Getting Around in London
London- the capital of England, the heart of the United Kingdom and one the most famous capitals in the world.
Be it its night-life, its fashion week, its significance in European history, or simply its world-famous sporting culture, London is one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the world. People from all over the world throng to this lovely city, which also serves as the melting pot for various world-cultures and languages. It won’t be wrong to label it as one the cosmopolitan capitals of the world.
From the iconic Big Ben, to the Buckingham Palace or to the picturesque Tower Bridge, London is full of iconic places that pull people from all over the world. So Popular is the capital of England that it saw record 33 million tourists arrive in 2015! Just like the River Thames flowing through it, London is a dynamic capital city, bringing together people from all over the world.
Being such a popular tourist destination means it is always full of tourists, and people are often confused or undecided on how to travel around and explore the city. Well, the London weather may be uncertain, but your travels around the city don’t necessarily have to be so.
We now explore the various popular and efficient ways of getting around in London, and tips on how to use them effectively:
The London Underground:
Popularly referred to as the Tube, this is the underground railway network spread across London. Its symbol of a red roundel bisected by a blue bar is amongst the most recognisable symbols in the world. One of the most popular and easier ways to travel to Central London, it is trusted by most Londoners for their commute. An impressive piece of engineering and architecture, The Tube is a tourist attraction in itself, with many tourists wandering off for a long time just to explore the whole thing.
Here are some interesting facts about the London Underground:
- Operations of the London Underground began as early as 1863!
- There are a total of 70 stations on the network.
- The Underground is divided into 9 zones, with Central London falling in Zone 1. Zones 6 to 9 fall in the city outskirts.
- The Tube gives approximately a billion rides a year!
- There are a total of 11 lines on the tube.
- The timings of operation are from 5am to midnight.
- Night Tube services may be available on some lines in Friday and Saturday Evenings.
- The English football club Arsenal FC are the only club to have a Tube station named after them.
Following are some important things to be kept in mind while travelling by the Tube:
- Navigating is fairly simple as there are ample of signboards provided. Different lines will have different colour symbols. One-way trips are called “singles”, while round-trips are “return”.
- While on the platform, an electronic signboard displays the time left for the arrival of the next train.
- Central London falls in Zone 1. Your fare is calculated by the number of zones your train has gone through: the more zones it passes, the more money you pay. If your train is straddled between two zones, the rate will be accounted for the cheaper zone.
- Kids under the age of 11 do not have to buy a ticket provided they are accompanied by an adult.
- Oyster Cards are the most important thing to carry when on the Tube. These are electronic smartcards that are used for payment for public transport in London. These cards can be topped-up at the station premises and are often cheaper than buying tickets multiple times. Visitors have a special visitors Oyster Card which they can avail for cheaper travel in the Tube. They are also very easy to use: just touch the card on the yellow card reader at the entry and exit gates and you are good to go. No other point of contact is required. Oyster cards can be bought online prior to your arrival in London or they can be purchased at TfL visitor centres and Oyster ticket shops. (Please make sure to touch your card at the yellow card reader at the entry gates. Otherwise, you may end up paying a fine if an inspector comes and finds that your card hasn’t done do.)
- Visitor Oyster cards are a boon for tourists as they come with special promotions. They ensure up to 50% in savings on fares, and have a daily price cap: you won’t pay anything extra once you’ve reached the cap limit. They also allow visitors to avail discounts at prominent London shops, restaurants and other places of entertainment.
- Visitors must also carry a map of The Tube with them to avoid confusion and inconvenience. It’s very useful, clearly indicating the general directions used to designate trains (north, south, east or westbound), and with all interchanges clearly shown.
The London Buses:
Unlike most cities in the world, London’s public transport system is remarkably efficient and very dependable. The city’s efficient bus service is the perfect example for that. While in most cities of the world, buses may have erratic timings and frequency, it’s certainly not the case in London. London’s buses are frequent and have a frequency of about 5 minutes. With about 100 routes in Central London alone and about 700 in the outer city, London buses have the entire city covered. Not only the they punctual, but also plentiful! The buses are also a fairly quick means of transport. About 7500 buses service London, catering to more than 19000 stops. Many buses run on dedicated lanes on the roads.
These iconic Double-Decker buses are amongst the most popular and recognizable images in the world. Sitting on the second level of the cherry-red Double-Decker, while it drives past the city and its most famous landmarks is an experience that can only be described as surreal.
To make sure this experience is hassle free and seamless, the following tips and considerations are important:
- As mentioned earlier, payment for buses and other public transport in London is cash-less and is done via dedicated electronic smart-cards called Oyster Cards. Apart from being economical, time saving and easy to use, they allow the traveller to use multiple means of public transport. Visitors and Tourists have to use the Visitor Oyster Card which comes with great promotional discounts and is up to 50% cheaper than buying tickets multiple times.
- Apart from being iconic, the London bus system is also quite cheap; much cheaper than the tube. The 1 day pay-cap for Oyster PAYG for travel only in the bus is 4.40 Pounds, no matter what the zone.
- Unlike the Tube which shuts down at midnight, the London buses ply round the clock. Hence, they are the only way of getting around London post-midnight.
- With an Oyster Card, you can take two bus journeys within one hour of each other and not be charged for the additional trip. This has now been added under the “Hopper Fare” policy of the London Public Transport System.
- Some bus shelters may have automated ticket machines. All of them have easy-to-read maps to help you with your destination and route, and tell you which bus to board. Some of them may have digital signboards indicating the time of arrival of the next bus.
- Major intersections have multiple stops named with letters. Each stop on the intersection serves a different route. Hence you are advised to check the map for deciding which stop to board from or de-board at.
- Routes that start with N are night buses and ply specially to cater to the needs of the late travellers.
- 2017 London bus and tram pass prices (Standard adult fares): 7 Day: £21.20, 1 month: £81.501, and a year: £848
- One-day Bus-passes and Travel cards expire at 4:30 AM, the day after you buy them.
Big Bus Tours:
No mention of the London bus network would be complete without the famous Big Bus Tours of London. Their flexible sightseeing tours of the capital city of England allow you to explore and soak in the sights and marvels of the best and most famous landmarks of London. A hop-on hop-off service, it provides great flexibility to the traveller in exploring the capital. Travellers can hop-on from 50+ stops of the bus service and board the open-roof Double Decker Buses and enjoy the best sights and the capital has on display. All bus-stops are near popular landmarks. With three routes included in the ticket, the users have the option of choosing from one, two or three days of travel. All tours include a guide and recorded commentary in 12 languages.
- Adult Ticket: £35.00 to £49.00 (€39.56 – €55.38) per ticket
- Child Ticket: £18.00 to £25.00 (€20.34 – €28.25) per ticket
- Family Ticket: £88.00 to £123.00 (€99.46 – €139.01) per ticket
- 09.00 – 17.30 (Summer)
- 09.00 – 16.30 (Winter)
Amongst the more expensive modes of exploring London, the taxis of London are still quite iconic in their own unique way. Quick, clean and direct, they are perfect for people who wish to travel around the city on their own. Having undergone rigorous training, the London cabbies are quite adept and experts at what they do. Be it taking you to your destination in a trice, taking a tricky turn or a sharp manoeuvre, the taxi drivers of London do it with ease. Apart from the expert drivers, these taxis are quite spacious and comfortable to ride in. All of this comes at a cost though. The minimum fare is set at 2.40 Pounds. Trips of up to 1-mile cost between 5.60-8.8- Pounds during working hours. The rates increase further as the distance increases.
Here are some important points about taxi travel in London:
- Rates increase up to 10% between 8-10 PM. They further shoot up to 20% from 10 PM till the morning.
- Fares are priced via distance/time and tariff. This means fares would be different for different times of the day.
- Taxi trips starting from the Heathrow cost an extra 2.50 Pounds, so be prepared.
- Tipping 10% of the fare is customary but most people round off their tips to the nearest pound.
- Riders are expected to maintain etiquette while travel.
- Taxi are also called “black-cabs”
- Minicabs are hire-cars which act separately from the taxis. They can be booked through various apps.
The river ferry services on the river Thames is one the most pleasurable ways of getting around in London. These services were revived and boosted for the 2012 London Olympic Games. These “river buses” run on five routes from 21 piers between Putney and Woolwich. Operated by MBNA Thames Clippers, these river boats offer a fast and frequent service with departures from major London piers every 20 minutes. Covering 16 stops and major tourist attractions like the London Eye, the Tate Modern, the Tower of London, Greenwich, and the O2 dome, it is very cheap when compared to a hired boat.
River Bus services run from early morning until late evening and the River Bus Express is a dedicated service running before and after events at the O2 in North Greenwich.
All River Bus boats are covered and you are guaranteed a seat: most boats also have a small outside deck area. There are kiosks onboard serving hot and cold drinks, snacks and refreshments, and most boats have accessible toilets. MBNA Thames Clippers boats are all wheelchair accessible and ramps are used to board the boat. Bikes are allowed on board and there are 10 spaces available on larger boats – these are offered on a first- come-first-served basis. Dogs can also travel on River Bus services but must be kept on a lead.
Payment can be made through the Contactless and Oyster cards, or tickets can be purchased from the MBNA Thames Clippers website.
Getting around in London can also be done on blue bikes which are racked in blue racks, all across the city. Popularly known as “Barclays Bikes” or even “Boris Bikes” (after the erstwhile mayor of London, Boris Johnson), they are yours to rent to explore the city. You can rent a bike for 2 Pounds a day and 10 Pounds for a week. These payments are only to be made through credit/debit cards though. Every time you pull a bike out of the rack and ride it to the next parking rack, you need to park it. Once done, and you wish to ride again, you can ride it for 30 minutes for free. Exceed this time and you pay a fine: £1 for up to hour, £4 for up to 90 minutes, £6 for 2 hours, and so forth. The idea behind this is to encourage people to use them instead of public transport and not keep it with them all day. It has become very popular among Londoners to cycle their way to their destination.
Exploring London on Foot:
London is basically divided into two main parts: Greater London and Central London. While Greater London is huge, Central London is much smaller and hence can be explored on foot. The fact that London has various bridges makes walking a very compelling option. Although, since London is very dense and quite confusing, travellers are advised to use a map or an atlas to navigate.
Recently there have been lots of initiatives and movements to make London the “most walkable city in the world”. These include various foot tours- both guided and self-guided. Apart from keeping you fit, this is also a good way to soak-in the London sun.
Lastly, make sure to check the official London Transport website for various tips and help related to travel in the city. They contain dedicated sections to answer all your queries.
Here’s wishing you a happy journey through London!