How to get around London?
Figuring out how to get around London may seem daunting at first. London’s transportation infrastructure appears extensive and comprehensive. Luckily, it is also very organized. And once you get the hang of it, it will not seem so intimidating.
During your visit, you’ll find no shortage of transport options. It all depends on where you want to go and how much time you have to get there. Your main transport will include the Tube and/or local city buses. Let’s take a look at what you have to work with:
The Underground, also known as the Tube, is London’s extensive subway system. To start, take a look at this color-coded route map to get your bearings. The map includes tube stations in, around and outside London as well National Rail lines (train). To find the nearest station in walking distance, there is also a map pdf that shows walking times between stations. Check out the Transport for London site for more details.
I found the Tube to be very useful if you want to go across large areas. However, remember that you are underground and the view is better above ground. While I was in London during August/summer, some of the subway cars didn’t have a/c and during certain times of the day, it was very, very crowded. That said, if you want to get out to Windsor or Hampton Court, it’s much faster to use the Tube.
Tube pricing is variable meaning that you pay more for longer distances travelled (ie. Zone 1 through zone 9 travel). For Tube fares, check this link. As of Jan 2, 2017, tube pricing for single one way (pay as you go) and single paper tickets are frozen until 2020. Note: not all Tube pricing is frozen.
For more information on taking the tube, check out the other tab, Travel Card or Oyster Card?
These are the iconic red double-decker buses that you’ll see all over London. The bus operator company is Transport for London. I loved travelling around on these buses and much prefer them to the Tube. At various points during my vacation, I would just get on the bus, head to the top deck, and see the different neighborhoods where the route travelled. For various routes, click here.
You can’t use cash to pay for your bus fare. Therefore, you’ll have to get a paper single day ticket, a Travel Card or an Oyster Card (click on next tab for more info). A single one way fare is £1.50. For bus fares, check this link. As of Jan 2, 2017, bus pricing is frozen until 2020. There can be a £20 fine if you are without your ticket.
National Rail is a fast, efficient and easy option to travel out to other towns in England. There may be a connection depending on where you’re headed (or maybe not). Although rail is more expensive than taking the bus, it is faster. The bus will take longer but will be more scenic.
Travelling in London by the River Thames is one of the most relaxing and beautiful journeys – and I highly recommend it. You can even take the River cruise from central London all the way to Hampton Court (summer only) which is probably how the Royal court did it back in the day. Although it is a lengthy journey. Click over for a route map and fares.
Taxis are always an option but this is a very expensive option. If travelling with multiple people, then this could work out in a more economical way.
I would advise against renting a car for use while in London as there are so many options available within the city. As a tourist, there is really no need unless you are heading out to the countryside. And even with that, I would advise the rail option or bus (the former is faster but the latter more scenic). Also, there may even be some type of fee associated with car parking in London but I’m not 100% sure.
In conclusion, I think you’ll find that transportation in and around London is numerous, efficient and for all budgets. With a little pre-planning, you will get around London like a local. My recommendation for tourists is bus, tube/metro, river cruise and rail to airport or outlying towns. It’s easier, faster and lets you spend more time at the destination rather than in getting to the destination.
Featured Photo by Josh Wilburne.
Travel Card or Oyster Card?
A Travel Card is a paper ticket and an Oyster Card is a plastic smartcard. The Travel Card is for 1 day or 7 days and you purchase based on which zones you plan to travel. With the Oyster Card, you add money and use as needed as you travel.
Whether you should get the Travel Card or Oyster Card depends on how long you’re staying in London, how frequently you’ll be using public transport and which zone your hotel/accomodation is located. Transport pricing is variable and based on zone and time (peak vs. non-peak). Make sure to make a note of what you plan to see, how early/late you plan to travel and where you’ll be travelling to/from.
The Oyster Card is for UK residents but visitors can buy a Visitor Oyster Card from Gatwick airport, Stanstead airport or the London Pass website while in the UK. You cannot purchase a Visitor Oyster Card in London. However, you can purchase them in advance, online and have it mailed to your home. These can be purchased online at The Oyster Visitor shop, VisitBritainshop.com, the London Pass website or Superbreak website. When used, Oyster Cards give a 50% discount on Tube rides.
The 1 day Travel Card can be purchased from the Underground stations in London – and also online. However, you cannot buy a paper 7 Day Travel Card from Underground stations in London – it can only be bought in advance. If you try to buy a 7 day Travel Card from Underground stations in London, it will be loaded onto an Oyster Card and you will have to pay an additional £5 fee.
Example of Pricing:
Type of Travel Travel Card Oyster Card
A Single journey, zone 1-6: £6 £3.10 non-peak/ £5.10 peak
Single day, zone 1-4 anytime: £12.30 £9.50 (capped)
Single day, zone 1-9 non-peak: £12.30 £12.10 non-peak/ £17.20 peak (capped)
Firstly, check out this chart (scroll down on page) to determine which option makes sense for you. Keep in mind that the majority of “touristy” sights are condensed in zone 1. Some exceptions include: Hampton Court (zone 6), Kew Gardens, Windsor Castle and Heathrow airport (zone 6). It seems that with some of the Travel Cards, you’ll pay for zones that you will not use. Although you pay £3 to activate an Oyster Card, it may make more sense (or cents lol) to choose this option. Thus, check the chart for your specific situation.
Where to buy?
For where to purchase tickets, click here.
Also, a nice thing about the Oyster Card is that you can get a refund of any remaining £ credit by using a ticket machine, visiting a London Visitor Centre, or posting your card to Transport for London.
As it relates to airports, you can take the Piccadilly line zone 6 to Heathrow from London.
For Gatwick airport, while you can’t use the Tube, you can use your Oyster Card to pay for your rail travel on Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express trains.
- Thameslink / Southern trains: £14 peak, £8 off-peak
- Gatwick Express trains: £19.80
Revisit this Checklist to make your selection:
1. How long will you be in London?
2. Where is your hotel located (which zone?)?
3. What do you want to see (which zone?)?
Then, check the chart for your best selection.
Click here for more information on how to get around London.