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.
The Cheapest Way to Get Around
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.
Buses, on the other hand, are always local. In addition to London's familiar, red, 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.
Taking an ordinary public bus is a very cheap way for a visitor to have a good look around. And thanks to the internet, figuring out bus schedules and 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.
Bus Routes, Schedules, and Timetables
Quite a few different private companies operate intercity coaches. Coach terminals are usually at or close to mainline rail stations. In the bigger cities, intercity coaches, as well as coach departures for Europe, may have pickups 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 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, local authorities and passenger groups, provides an online information portal with impartial journey planning information. The site covers all public transport services – buses, coaches, 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.
Main Coach Companies: Booking Tickets and Trips
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, 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 an 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. Book online or by telephoning +44 (0)900 160 0900.
Find Local Bus Services
It's amazing 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.
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 people under 16 years old.
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.