London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Although Londoners constantly grumble about it breaking down on a regular basis, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere in London for visitors and residents alike. In fact, more than a third of London residents do not feel the need to own a car.
Here your basic guide in getting around London.
In planning your journeys around London on public transport, you can use Journeyplanner http://www.journeyplanner.org/. The site also offers a 24-hour travel information line (+44-20-72221234), which is charged at local rates, for suggestions on getting from point A to point B, and for updated information on how services are running.
There is no better way to travel short distances than to walk, as there’s always something interesting to look at if you take the time. And since Central London is surprisingly compact, walking could be your best option.
The London Underground
The city’s railway system is more popularly known as "The Tube." It is the first and largest rail network in the world. It is usually the fastest way to get from one point of London to another.
However, the problem lies on its above-affordable rates and the fact that it can get quite crowded during rush hours. Trains run from 5:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. the next day. Tube maps are freely available from any station, at most tourist offices, and are prominently displayed throughout stations.
The Tube is made up of 12 lines, each bearing a traditional name and a standard color on the Tube Map. To plan your trip on The Tube, work out first which station is closest to your starting point and which is closest to your destination. Use the Tube Map to determine which line (or lines) you would take, and which stations to change if possible.
Visitors should be aware, however, that the Tube Map is actually a diagram and not a scaled map, making it misleading for determining the relative distance between stations as it makes central stations appear farther apart and somewhat out of place.
The Tube system is also divided into several "zones" in concentric circles from Zone 1 (Central London, which contains most of the primary tourist attractions) all the way out to Zone 6 (outer suburbs and Heathrow Airport). The fares depend on which zone you start in and how many zones you cross.
Single fares for an adult are a‚$3 for most trips, such as from Zone 1 through 4, or any trip that stays outside Zone 1. Longer trips, such as from Zone 1 to Zone 5 or 6, or from Zone 3 in the West End to Zone 4 in the East End (passing through Zone 1) costs â‚¤4.
During the day, the time between trains on any given line is usually between 2 and 5 minutes, meaning you seldom have to wait long for a train.
The Tube is congested at the best of times, so avoid standing at the bottom or top of stairs and escalators to look at your maps, and do not stand right by the entrance to the platform, especially if you have luggage. Keep in mind that there are people going to be coming in behind you, so be aware of them.
The red buses
London’s iconic red buses are recognized all over the world, and are a major part of London life. Over 5 million bus trips are made everyday, and with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus in London.
Buses are generally quicker than taking The Tube for short trips, and out of Central London you are likely to be closer to a bus stop than a Tube station. However, the difficulty with buses over The Tube knows when to get off, while Tube stations are clearly marked.
Your best bet is to either ask a fellow passenger or trace your route on a map. Bus drivers are sometimes helpful and sometimes not, but they are usually too busy to be able to tell you when you have reached your destination.
Bus routes are identified by numbers (and sometimes letters). For example, Bus 73 runs between Seven Sisters and Victoria. Buses display their route numbers in large digits at the front, side, and rear. Each bus stop has a sign listing the routes that will stop there. Standard bus services run from 6:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. the next day. After that, the bus network changes into the Night Buses.
They radiate out from around Trafalgar Square area to most outlying parts of Greater London. Night buses are identified by an "N" at the start of the route number. For instance, the N73 Bus runs between Walthamstow Central and Victoria.
Bus rides are cheaper than taking The Tube, at â‚¤1.50 per trip (children under 14 are free). However, unlike The Tube, single tickets do not allow you to transfer to different buses. Consider buying an unlimited One-Day Bus Pass (costing â‚¤3.50 for adults) or a Bus Saver booklet of six tickets for â‚¤6.00.
Take note that yellow route signs indicate that you must purchase you ticket before you board, meaning you must either have a Bus Pass, Bus Saver ticket, or have bought a single ticket from a machine at the bus stop. Note the machines do not provide change.
Beware of the bendy bus
A bendy bus is a double-length articulated variety. Although you can hop on and off these without paying, it is illegal and can be very risky as large teams of inspectors frequently descend on these buses accompanied by police. It is entirely possible to be arrested and prosecuted when you get caught riding in one.
There is an electric tram network running between South-west and South-east of outer London (from Wimbledon to Beckenham). The tram fares are the same as bus fare, while bus passes are also accepted.
Docklands Light Rail (DLR) is a light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the Underground network at the Bank and Tower Gateway. Apart from the trains looking slightly different and running slightly less frequently than The Tube, visitors may as well treat the two systems as the same. As the trains often operate without a driver, it can be quite exciting-especially for the children-to sit in front and look through the window while feeling as though one is driving the train by one’s self.
Travelcard and Oystercard
A travelcard is an all-in-one ticket that allows you to travel on The Tube, buses, DLR, trams, and rail services. A lot of travelers choose buying Travelcard as it allows unlimited one-day travel throughout zones 1-4, which covers all of Central London plus many outer suburbs like Richmond, Greenwich and Wimbledon, all for a cost of â‚¤5.40. Other period Travelcards such as three-day, weekly, monthly, and yearly, are also available.
Travelcards offer a much-better value if you would be making several journeys. For instance, an off-peak Day Travelcard for Zones 1-2 is available after 9:30 a.m. costs â‚¤4.90.
Meanwhile, an Oystercard is a smartcard that stores your ticket information and covers both buses and The Tube. Rather than inserting a cardboard ticket at the gates, simply pass your Oystercard near the yellow readers without having to remove it from your wallet or bag. You can purchase a weekly, monthly, annual ticket on an Oystercard.
You can also purchase a pre-paid Oystercard for a â‚¤3 returnable deposit, which stores a monetary value on the card. Swiping your Oystercard for a ride around London would automatically deduct the appropriate value from your card. This provides a level of amount amount deducted fr
om your pre-paid Oystercard is capped at the cost of the appropriate day Travelcard or bus pass, thus ensuring you that you are charged the minimum fare.
When riding a bus using an Oystercard, you are require to pay a â‚¤3-refundable deposit. However, if you are using a Pre-Pay Osytercard, a bus ride only costs â‚¤0.80 per trip. This also applies to night buses.
Using a Pre-Pay Oystercard reduces fare prices significantly. For example, a single fare within Zone 1 costs â‚¤1.50, while a ride from Zone 1 to 6 costs â‚¤3.50 during daytime and â‚¤2 during nighttime.
Biking can be tempting
Although London generally does not have a significant number of commuters biking around the city, not to mention being a hostile environment for cyclists, biking can be tempting especially due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of Central London.
Many improvements have been made for cyclists in the city over the last few years, noticeably the new signposted cycle routes and some new cycle lanes. You can obtain excellent free cycle maps detailing these routes from your local Tube stations and bike shops.
Some of the options that you could take when biking in London is to stick to the minor residential roads where traffic can be surprisingly calm after rush hours, or at the towpaths along the Grand Union and Regent’s Canals in North London.
Helmets are optional, but well-advised, throughout the United Kingdom. It should be stressed that wearing a helmet while cycling in London is a particularly good idea, as many motorists seem reluctant to acknowledge the existence of cyclists, especially at busy junctions. You could also opt to wear filter face masks.
You could also choose folding bikes, which are popular in London, since you can actually take them with you when you have to ride The Tube.
London has two types of taxis: the popular black cabs, and the so-called mini-cabs. While you could hail a cab everywhere in the city; mini-cabs are more accurately described as "private hire vehicles" and need to be pre-booked.
When hailing a black cab, check if the yellow "TAXI" light is on, indicating its availability. Taxis have a flag-down rate of â‚¤2.20 and increase by distance and by the minute, which is cheap when traveling in groups. You could also book black cabs by phone for a fee.
Minicabs are licensed hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Prices are usually cheaper than taxis, although this is not necessarily the case for shorter rides.
Although some drivers of cabs and mini-cabs expect you to tip them after the ride, tipping is not mandatory. Besides, the fares are usually high enough.
Beware of illegal mini-cabs
There are some areas n London that are poorly serviced by black cabs at night, leading to a large number of illegal "mini-cabs" operating. These illegal drivers are unlicensed and sadly they are often unsafe, as a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators. Do not ever take an illegal mini-cab at night, and either take a black cab, book a licensed mini-cab by telephone, or take a night bus.
Driving in Central London is a slow, frustrating, and often an unnecessary activity. Londoners who drive would normally take public transport when traveling in the center.
You should also be aware that driving into Central London (even on a rental car) on weekdays during daylight hours is subject to hefty charges. The Central London Congestion Charge attracts a fee of â‚¤8 Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (excluding public holidays) if paid the same day before 10:00 p.m. After 10:00 p.m. Until midnight, a surcharge of a‚$2 is added to encourage early payment, totaling â‚$10.
Failure to pay the charge by midnight the same day incurs a hefty automatic fine of a‚$80, which is reduced to a‚$40 if paid within two weeks). Cameras and mobile units record and identify the plate number and registration details of all vehicles entering the charging zone with high accuracy. Payment options include by phone, by voucher, and even online (http://www.cclondon.com/).
Like in most major cities, London continues to experience traffic jams, and it becomes worse on weekdays during peak hours (from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.). At rush hour, public transport (especially The Tube) usually offers the best alternative for speed and reduced hassle.
Parking during weekdays and Saturdays can also mean considerable expense in parking fees. Ignoring fees and restrictions could lead to extreme financial peril from having your vehicle clamped and towed without warning.
Remember, that outside advertised restriction hours, parking on a single yellow line is permissible, while parking on a red line or a double yellow line is never permissible and heavily enforced.