In the gloom caused by the loss of many rural bus services and Rishi Sunak’s shameful rollback of environmental pledges, there has been one gleam of (green) light. The bus fare cap, now set at £2.50 across England, will run until 30 November 2024. The cap doesn’t apply to buses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but there are still some reasonable fares, so here are 10 great sightseeing routes across the UK.
Bus 555 from Kendal to Keswick
This 90-minute journey through the Lake District is one of the UK’s most spectacular bus routes, running alongside four famous lakes with views of the surrounding fells. The number of waterbirds on Windermere doubles around this time of year as wintering ducks and grebes fly in from Scandinavia. Some of the trees around misty Rydal Water turn fiery orange as winter approaches and the slopes of Helvellyn are cloaked in autumn copper or dusted with snow.
The cafe at Wordsworth Grasmere offers tea and fruit scones with locally made jam. Visitors who arrive by bus at the poet’s former home, Dove Cottage, with its half-wild garden-orchard and the new museum next door, get 20% off. YHA Ambleside and YHA Keswick (private rooms from £50) are both open during the winter and very close to bus stops along the route.
Busway A from Cambridge to St Ives, Cambridgeshire
The world’s longest guided busway leaves Cambridge railway station every 20 minutes (hourly on Sundays) and rattles through the sights of Cambridge with glimpses of the Round Church and River Cam; an unlimited day ticket costs £4.40. The journey’s appeal is partly in the novelty of running along concrete tracks, where the driver doesn’t need to steer. Flat fields and fens, with the odd church or windmill, are sandwiched between the city’s medieval colleges and pretty St Ives an hour later, with cafes such as the River Terrace for tea.
There’s a stop at Fen Drayton nature reserve, just before St Ives, for walks around lakes and russet reedbeds and, on winter evenings, murmurations of starlings swirling through the sunset sky. Elegant Duke House B&B (doubles from £160 B&B), close to Cambridge bus station, has individually furnished bedrooms and locally sourced breakfasts.thebusway.info
Bus 37 from Aviemore to Grantown-on-Spey
This 45-minute bus ride from Aviemore railway station through the Cairngorms offers mountains views, evergreen forests and village cafes. There are Highland cattle grazing around the ruined walls of Castle Roy and even the odd red squirrel darting through roadside treetops. It’s a useful bus route for linear hikes along the Speyside Way with a stop at the Osprey Centre Road End for a birdsong-filled walk through the woods around Loch Garten and the chance to spot crested tits among ancient Caledonian pine trees. Grantown-on-Spey has plenty of places to warm up, including the little museum and nearby Garth hotel (doubles from about £105 B&B). Buses run hourly Mondays to Saturdays, four a day on Sundays; return tickets £6.50.
Bus 402 from Coleraine to Ballycastle
This route from Coleraine station offers a dramatic hour-long tour of windswept moors and romantic clifftop castles along Northern Ireland’s green Causeway Coast. It stops in Bushmills, famous for its distillery (tours from £15), and near the Giant’s Causeway itself, with its public footpaths and a visitor centre full of legends, geology and natural history.
Ballycastle Backpackers has double/twin rooms (from £70 B&B) and the Marine Hotel next door has doubles (from £80 room-only). Ballycastle’s Ursa Minor bakehouse does outstanding coffee and croissants. Buses run every 30 minutes (hourly on Sundays), single £7.60.
X93/X94 from Scarborough to Whitby
Rolling through the North York Moors, these buses pass bracken-carpeted woods and bronze age burial mounds. They leave Scarborough station every 30 minutes and take an hour to reach Whitby, offering views across moorland to the wild North Sea. They stop at Robin Hood’s Bay, with its steep winding lanes and Cove cafe for tea and handmade cake. Towards the end of the bus ride, there’s a great view down the River Esk to Whitby harbour.
Dramatic Whitby Abbey, full of celebrated myths and histories from Abbess Hild to Dracula, is offering 20% off entry for visitors arriving by bus, bike or train. Tudor Bagdale Hall, with tiled fireplaces and four-poster beds, is two minutes’ walk from Whitby bus station and has a midweek two-nights-for-one offer most weeks until March 2024 (doubles from £200 B&B).
CH1 from Cromer to Wells-next-the-Sea
With huge views over tidal marshes to the sea, the Coasthopper bus is perfect for accessing the wild Norfolk Coast Path. The salty expanses around Blakeney are a crucial site for migrating birds in autumn, and home to the biggest grey seal colony in England. Thousands of pups are born here each winter and there are boat trips to see the seals most days from Morston Quay (£20/£10 adult/child).
The Coasthopper leaves every half an hour (hourly on Sundays) from Cromer’s bus interchange and takes roughly an hour to reach Wells-next-the-Sea, where the Globe Inn serves Norfolk seafood and wine from the excellent Flint vineyard (doubles from £120 B&B).
Bus 5 from Bangor to Llandudno, Conwy
Along the coast of north Wales, beside the tidal Afon Menai, the views from bus 5 encompass mountains, moors and sandy beaches. A day ticket for the area, covering bus journeys from Chester to Pwllheli, costs £5.90. From the village of Abergwyngregyn there is a lovely late-autumn walk up the wooded valley to Aber Falls, two miles upstream.
Ten minutes’ stroll the other way is the Aber Falls distillery, which recently launched its first single malt whisky (tours £12.50). In Llandudno, the fabulous Dylan’s restaurant and upmarket St George’s Hotel (doubles from £99 B&B) are both less than five minutes’ walk from bus stops.
Bus X18 from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed
This is another epic route that is extraordinary value for £2.50. It leaves hourly from Newcastle’s Haymarket bus station and two buses a day go all the way to Berwick, an almost four-hour journey. North of Amble, the bus runs beside the River Coquet and stops near craggy medieval Warkworth Castle, which has new interactive trails for 2023 and 20% off for visitors arriving by bus.
The X18 winds slowly on past towering Bamburgh Castle and views of beaches and islands, including castle-topped Lindisfarne. There are flocks of waders at Budle Bay, curlews in stubbled fields, and cows roaming through marram-grassed sand dunes. The Walls in Berwick (doubles from £105 B&B) is a welcoming B&B in a Georgian townhouse overlooking the Tweed with the option of Craster kippers for breakfast.
Bus 218 from Sheffield to Bakewell
Miles of moor and tor, rocky edges and patchwork fields make this a classic Peak District route, but it has other attractions too. Leaving the city, through vibrant Sharrow Vale, the bus stops at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet museum with its massive waterwheels and steel furnace. Until early evening, it also stops outside the gates of stately Chatsworth House, where a Christmas market, a light trail, and 24 rooms full of sparkle open on today4 November.
Crossing an old stone bridge into Bakewell, the biggest town in the Peak District, the bus ends in The Square, almost outside the Bakewell Pudding Shop. The imposing Rutland Arms (doubles from £120 B&B ), a few steps away, has 32 refurbished bedrooms and the famous puddings on its menu.
Land’s End Coaster
This open-top circular bus ride from Penzance via St Ives around the western tip of Cornwall is incredibly good value for £2.50 for a single fare (a day pass costs £7). The whole journey takes a couple of hours and runs through downland dotted with tin mines and stone circles, passing rugged cliffs and fairytale St Michael’s Mount. Daffodils start flowering from December in the west Cornish fields, along with palms and camellias in subtropical gardens.
There are cafes and seaside art in St Ives, where the Tate offers Ben Nicholson’s abstracts, Barbara Hepworth’s bronzes and £1 off for car-free visitors (£10.50 adults, free for kids). Penzance is packed with great places to stay and eat, including the characterful Artist Residence (doubles from about £140 room-only), serving fresh Newlyn fish. For lunch on the go, it’s hard to beat picnic-ready slices of socca from the Cornish Hen deli.