A day on London’s orbital Superloop buses

I am a sucker for public transport infrastructure*, and as soon as it was announced that London was going to have a new “Superloop” of express buses orbiting the suburbs it was inevitable I would spend a day catching the lot** and circumnavigating my hometown. Here’s how it went …

London’s orbital Superloop routes

SL2 Walthamstow to North Woolwich

The SL2 in Walthamstow

The SL2 goes past the end of my road near where it starts, and I still involuntarily say “Superloop!” out loud when I see it go past. Or “Ey ey ba day ba wadladie day”. I made a point of going to North Woolwich on this route almost as soon as it started running in March, and have used it several times to connect to either South Woodford or Gants Hill on the Central line, so this was all familiar territory.

SL3 Thamesmead to Bromley

The SL3 in Thamesmead

The SL2 and SL3 don’t actually join up, so the next leg involved a quick jaunt on the DLR – of course I sat at the front and pretended to drive it – and then a 472 bus from Woolwich to Thamesmead to get to the start of the route.


Once I was on the SL3 there was a road blocked by emergency services near Bexleyheath, so we had to go on quite a long diversion.

We had an understandably major diversion after this …

SL5 Bromley to Croydon Park Street

The SL5 in Bromley

The SL3 connects directly to the SL5, which is the baby of the Superloop. It is only a little single-decker and the route is only timetabled to take 30 minutes, with most of the routes being around an hour long. It does link up with the SL7 at East Croydon, but being completist about it I went to the end of the route at Park Street, then stopped for a coffee break and picked up the next bus at the start of its journey in West Croydon.

SL7 West Croydon Station to Heathrow Airport

The SL7 in Croydon

And the SL7 is a looooooong journey, I believe it is London’s longest bus route. Someone sat next to me and kept falling asleep and leaning over into my personal space, so that coupled with the long intervals between stops made it feel more like a double-decker Megabus than a TFL service. With the traffic, this leg took two hours by itself.

SL9 Heathrow Airport to Harrow

The SL9 at Heathrow

I remember my grandma getting a flight to Canada in the late 1970s or early 1980s and we took her to Heathrow to see her off and then stayed watching planes land and take off because it was all so rare and glamorous to be at an airport.

Heathrow Central bus station is very much not glamorous, but this was easily the busiest leg of the journey. It was mostly people who worked at franchises in Heathrow going home from their shifts, plus one absolute bus nerd, and it was nearly standing room only.

SL10 Harrow to North Finchley

The SL10 in Harrow

I really enjoyed a day just looking at all the amazing different architecture along the route, the surviving bits of art deco, the proud civic buildings, earnest post-war housing estate construction, right up to the New London Vernacular springing up everywhere, which doesn’t look like it is built to last alas. And watching people. And listening to brilliant music. And not doomscrolling.

Something they never tell you about getting older is that it really improves days like this. I went all around London thinking “Oh yeah, I went to the pub over there one time when I was out looking at train stations” or “Oh, that friend-of-a-friend used to live near here, I wonder what they are up to now” and “Oh, look at the typography on that ghost shop sign that looks like it was abandoned in the 1990s” and so on.

However, by the time I was on the SL10, I must confess I was slightly tired of being on buses …

SL1 North Finchley to Walthamstow

The SL1 bringing me home

… but the home stretch was ahead of me, and the SL1 dutifully began conveying me back to E17. My original plan was to go right to the terminus at Walthamstow Central, jump on an SL2 again, and finish the journey with a dramatic selfie back at the exact same bus stop where it all began some several hours earlier. But I really wanted to go to the pub, so jumped off a couple of stops short of the ultimate destination.

Live pictures of a bus nerd enjoying a pint after going superloopy for the day …

Does this mean that technically I didn’t complete the entire orbital Superloop in one day? Maybe. I also missed out one stop at the beginning of the SL1 by being confused how North Finchley bus station works, and the SL3’s wild diversion means I haven’t really done that route properly. If that all starts giving me sleepless nights, I can always have fun doing it again but in the opposite direction :-)

It took 9 hours and 40 minutes in total, including a 25 minute coffee break in Croydon and that SL3 diversion. I think the most I had to wait in one place between direct Superloop bus connections was eight minutes. It took 35 minutes to get from the end of the SL2 via DLR and a 472 bus to where the SL3 starts.

*Is it really new infrastructure?

I mean on one hand it is mostly rebadged express versions of existing routes joined together that stole some of the frequency of the non-express ones, but also they have new paint jobs, and some of the stops they call at have new illuminated signs and all-over branding, so the jury is out.

Superloop bus stop branding

**Gotta catch ’em all (but not quite yet)

There are three other Superloop buses. The SL8 bisects the orbital network, running from Uxbridge to White City, with an interchange with the SL9 in Hayes. I could have included it in the day but it adds an extra couple of hours to cover it end-to-end and rejoin the orbital route. I’ll no doubt do that as some kind of exciting standalone event later in the year.

The SL6 runs from Croydon to Russell Square for a couple of peak hours in the morning, and does the reverse route during the evening commute, so it is kind of hard to include it unless you start the day in or near Croydon.

The SL4 from Canary Wharf to Grove Park doesn’t start until 2025 and doesn’t join up to anywhere else on the network, the lone weirdo.