In Britain, the word “coach” refers to a long-distance express bus as well as those used for sightseeing excursions. What the British refer to as “buses” are the vehicles that operate on regular routes with scheduled stops in or between villages, towns and cities. Many coach services duplicate rail routes but are generally cheaper. Journey times, however, are longer and much less predictable on crowded roads. Modern coaches are comfortable, sometimes with refreshments and toilets on board. Some intercity routes, especially at weekends, are so popular that it is a good idea to buy tickets in advance, which guarantees you a seat. For ideas on places to visit by coach or bus, discover our Destinations around the UK.
National Coach Network
There are many regional coach companies, but the largest British coach operator is National Express, with a nationwide network of more than 1,200 destinations. Always book ahead for the more popular routes. The company offers a number of discounts, such as their £5 Funfares (+50p booking fee), which are available online, to over 50 destinations. Megabus offers tickets to destinations all over Britain from as little as £1 (+50p booking fee). As you would expect, you will need to book early, and the best deals tend to be for less popular destinations and travel times.
The Oxford Tube and Oxford X90 run frequent, wheelchair-friendly services between Oxford and London, while Scottish Citylink is a major operator running regular services between London, the North and Scotland. Some services run from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Make sure you allow plenty of time to buy your ticket before boarding.
Discounts are available for full-time students and anyone under 25. The over-50s qualify for a discount coach card, saving up to 30 per cent on many fares.
There is a range of coach tours available covering a variety of destinations and suitable for all interests and age groups, and some also include a tour guide. They may last anything from a couple of hours to two weeks or more, touring coast or countryside and stopping at places of interest. Some are highly structured, organising every break en-route; others leave you to sightsee or shop at your own pace. You can opt for a prearranged route, or commission your own itinerary for a group. Any large town will have a selection of coach companies and don't forget to check the local Yellow Pages or ask at your hotel or local tourist office for their top tour tips. You can also book coach trips direct from overseas through a specialist travel agent.
Seaside resorts and tourist sites are destinations for many day trips, especially during the high season. In some of the more popular rural areas, such as the Lake District, special small coaches operate for ease of movement. You can book these in advance, or just turn up before the coach leaves, although be aware that tours book up quickly, especially in high season. The local tourist information point or travel agents will be able to tell you where these trips leave from, the cost and may even sell you tickets. It is customary to tip the guide after your tour.
Regional bus services are run by a number of companies, some private and some operated by local authorities. Services to remote areas tend to be sporadic and expensive, with some buses running just once a week and many isolated villages having no service at all. Only a few rural buses are equipped for wheelchairs.
As a rule, the further you get from a city, the fewer the buses and the more expensive the fare. On the plus side, local buses can be a pleasant and often sociable way of travelling around Britain’s lovely countryside.
Most buses run with just one operator – the driver. All drivers prefer you to have the correct fare, so always keep a selection of coins handy. Some routes do not operate on Sundays and public holidays; those that do offer a much reduced service. Always check routes, schedules and fares at the local tourist office or bus station before you depart on a bus to avoid becoming stranded somewhere remote with no return transport.
Content provided by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides (www.traveldk.com)