London is a lovely place to visit, but such a large city with so many transport options can be bewildering for a new visitor! Here’s our guide to all the different ways to make your way around town.
London’s underground rail network is fast, comprehensive and often the easiest way to get from A to B. There are twelve lines, each of which stops more frequently in the city centre but extends outwards for a decent distance. London is divided into nine circular zones, with 1 in the centre and 9 on the outskirts; the Tube will usually take you anywhere you need to go, from hotels near Piccadilly to hidden gems in the suburbs. The main downsides to catching the Tube are that it doesn’t run between 1am and 6am, and service is very sparse in south London – you may need to change to a bus or mainline train to reach your destination.
To catch the Tube, buses or ferries, the easiest way to pay is to get an Oyster card. These smart cards can be topped up with pay-as-you-go credit or a travel pass that gives you unlimited rides within given zones for 7 or 30 days. You’ll need to put down a £5 deposit to get your Oyster card at any Tube station, but once you have it, you’ll save 40% on your fares compared to buying paper tickets – not bad! Fares vary depending on peak times and the zones you are travelling through.
London’s iconic red buses cover the entire city and many routes have 24 hour service, so they are your best bet once the Tube shuts for the night. Buses no longer accept cash payments, so the only way to catch one is to use an Oyster or contactless credit card. Fares are a flat £1.50 no matter the zone or time of day. Get some sightseeing in near The Piccadilly London West End by catching the number 11 bus from Trafalgar Square heading eastwards – it runs past plenty of London landmarks including the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral for a fraction of the price of a tour bus.
Hire a bike
Santander Cycles, also known as Boris Bikes after London’s mayor Boris Johnson, are both cheap and good for you – but you do need to keep your wits about you and be prepared for a workout! You can hire these bikes from self-service terminals scattered around the city, using a credit card or bankcard. Initial hire is £2, which entitles you to unlimited half-hour trips in a 24 hour period; you can pay extra for longer rides. At the end of your journey, return your bike to the closest docking station. The Santander Cycles app has maps, advice and the locations of all the docking stations.
There are three kinds of cabs available in London. The famous black cabs can be hailed off the street if their yellow TAXI sign is lit, and they do provide an excellent experience, but they’re expensive – about £9 for just one mile – and only take cash. Mini-cabs and regular taxis must be booked, either through a minicab booking office or over the phone; never hail these, as they may be unregistered scams and potentially dangerous. Lastly there’s Uber, which allows you to request a taxi instantly from your phone – it’s fast, cheap, and rapidly running other cab companies out of business.
Londoners love their local apps, and one of the most popular is Citymapper. It gets its data on bus and train arrival times from Transport for London, but it also gives you handy tips, such as where to stand on the Tube platform to get on the train so that you’ll be close to the exit when you get off. It even tells you how many calories you’d burn by walking instead! This is truly what smartphones were made for.