London's Christmas lights bring a glimmer of magic to each festive season in the capital. They can transform a hellish gift shopping trip in the West End into something bearable — and they're free! You can see them from street level as you weave among pedestrians and dodge shopping bags. OR, you can enjoy them from the warmth and comfort of a bus.
Before you board, note that some Christmas lights can't be viewed by bus. Carnaby and Covent Garden are both pedestrianised. No buses roll down Bond Street either— though you glimpse those magnificent peacock feathers from any bus travelling along Piccadilly at the bottom end of Bond Street, or along Oxford Street at the top.
Note: at time of writing, face coverings are required on all TfL services — that includes buses, so have yours ready.
The best bus route to see London's Christmas lights
To see the major West End lights (Oxford Street's glowing stars and Regent Street's ever-popular angels), the 139 is your friend. It originates up in Golders Green, but we're only interested in it once it hits Oxford Street.
Hop on outside Selfridges. Ideally, you want a front seat on the top deck, but members of this hallowed quarter are difficult to obtain. To maximise your chances of that optimum view, avoid an evening rush hour trip.
(Note: If you're aiming to see all the lights in one go, we recommend taking a wander around South Molton and Bond Street before you board this bus. The alternative is to hop on for one stop, hop off at the next stop, cross Oxford Street and wander round the South Molton Street and Bond Street area — don't miss the Ever After Garden in Grosvenor Square — before crossing back over Oxford Street, waiting for the next 139 and hopping back on — but really, who's got the energy for that?).
So, you've boarded the 139 on Oxford Street, which puts you right below the celestial-themed Oxford Street Christmas lights. Gaze up at the curtains of LED stars (glance right briefly along Bond Street — immediately after you pass the former Debenhams building on your left — for another view of those peacocks).
The bus continues to Oxford Circus, where you'll turn right onto Regent Street. For once, traffic is a bonus — if you get stuck at the junction for a while, the Oxford Circus lights will be right in front of (and above) you.
Regent Street is the land of luminescent angels. They glide gracefully in the air above — if only buses had sunroofs. The bus heads down Regent Street, past the famous Hamleys Christmas windows, towards Piccadilly Circus.
As you roll through Piccadilly Circus, it's worth checking out those world-famous advertising boards — we'd be shocked if a lot of the ads weren't Christmas themed.
Eyes left for the iconic Norwegian tree in Trafalgar Square, usually in situ from early December. It has its own Twitter account, @trafalgartree. Don't raise your expectations too high though — every year people remark on how underwhelming it looks, though the design is actually a nod to the tree's Norwegian roots.
After Trafalgar Square, the 139 finds its way onto Strand, giving you a chance to see the Northbank lights. They're usually quite branded and fairly basic — probably not worth getting off for a closer look.
Instead, hop off at the Southampton Street stop for Covent Garden, before the bus turns right and carries on down to Waterloo. From here, it's a short walk to the lights in Covent Garden, as well as Lego statues, a Christmas forest, and other festive activities in the area. Those giant disco balls and hanging mistletoe decorations are back for this year, along with plenty of Christmas trees dotted around the market and piazza.
Alternatively, you could skip Covent Garden and instead stay on the bus until Waterloo. From there make your way on foot to Southbank's Winter Market, where you can finish the evening with a steaming cup of mulled wine.
How to see Oxford Street Christmas lights by bus
If it's just those stars you're interested in, any bus route that goes down Oxford Street — and there are a lot of them — will do the trick.
TfL's Oxford Circus bus route spider map shows you your options. If you want to travel the whole length of the street, from Marble Arch out west to Tottenham Court Road in the east (or vice versa), the 98 bus is your best bet. Travelling east to west offers you the chance of scoring a good seat, as the route only starts a few stops before Tottenham Court Road.
Take advantage of this while you can — there's been talk about pedestrianising various parts of Oxford Street for years, most recently, an Italian-inspired piazza at Oxford Circus which would curtail or divert several bus routes. In September 2021, Westminster Council announced that plans for this temporary piazza in late 2021 have been scrapped, but they haven't been ruled out for the future. Traversing the whole length of Oxford Street on a single bus route may not always be possible.
How to see Regent Street Christmas lights by bus
Again, you can take any TfL bus that goes down Regent Street to see those angels by bus — some face north and some face south, so whichever direction you're travelling in, you'll come face to face with the ethereal illuminations, provided you can just get that top front seat.
The Oxford Circus bus route spider map once again comes in handy, showing several routes which run down Regent Street. The 88 and 453 both run the entire length of the street, from south of Piccadilly Circus, all the way up to where Regent Street becomes Langham Place, north of Oxford Circus.
Here's what happened when we when light-spotting by bus in 2017 — though do note that the 23 has since been rerouted and no longer goes down Oxford Street, heading out to Hammersmith rather than terminating at Aldwych.