Arriving in London can be a wonderful but daunting experience, especially when working out how to get around. London’s transport system has existed for over 100 years, and today there are a variety of options available, here’s some information to get you started.
First the Oyster Card, the master key of the London Transport system, it allows for seamless travel between all of London’s public transport networks. Visitor Oyster Cards require a £5 deposit and are available from any London Underground station (nearby stations are High Street Kensington, Notting Hill Gate, Gloucester Road and Bayswater) or any major London train station. The card can be pre-loaded or topped up as you’re travelling around London.
Tubes & Trains
London Underground (also known as ‘The Tube’), the world’s first underground transport network opened in 1863 between Farringdon and Paddington and since then has grown and grown – today it consists of 11 different lines and 270 stations. A map of the underground system is available at all Tube Stations and is a very useful and easy-to-read guide to travelling around London. It can be challenging but also fun finding the easiest places to change and which stations to avoid (switching to/from the Piccadilly Line at Green Park is never a good idea, and Bank can present a mystery tour).
The cost of travelling by Tube depends on when you travel. Transport for London utilise Peak and Off-Peak travel charges in an attempt to cut down rush hour travel. Peak times are between 6:30-9:30am and 16:00-19:00pm and it’s usually best to travel outside these times to avoid cramped trains and more expensive tickets.
Also, National Rail (over ground trains) operates a rail service within London. These trains operate less frequently than Tube trains and require more planning, but can be a quick way to get across London or out of the city. For example, it is often quicker to get to Kew Gardens via train (from Waterloo Station to Kew Bridge Station) than by underground (Kew Gardens Station).
There are several apps which you can download on your phone or tablet to make travelling a bit easier:
Red London buses are synonymous with the city and if you prefer to stay above ground, travelling by ‘double decker’ bus for shorter journeys can be easier. London Buses no longer accept cash payments (as of 6th July 2014) and operate on a flat-rate fare of £1.45 per journey, on Oyster cards or UK-issued contactless payment cards. You just need to touch your card flat on the yellow card reader as you board a bus.
The key difference between the Tube and the Bus is that buses operate less frequently, but London Bus Checker (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/london-bus-checker-live-bus/id465042992?mt=8) will show you where to board in the right direction, and the times the buses are due. The biggest advantage of travelling by bus is the window-side sight-seeing and London Bus Drivers are usually very friendly and happy to help with directions and advice.
London’s famous black cabs are a treasure of the capital. Before drivers can acquire a license they have to undergo a vigorous test, ‘the Knowledge’, to memorise London’s streets and landmarks and if you’re ever lost, a ‘Cabbie’ can give you directions, or quick lift to where you want to go – they will usually accept a fare even if it is only a few minutes down the road. Compared to private taxi cars, a Black Cab can be a convenient, comfortable ride, albeit a little more expensive. Private cars are better suited for pre-planned journeys, or long distances and if required our 24-hour Concierge Service can help.
Hailo is a great app for hailing a Black Cab while out and about.
If the sun decides to shine over the streets of London, a ‘Boris Bike’ (named after Boris Johnson, London’s flamboyant and entertaining Mayor) can be the easiest way to get around. Bikes are available on most streets and can be picked up and returned to any docking station for only £2 a day. For more information and locations visit https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/
If you fancy a scenic cruise along the Thames the River Bus is the answer. Services run from Hampton Court to Woolwich with pick-up and set-down points along the route and most services offer Wi-Fi and refreshments. For sightseeing, there’s a 40-minute circular River Tour that runs between the Houses of Parliament (Westminster Pier) and London Bridge with live commentary in English as well as pre-recordings in a variety of languages.
Tickets can be bought online or at the nearest Pier Office and discounts are available with a travel card. For more information visit http://www.tfl.gov.uk/modes/river
Emirates Air Line
Lastly, the Emirates Air Line is a great way to get an eagle eye view of the city. The cable car transport travels over the river Thames, between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, and costs £3.20 with an Oyster card (£1.60 for children). For more information visit http://www.emiratesairline.co.uk
And, finally, if you’re driving in London, there is a congestion charge. This is a £10 daily charge for driving a vehicle within the Congestion Charge zone from 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday. For information about the charging zones visit: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/congestion-charge