Red bus crosses Thames River, London Getting around London in an iconic red bus – Image courtesy of Business Wire

How to get around London

The most efficient way of getting around London is on the London Underground – known locally as 'the Tube'.

The Underground is faster than taking a bus or taxi through London's often traffic-clogged streets. Trains operate from around 5.30am to 12.30am, and 24 hours on Friday and Saturday on five lines.

However if time is not a factor, jump on a double-decker bus – London's bus network is extensive, inexpensive and efficient, if sometimes slow going.

Buses are one of the cheapest ways to travel around London: all London bus journeys cost the same. Driver's don't accept cash: you must pay with a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card, Travelcard or UK-issued contact-less payment card.

Once you get to your destination, you can't beat walking to explore London's diverse neighbourhoods; although bikes are also perfect for short journeys around central London.

There's also a choice of river services on offer along the River Thames – Thames Clipper River Buses' run between Savoy Pier (central at Embankment) and Royal Arsenal Woolwich Pier, with stops including Canary Wharf Pier, Greenwich Pier and London Bridge City Pier. And a high-speed commuter service runs from Chelsea Harbour in the west to Blackfriars.

There are numerous bridges across the Thames and two pedestrian tunnels beneath the river – one at Greenwich and one at Woolwich.

A cable car also runs above the Thames: the Emirates Air Line connects Greenwich peninsula in the south to the Royal Docks in the north. Linking The O2 and the ExCeL Centre, the Emirates Air Line journey takes five minutes and runs daily.


London Transport's Visitor Pass

Oyster Card & Visitor Pass

A pre-paid electronic Oyster Card, Visitor Oyster Card or a UK contactless card are the cheapest ways to travel around London.

Oyster Card: The Oyster Card is a ‘prepay’ card, which allows you to pay for fares across the entire public transport network in London.

Rail fares in London are based on Travel Zones, with off-peak single fares starting from £2.40 up to £5.10 for travel through multiple zones.

The rail network is divided into 9 zones so your fare will depend on which zones you travel in. Zone 1-9 fares are cheaper with pay-as-you-go than buying paper single tickets. If you make a lot of journeys in one day the total cost of your daily travel will be capped (daily capping), so you'll pay less than the equivalent Day Travelcard.

You can buy a Visitor Oyster Card online from the TfL Visitor Shop (https://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/london-visitor-oyster-card/) or from VisitBritain shops (https://www.visitbritainshop.com/world/london-visitor-oyster-card/) or through approved travel agents. Visitor Oyster cards are only available to buy before you arrive in London.

If you don't have a Visitor Oyster card or contactless payment card, you can get a standard Oyster card in London. You pay £5 and then add pay-as-you-go credit or a Travelcard to pay for your journeys.

Oyster Cards can be topped up at any Underground station, travel information centre or shop displaying the Oyster logo. To get your deposit back along with any remaining credit, simply return your Oyster Card at a ticket booth.

For bus journeys, you only need to touch once upon boarding. For train journeys you touch your card on a reader (a yellow circle with the image of an Oyster Card on it) before entering the platform, and then touch again on your way out of the station. The system deducts the appropriate amount from your card, as necessary.

Note: Don't forget to tap out on the reader (which will bleep) before leaving the station; if you forget, you will be hugely overcharged.

Visitor Pass: Consider also the 2-Day or 3-Day Visitor Pass, which gives you the freedom to travel off-peak as much as you want on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and TfL Rail.

The 2-Day or 3-Day Visitor Pass (above photo) offers unlimited off-peak travel in Zones 1-6 and costs £27.00 and £40.50 respectively. For more info visit Transport for London's online site: tfl.gov.uk (https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/visiting-london/getting-around-london/best-ways-for-visitors-to-pay/visitor-pass)

You don't need to pre-order or top up, and you can buy your Visitor Pass at a number of Tube stations and Visitor Centres across London.

Contactless cards: Contactless cards can be used directly on Oyster Card readers and are subject to the same Oyster fares. The advantage is that you don't have to bother with buying, topping up and then returning an Oyster Card, but overseas visitors should bear in mind the cost of card transactions.

Most credit, debit and charge cards displaying the contactless symbol can be used for adult rate pay as you go travel on London's public transport. Google Pay and Apple Pay are also accepted.

Pay-as-you-go with contactless is cheaper than buying single tickets and you can benefit from both daily and weekly (Monday to Sunday) capping, however, overseas transaction fees or charges may apply for non-UK cards. This will be one charge per day, not each time you travel. Please check with your card issuer.

Travelcards: If you’re planning a longer stay in London, consider a weekly or monthly Travelcard.

Travelcards allow you to make as many journeys as you like on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail services in London.

Day, Group and 7-Day Travelcards are available online from the TfL Visitor Shop or from VisitBritain shops before you arrive in London, as well as from Tube station ticket machines at London Overground and TfL Rail station ticket offices and most National Rail stations.

Day Travelcards are issued as paper tickets and allow unlimited travel in a single day within the zones they are valid for. Depending on the time of day you travel, different types of Day Travelcard are available:

• Anytime Day Travelcards can be used for the whole day (using the date printed on the ticket), and for journeys starting before 04:30 the following day.

• Off-peak Day Travelcards are valid from 09:30 (Mondays to Fridays) or any time on weekends and public holidays on the day of travel (using the date printed on the ticket), and for journeys starting before 04:30 the following day Day Travelcard or pay as you go?

• 7 Day Travelcards are valid for a week and can be issued as paper tickets (when bought online/or from most National Rail stations), or loaded to an Oyster card. They can be used at any time of day during the period of validity and for any journey that starts before 04:30 on the day after the expiry date.

Find out more about Day Travelcards (https://tfl.gov.uk/fares/)

Note: If you’re caught without a valid ticket, you’re liable for an on-the-spot fine of £80. If paid within 21 days, the fine is reduced to £40. Inspectors accept no excuses.


Transport options in London

With a choice of public transport options it’s very unlikely that you (as a visitor) will need to drive in London. In fact, much has been done to encourage Londoners to abandon their cars and use public transport (or their bikes).

Driving a car in London has several disincentives: the congestion charge, extortionate parking fees, traffic jams, the high price of petrol, efficient traffic wardens, wheel clamper’s and ubiquitous CCTV cameras recording cars parked (even momentarily) on double yellow lines or not giving way when they should.

Train: The London Underground (known locally as ‘the tube’) is part of an integrated-transport system that also includes the Overground network (mostly outside of Zone 1 and sometimes underground) and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR; www.tfl.gov.uk/dlr) – a driver-less overhead train operating in the eastern part of the city.

The London Underground is the quickest and easiest way of getting around London, if not the cheapest. The network is divided into nine zones, determining the price of tickets.

Trains operate from around 5.30am to around 12.30am Monday to Saturday, and from 6.45am to 11.30pm on Sunday.

In addition, the Victoria and Jubilee lines, plus most of the Piccadilly, Central and Northern lines run all night on Friday and Saturday to get revellers home (on what is called the 'Night Tube'), with trains every 10 minutes or so. Fares are off-peak.

The Overground train network is most useful for getting to South London, and more distant destinations such as Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, Oxford, Brighton, Cambridge or Bath. Services are run by independent private companies. You can use your Oyster Card on many of these routes with the correct zones.

Note: Some tube stations are much closer to each other on the ground than they may appear on the tube map and it can be quicker to walk rather than take the tube; e.g. Covent Garden to Leicester Square.

Tram: South London has a small tram network called London Tramlink. There are three routes running along 17 miles of track, including Wimbledon to Elmers End via Croydon, Croydon to Beckenham and Croydon to New Addington. Single tickets cost £2.60 (£1.50 with an Oyster Card).

Bus : London's ubiquitous red double-decker buses afford great views of the city, but thanks to traffic jams and dozens of commuters getting on and off at every stop, the journey can be slow. However, if you're not in a rush then taking a bus offers an inexpensive sightseeing opportunity.

There are local maps at every bus stop detailing all routes and destinations served in that particular area within a two- to three-minute walk.

Downloading a bus app such as London Bus Live Countdown to your smartphone is the most efficient way to keep track of bus routes and when your next bus is due. Bus services normally operate from 5am to 11.30pm.

There are also more than 50 night-bus routes (prefixed with the letter ‘N’) operating from around 11.30pm to 5am. Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd and Trafalgar Sq are the main hubs for night routes. Night buses can be infrequent and stop only on request, so remember to ring for your stop.

Cash cannot be used on London's buses. Instead, you pay with an Oyster Card, Travelcard or a contact-less payment card. Bus fares are a flat £1.50, no matter the distance travelled.

Taxi - Black cabs: The black cab is as much a feature of the London cityscape as the red double-decker bus, and despite being quite expensive are a useful way to get about London.

Black-cab drivers can be hailed on the street and are generally honest and know precisely where they are going. Licensed black cab drivers have the 'Knowledge’, acquired after rigorous training and a series of exams. They are supposed to know 25,000 streets within a 6-mile radius of Charing Cross/Trafalgar Sq as well as the 100 most-visited spots in London, including clubs and restaurants.

Black cabs are available for hire when the yellow sign above the windscreen is lit; just stick your arm out to signal one. Fares are metered, with the flag-fall charge of £2.60 (covering the first 235m during a weekday), rising by increments of 20p for each subsequent 117m. Fares are more expensive in the evenings and overnight.

You can tip taxi drivers up to 10%, but most Londoners simply round up to the nearest pound.

You can hail black cabs in the street or book them through Dial-a-Cab (tel: +44 20 7426 3420) and Radio Taxis (tel: +44 20 7272 0272). Smartphone apps such as mytaxi (https://uk.mytaxi.com) are a useful way to locate the nearest black cab.

Taxi - Minicabs: Minicabs are licensed, and are (usually) less expensive than black cabs. Minicabs don’t have meters; the fare is set by the dispatcher. Make sure you ask before setting off.

Unlike black cabs, minicabs cannot legally be hailed on the street; they must be hired by phone or directly from one of the minicab offices (every high street has at least one and most social clubs work with a minicab firm to send revellers home safely).

Apps such as Uber or Kabbee allow you to book a minicab quickly. Your hotel will be able to recommend a reputable minicab company in the neighbourhood; every Londoner has the number of at least one company. A reputable city-wide firm is Addison Lee (tel: +44 20 7404 9000).

Note: Don’t accept unsolicited offers from individuals claiming to be minicab drivers – they are just guys with cars.

Bicycle: Many Londoners cycle to work every day, and for the visitor cycling is also a fun and inexpensive way to explore the city – although traffic may be intimidating despite the ‘cycle superhighways’.

London's bicycle-hire scheme, Santander Cycles (https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles), provides more than 10,000 bikes at 750 docking stations dotted around the capital. Bikes are available 24/7 on a pay-as-you-go and membership basis. You can return the bike to any docking station.

The pay-as-you-go access fee is £2 for 24 hours (once only for the access period). The first 30 minutes are free; then £2 for any additional period of 30 minutes. You can use as many bikes as you like during your access period, leaving five minutes between each trip. You'll need a credit or debit card.

The pricing structure is designed to encourage short journeys rather than longer rentals. The bikes only have three gears and are quite heavy. You must be aged 18 to buy access and at least 14 to ride a bike.

The free downloadable Santander Cycles app locates nearby docking stations, shows how full they are and allows users to have the release code sent direct to their smartphone.

Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk) publishes 14 free maps of London's cycle routes.

Note: Bicycles can be taken on the Overground, DLR and on the Circle, District, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan tube lines, except at peak times (7.30am to 9.30am and 4pm to 7pm Monday to Friday). Folding bikes can be taken on any line at any time.

Pedicabs: Three-wheeled cycle rickshaws seating two or three passengers are available for exploring the West End of London. Expect to pay from £5 for a short trip; it's worth confirming the rate before you get in to avoid being overcharged. Tours of London are also available, and from £80 per person for a pub tour. For more information visit www.londonpedicabs.com.

Water: Several companies operate riverboats along the River Thames including Thames Clippers and the London Waterbus Company.

Thames Clipper run regular and fast services between Embankment, Waterloo (London Eye), Blackfriars, Bankside (Shakespeare's Globe), London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Greenwich, North Greenwich and Woolwich piers from 7.09am to 10.36pm (from 9.31am to 11.31pm on weekends).

Thames Clipper River Roamer tickets (adult/child £19.50/9.75) give the freedom to hop on and hop off boats on most routes all day. Book online for good discounts.

Pay-as-you-go Oyster Card and Travelcard holders qualify for good discounts. Children under five years travel free on most boats.

The London Waterbus Company runs canal boats between Camden Lock and Little Venice.

Between April and October, Hampton Court Palace can be reached by boat from Westminster Pier in central London (via Kew and Richmond). The trip can take up to four hours, depending on the tide. Boats are run by Westminster Passenger Services Association.

Cable Car: The Emirates Air Line is a cable car around 90m above the Thames River linking the Royal Docks in East London with North Greenwich. While the journey is brief and rather pricey the views are spectacular.

Car hire: There is no shortage of car-hire agencies in London, including Avis (tel: +44 808 284 0014; www.avis.co.uk), Budget (tel: +44 808 284 4444; www.budget.co.uk) and Hertz (tel: +44 20 7026 0077; www.hertz.co.uk).

There are also a growing number of budget/internet car hire companies, including easyCar (tel: +44 800 640 7000; www.easycar.com). Book in advance for the best fares, especially at weekends.

A foreign driving licence is valid in the UK for up to 12 months from the time of your last entry into the country. If you bring a car from Continental Europe, make sure you’re adequately insured. Traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road.

All drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts, and motorcyclists must wear a helmet. It is illegal to use a mobile phone to call or text while driving (using a hands-free device to talk on your mobile is permitted).

Pedestrians have right of way at zebra crossings (black and white stripes on the road); allow them to cross.

The speed limit on most urban roads is 30mph (48kph), but there are 20mph (32kph) zones.

The Highway Code (www.gov.uk/highway-code) is available at Automobile Association (AA) and Royal Automobile Club (RAC) outlets, as well as some bookshops and tourist offices.

Congestion Charge: To reduce the flow of traffic, there is a daily charge for all vehicles entering the congestion zone in central London from Monday to Friday between 0700 and 1800. See .

The congestion-charge zone (www.cclondon.com.) encompasses Euston and Pentonville Rds to the north, Park Lane to the west, Tower Bridge to the east, and Elephant and Castle and Vauxhall Bridge Rd to the south. As you enter the zone, you will see a large white ‘C’ in a red circle.

If you enter the zone between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays), you must pay the £11.50 charge (payable in advance or on the day) or £14 on the first charging day after travel to avoid receiving a fine (£160, or £80 if paid within 14 days). You can pay online or over the phone. For full details visit the website.

Fines: If you get a parking ticket or your car gets clamped, call the number on the ticket. If the car has been removed, ring the free 24-hour service called TRACE (0845 206 8602; https://trace.london) to find out where your car has been taken. It will cost you a minimum of £200 to get your car back on the road.

Off-road parking is available 24 hours at NCP garages (tel: +44 345 050 7080; www.ncp.co.uk) situated around London. Street parking in central London can be extremely expensive.


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Latest update: How to get to London: 17 June, 2020


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