When you get to London you will almost certainly need to master the London Underground (Tube) to get around, and you should buy an Oyster Card, although paper tickets can be purchased for individual journeys. The Transport for London (TfL) website is a great resource: https://tfl.gov.uk/
What is an Oyster Card?
An Oyster is a smartcard which can hold pay as you go credit and you can use on the Tube, buses, and other forms of transport within London. It is far cheaper than buying individual fares – for, example a Tube journey in central London currently costs £2.20 with Oyster or £4.70 with cash. You will get used to signs and announcements advising you to ‘touch in’ and ‘touch out’, to ensure you pay the right fare. Fares are capped each day (see the website for details). You will have to pay a small, refundable deposit for the card. The TfL site has a special section to help international visitors: http://bit.ly/1MAps9t
There are 11 different Tube lines serving Greater London. There are quite a few interchange stations you can use to switch from one line to the other. Be careful when changing that you are getting on a Tube that is going in the right direction! Direction of travel can be described as east or west, or north or south, depending on the particular line.
As a rule of thumb, estimate three minutes travel time between Tube stations in Central London – although this doesn’t account for the time taken to get into or out of the station. Some stations are quite deep. Others have complicated interchange tunnels that, although well signposted, can take several minutes to negotiate. All stations have steps and many, but not all, have escalators. Check before travelling if you need step-free access.
The iconic London Tube map can be downloaded for free at https://tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/standard-tube-map.pdf. You will also find free colour paper copies at most stations.
Tubes do not run all night. First trains start around 5 am while last services run from midnight, depending on the line and whether it is a weekday or a weekend. Check the timetables at the station or on the TfL website.
The Tube can get hot so take water with you.
London is served by Black Cabs, minicabs and unauthorised minicabs (don’t use those).
- Only Black Cabs can be stopped by customers and pick up off the street. They are also what will queue at taxi ranks and at the hotel. Fares are metered.
- Minicabs tend to be less expensive and you agree a price before the journey. However, they have to be pre-booked.
- There are now a number of taxi and minicab apps you can download to your phone. For more information see: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/taxis-and-minicabs/
Buses and other modes of transport
London is well served by many bus routes that reach out into the suburbs. There are also overground trains, trams, riverboats, public hire bicycles and the newly opened cable car over the Thames. For more information see: https://tfl.gov.uk/
Planning a Journey
The Transport for London website allows you to plan a journey from one place to another using a station name, address, landmark or postcode. It allows you to filter your search depending on what mode of transport you want to use and any accessibility requirements you have. It will give you options, estimate the time the journey will take, and flag up any potential problems (such as delays on train lines). See: https://tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/
Things to look out for
In theory, London is quite a straightforward place to get around on foot, by car, bus, or train. However, be aware of the following:
- Like any big city it’s busy. This can complicate journeys by road – what seems a short distance can take a long time in rush hour traffic, and occasionally roadworks will crop up in inconvenient places!
- There is a ‘congestion charging zone’ in Central London, that has been designed to reduce traffic. As of August 2015 the charge is £11.50 daily for driving in the zone between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday. There are a range of exemptions and discounts available to certain vehicles and individuals. https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/congestion-charge
- Tube and rail journeys can be affected by engineering works, particularly at weekends. London’s (and England’s) rail system is ageing and most weekends there will be work on some lines, somewhere. There are usually replacement bus services for Tubes and trains, although these often take much longer to get where they’re going. The TfL website will have updates on any lines affected so that you can make alternative arrangements, as will train operators serving destinations outside London.
- Unbooked minicabs are illegal. You may be approached by minicab drivers seeking passengers or offering a service; avoid this as these are unsafe, unlicensed, uninsured and illegal and you put yourself in danger if you use these services.
London is a great city to walk around. It’s often quicker to walk than to take the Tube, or a bus, or a taxi, and can be immensely more enjoyable (and healthy). There are many historic sights, lovely quiet squares and gardens, sprawling parks and intriguing back streets. If you fancy joining a guided walk, check out this website: http://www.walks.com/
Here’s a site for some self-guiding walks: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/walking/top-walking-routes?intcmp=2424
And here’s a list of places to visit (charges apply) that are curated by the National Trust: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/places/find-a-place-to-visit?findPlace=london