You don't need to pay for an expensive tour to see the best of London, just hop on the 88, writes Elizabeth Mabin.
Prince Charles once said, "I'd rather go by bus. There is nothing nicer in the world than a bus". And so, a mode of transport endorsed by royalty is surely the best way to see the city Prince Charles calls home.
The 88 bus winds its way from south to north London along a route sprinkled with some of the city's most famous landmarks, and its lesser known gems.
BRUNCH IN THE 'BURBS
We start our tour in Clapham. If the weather is in your favour, follow the locals to Clapham Common where you'll find a sea of exposed pink flesh basking in the sunshine and welcoming you to the British summertime. Stock your picnic basket on Clapham's high street at the delicatessen Esca, where indulgence-stocked shelves line the walls from ceiling to floor, accessed by the staff on ladders. Whatever you do, don't forget the blueberry cheesecake.
If the weather is dreary, skip the Common and take refuge instead in Breads Etcetera. Organic sourdough breads are baked on the premises daily and each table has its own toaster so you can help yourself to a bottomless basket of fresh bread, toast it to your liking and then smother it in your topping of choice - sticky lemon butter, apple and rhubarb jam... the Australian-owned restaurant even has Vegemite. With a sated belly, your journey begins. Your chariot, the 88 bus, awaits outside Clapham Common tube station (or at least it will do every six to eight minutes).
It's a short journey to Vauxhall and across the Thames to the first stop on the itinerary, the Tate Britain. The grand Portland stone edifice houses the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day, as well as international modern art. The romantic works of Constable, Turner and Blake are a highlight. Entrance to the main collection is free, as are guided tours that run every day. For a more intimate experience, a private tour for two costs STG100 ($A157) per couple.
Three stops on, the 88 arrives at Westminster Abbey, the resting place of thousands of historical British figures, including 17 monarchs, and national heroes including Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton. And of course it was where Prince William and Catherine Middleton became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. To tour the Abbey costs STG16 ($A25.03) per adult including an audio guide, or you can pay an additional STG3 for a verger-led tour. Those on a budget may opt instead to visit St Margaret's Church next door, for free. The structure is dwarfed by the Abbey, but inside stained-glass windows and chandeliers ensure the church is beautiful in its own right. If it's raining you may notice buckets on the window sills to catch drips from the roof - the church is in urgent need of restoration so spare a pound for the donation bin on your way out.
BIG BEN, WESTMINSTER PALACE, THE EYE & 10 DOWNING ST
From here you can explore the Houses of Parliament, hear the chimes of Big Ben and walk out onto Westminster Bridge for a view of the Thames and The Eye. Don't get back on the bus just yet, wander down Parliament Street past 10 Downing Street where Prime Minister David Cameron and Larry the Cat rule the roost. Continue along Whitehall past the two mounted cavalry troopers outside Horse Guards and at the end of the street you will find yourself in Trafalgar Square.
TRAFALGAR SQUARE AND PICCADILLY CIRCUS
See the fountains and Nelson's column in the centre of the square guarded by the four lions that guard its base. And don't miss the fourth plinth on the square's perimeter, home to ever-changing exhibitions of modern art. If you haven't had your culture fill yet, venture into the National Gallery to see works by Leonardo da Vinci, Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, for free. From here it's a lovely walk along The Mall and through St James's Park to Buckingham Palace, or you can board the 88 at Cockspur Street for the next leg of the journey. You may like to stay on the bus as it drives through Piccadilly Circus with its neon signs and the Shaftesbury memorial fountain. Or, alight and take a short stroll through Leicester Square and the colourful streets of Soho.
REGENT, CARNABY AND OXFORD STREETS
Let the shopping begin. Choose from one of three stops on Regent Street to descend into the throngs of shoppers. Regent Street is generally more upmarket, Carnaby Street has a few more boutiques and Oxford Street has, well, just about everything. If your bellies are starting to rumble detour to Lexington Street where you'll find a restaurant called Fernandez and Wells, containing everything you could need in life - bread, cured meats, cheese and wine. Their sandwich of 36-month cured Jamon Iberico de Bellota with tomato and a drizzle of olive oil has been named as one of the best in London by the Evening Standard newspaper. With your batteries recharged, make for the Oxford and Regent Streets intersection to catch the 88 to your final destination.
You've arrived in the heart of London's gothic, punk and emo precinct. Pick your route through the platform boots and mohawk hairstyles to the Old Stable Markets. Cobbled lanes host all manner of sinful foods and wicked fashion. Treat your well-trodden feet to a fish pedicure and your soul to a devilishly good cupcake. At the back of the markets, Proud Gallery combines photo and art exhibitions, a performance space and a bar area in the old stables, which have been converted into individually-themed booths. If you've still got energy, make your way to the Lock Tavern's pretty rooftop bar for a drink among the fairy lights. Or finish up at the Hawley Arms - oft frequented by the late Amy Winehouse - for a traditional English pub meal. Then put your feet up and order a pint... just like a local would.