason.
...this obsession with Winter Wonderland and going shopping is getting quite tiring.
Essentially all of this has been a list of festive West End highlights badly connected by five sub-optimal bus routes. It's not a helpful way to see London's Christmas lights, nor even an efficient way to go shopping. It's marketing rather than good advice. It's not something I'd recommend anyone tries in real life.
For cash-strapped parents who just want to show their kids the lights from the top deck of a bus, a more useful proposition would have been to suggest one decent route for them to enjoy. The 139 is probably the best choice, ticking off Oxford Street, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square and the Strand, indeed this is also the conclusion Londonist has drawn. Get on at Selfridges, get off at Somerset House and enjoy the sparkly dazzle inbetween.
And I hate to flog a dead horse, but if only TfL still published a Central London bus map then festive sightseers would be able to work out the best bus route for themselves. Instead, with the network essentially hidden, they're left to take advice from crass inaccurate marketing fodder masquerading as truth.
22: "a visit to Chelsea’s Christmas Grotto" has been replaced by "catch a complimentary horse and carriage ride"
22: "you’ll pass Harrods" has been replaced by "you’ll reach Knightsbridge, hop off and take a short walk to see Harrods"
22: The entire paragraph about taking the 22 along Oxford Street has been deleted, because it doesn't. The resulting 22 journey is now just five stops long (and still doesn't pass Harrods, so is very much not a "best bus route")
453: The Trafalgar Square paragraph now comes after the Regent Street paragraph, not before it.
453: "The number 453 will then take you down Oxford Street" has been deleted, because it doesn't.
390: "admire their XXX – they haven’t announced this year’s Christmas theme but it’s usually arty" has been replaced by "admire their festive display"
94: "which will take you down Oxford Circus" has been replaced by "which will take you down Oxford Street"
94: "Stop by Fortnum & Mason" has been replaced by "Take a short walk to Fortnum & Mason"