UK Bus and Coach Travel - How to Find Schedules, Routes and Fares

  • 01 of 04

    The Cheapest Way to Get Around

    number 38 London bus turning a corner at St Giles Circus at dusk
    ••• David Rowland / Getty Images

    If you are touring on a tight budget - or if you just like to see the countryside pass at a more leisurely pace - the cheapest UK intercity travel is by bus.

    Finding UK bus and coach schedules, and routes is easy. Reservations - when they are required - can be made last minute offering freedom and spontaneity. And even in these post-Brexit times, it's easy to arrange travel from continental Europe by coach for a cross-border vacation.

    When is a bus not a bus?

    When it's a coach, of course. In the UK, people use the term coach when they mean intercity buses, longer distance tour buses and special express excursion buses -- from town centers to distant airports, for example.

    Get used to asking for the coach terminal, coach station or coach stops if that's what you mean. Otherwise, you could find yourself directed to local transportation when you want to go across the country.

    Local transportation

    Buses, on the other hand, are always local. In addition to London's familiar, red,...MORE double decker buses, all UK cities have some kind of local bus service - many with double decker buses as well. There are also dozens of country bus services.

    In the past, I'd always found local buses among the greatest mysteries for a visitor. How do you find the stop? Will it pass the places you want to go? Do you need exact change? Yet taking an ordinary public bus is a very cheap way for a visitor to have a good look around.

    Thank goodness for the internet! Figuring out bus schedules, finding bus routes and fare prices is much easier for visitors nowadays.

    A little knowledge about where to find the best and most up-to-date information is all you need. Let's take a look first at sources ofUK Intercity coach travel information.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Find UK Intercity Bus Routes, Schedules and Timetables

    All aboard...
    ••• 71gazza / Getty Images

    Quite a few different private companies operate intercity buses - or coaches, as they are called in the UK. Coach terminals are usually at or close to main line rail stations. In the bigger cities, intercity coaches as well as coach departures for Europe may have pick ups at several central city and metropolitan area stops. Out in the country, coaches may stop at important landmarks and even shopping centers, to collect intercity travelers.

    Fortunately, you don't have to be a detective to work out intercity bus routes, timetables and fares.

    Get impartial information about bus routes and schedules

    These easy to use, independent websites offer free information to enable you to plan an intercity coach journey around the UK:

    • Traveline, a partnership of all kinds of transportation companies companies, local authorities and passenger groups, provides an online information portal with impartial journey planning information. The site covers all public transport services – buses, coaches,...MORE trains, ferries, trams, metro and underground - in England, Wales and Scotland. Some information may be provided by links to regional transportation websites. Most Traveline information relates to journeys that begin and end at stations, bus stops or points of interest. If you can't get to a computer while traveling, you can telephone Traveline on 0871 200 22 33.
    • Translink, is the name given to a system of integrated transportation options and information run by several private companies in Northern Ireland. The website provides up to date information on all forms of public transportation in the province - local and express buses, trains, sightseeing tours and the Belfast Metro.

    Now let's find out about the main coach companies and where to buy intercity bus tickets.

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  • 03 of 04

    Main Coach Companies - How to Book an Intercity Coach Trip and Buy Bus Tickets

    Parked buses
    ••• Photography taken by Mario Gutiérrez. / Getty Images

    Once you've worked out where you want to go and how to get there, the impartial online journey planners indicate which coach operators run buses on the routes you choose. To book an intercity coach trip or buy bus tickets, you still have to visit the specific coach companies --happily, usually online.

    Main UK Intercity Coach Operators

    You can probably get almost anywhere in the UK by using one of the main national and regional coach companies:

    • National Express is the UK's biggest coach operator, with long distance direct routes around the country, a large presence in most coach terminals and many niche routes (between airports, for example). Coaches have onboard wi-fi and disabled facilities. There are also senior and student discounts. National Express is the only domestic UK coach company that operates 24-hour services. You can book online or by telephoning +44 (0)871 781 8181. Tickets can be texted to your mobile.
    • Scottish Citylink is the main coach company in Scotland,...MORE linking 200 cities and towns with 400 coach trips a day. Book online or by telephoning +44 (0)871 266 3333, 24/7. The company also offers and express service from Stansted Airport to Central London. You can receive your ticket reference as a text message on your mobile if you choose. On most services, the driver can also sell you a ticket on the day but you may not be guaranteed a seat or the best available price.
    • Megabus.com is the long distance coach business of Stagecoach, one of the UK's major local bus operators. The company covers a lot of territory and fares are very competitive. In fact, they claim to have fares as low as £1. I'm sure it's true though I've yet to find one that low. Book online or by telephoning +44 (0)900 160 0900, 7a.m. to 10p.m., 7 days a week.

    Once you've crossed the country, you'll probably still want to get around for short distances. So, next, let's take a look at local bus services.

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  • 04 of 04

    Find Local Bus Services in the UK - If the Mail Can Get There, So Can You!

    welsh post bus, Aberystwyth, Dyfed, Wales.
    ••• VisitBritain/Britain on View / Getty Images

    It never ceases to amaze me how many different bus services quietly chug away around the UK. Of course, you'd expect cities and larger towns to have local buses and services connecting them with nearby towns or suburbs.

    In the UK there are dozens of rural bus companies and small scale local services. Buses may not be frequent and they may not be sensible ways to commute in some areas, but there is no place where people live or play that you cannot reach in a bus at least once every weekday.

    UK Local Bus Directory

    The UK Bus Timetable Directory, at Showbus UK, is a terrific little tool. It has online links to bus companies hiding out in every corner of the UK. Click on a map to choose a region, then narrow your choice by county and the tool comes up with lists and live links to bus companies providing local services. Most of these have timetables though in more remote areas some may only have telephone numbers to call.

    I tested it on a remote corner of the Western Highlands in Scotland....MORE The directory finder at Showbus came up with about 10 different bus companies providing regular services in or near my remote destination.

    Ride along with the postman

    The Postbus is a service provided in remote rural areas to ensure that small communities do not become isolated. For a small fee -- usually between £2 and £5, you can ride along with that day's mail. There are concessionary fares for senior citizens and under 16s.

    Tourists can use the service to explore remote parts of the countryside, or to return to a town after a long hike in the highlands or the Welsh hills and valleys. At least 50,000 people a year use this unusual bus service.

    The Postbus Routefinder features a clever graphic of the UK and you can find a route by either clicking on a map or choosing an area from a drop down menu. Some routes even run on bank holidays. These days, though, there are fewer Postbus routes than in the past. For help in finding a route, telephone  customer service on +44 (0)3457 740 740.