For our guide to the rest of the UK, including details of how to tour the UK by train for under £60 per person see our 'Rest of UK' page
lift operator at Russell Square Feb 2012
We've been criticised for our negative attitude to public transport in London. True, we wish it were much better, but in general the average visitor won't be too much troubled unless on a tight schedule.
Travel in London is 2 -3 times the price it is in other capital cities and is often dirty, unreliable and congested. According to the latest Government report 25% of main roads are jammed for an hour a day, the fuel tax is the highest in Europe, rail fares the third highest in Europe. The average British family spends 15% of its income on transport - but only 12% of journeys are made on public transport - Britons also walk and cycle less than other Europeans.
To cap it all, public transport is often full of rowdy travelers after 11pm, especially at weekends. Little effort has gone into providing safe cycling lanes or pedestrianisation, and rollerblading is all but banned from the areas it flourished. The good news is that travelling by river has got cheaper and easier - the excellent Thames Clipper will take you from Tate Britain to Canary wharf, and back with unlimited stop-offs for £7.50 or £16 for a whole family - there are discounts if you have a travelcard. Well worth spending a day on the river...
The Oystercard has heralded the biggest change in London transport since the war. it's valid on buses, trains and tubes and on the river it gets you discounts. It's a good idea to buy one before you arrive so you can just breeze onto the transport system - bus, train (not private airport services) tube etc without having to queue at your arrival point. Use the image below to buy an oystercard in advance and get it delivered to your door:
If you want to know the best way to get from one
point in London to another by public transport , 24
hours a day, ring the Transport for London
Guideline 0207 222 1234 or use our travel
All the airports have good rail links into the
centre - Heathrow is on the tube, it takes about an
hour and costs about £4. High speed rail links
have been built to Heathrow and Gatwick and
Stanstead, and as they are run by private companies
they're very reliable and clean. However they are
expensive and often not much quicker than normal
trains - which are rarely advertised, but run in
parallel - often on the same tracks.
Below is a picture of the queues to buy a tube ticket at Victoria station. Saunter past with a pre-booked Oyster card...
There are also good bus, minibus and taxi services, but these start to get expensive. Some minibuses will drop you at or near your hotel.
Slow and sometimes unreliable (sometimes not their
fault, they share the roads), London's buses are
part of the landscape - you will often see more than
20 of them nose-to-tail down Oxford Street, with
pedestrians passing them at twice the speed.. but
they will get you anywhere you want to go, if a bit
slower than the tube, but you do get a chance to see
the scenery on the way.
The London Underground (affectionately known as
the tube) was the first, and is the most expensive
in the world (250% more expensive than even Tokyo).
Escalators are often out of service (some of the
lines run very deep below the streets) but that's no
consolation for those with bags or wheels. Most
weekends there are huge service outages for upgrades
or repairs for the Olympics (or whatever excuse is
fashionable, passenger safety and comfort, being
less honest excuses), sometimes half the grid is
closed down, and bus replacement services are
London black cabs are justifiably famous. 'The Knowledge - the exam to become a cabby - takes years of study and has been actually shown on scans to increase brain size, such is the amount of geographical information needed. That said, many cabbies dislike going south of the river and their knowledge seems to become a little hazy south of the Elephant & Castle.
Fares are more economical if you share. To go from one end of London to the other should cost about £50, shorter rides are about £15. We have found that on a good day, inside London a black cab can be cheaper than minicab companies, which price by postcode.
London taxi fares are the most expensive in the world, and go up after 20:00hrs. Some taxi drivers make £70k/$100k a year at least, so don't tip them unless you earn significantly more then they do. Some, especially in outer London will make £30k.
That said, for all the 'honourable rules of the trade' there are some complaints. We've watched black people ignored by taxis who pull up opposite the next white person who hails them. Taxis HAVE to stop if they see you hail them (however they can claim they didn't see you if they don't like the look of you). Once stopped, they can't refuse to take you within 6 miles of the centre - if they do, take their number and report them. Generally for every 'bad' cabby there will be ten who will be polite and helpful.
This includes all 'taxis' that are not official
licenced taxicabs. Most have a 'Minicab' licence
which means they're complying with the Council's
code. They are not allowed to solicit on the street
and have to be booked by phone or by going to their
office. See the tfl minicab guide for numbers
and howtos. The Mayor's site is also very
useful with a safe taxi textback system for
minicabs. A commercial equivalent is here . Or try Taxi Reservations who
specialise in airport transfers - bookable online
and in advance.
Not really up to the volume of commuters, but ok for tourists. Buy your ticket before you board the train in most cases, as you will either be fined or made to pay the full fare (if you have a NSE Card). However within the London travel zones you can use an oystercard (not to Gatwick...).
It's worth remembering that the train system (which is cheaper than the tubes, especially if you have a NSE card) serves a large part of London, especially the Southeast where there are no tubes.
For longer, intercity journeys, and daytrips book at least 3 days in advance (7 days is cheaper) or the fares will be high (higher than flying), you can do this on the internet (much cheaper as ticket machines don;t offer best value fares and there are queues for ticket offices) here (booking fee). Timetables here (no booking fee) - remember to press the 'check fares' button and look out for the 'cheapest fare' box which will calculate the cheapest ticketing - and check later/earlier trains too. We have got a ticket down from £120 to £30 by buying judiciously, and once went first class for cheaper than second class. In April 2010 we got to Chichester and back for £6 on Southern Railways (normal price £26), who offer online booking discounts...
There's a whole website on how to do this and it's a must if you're planning getting round the UK by rail. Remember that sometimes buying two singles may be cheaper, and once the allocation of cheap second class tickets has run out, there may still be discount first class available. If the cost is astronomical try splitting the journey, notionally changing at an unpopular station (eg Nuneaton...) You don't have to get off the train as long as it stops at your intermediate station. London-anywhere tends to sell out of cheap seats quickly. Once you've found out the cheapest fares it this site redirects you to an operator who can sell you the tickets - keep note of the train times as you'll have to fill them in all over again. A good site for planning journeys in the UK is here
Not really the safest means to get round London,
where the pavements and roads are uneven,
have large potholes and cycle lanes are scant. That
said, biking is the quickest way to get around the
city. Some road intersections can be really
dangerous, but on the whole drivers are considerate
- watch out for the motorcycle couriers though.
We don't like driving round London - there's heavy
congestion in the centre and tempers can often get
overheated. Traffic regulations are designed to
swell the coffers of local councils, not ease
The congestion charge has reduced the traffic in
the centre a lot (but buses still move along Oxford
Street at slower than walking pace) and made cycling
a bit less hazardous. It costs £8 a day to
drive in London weekdays from 0700 - 0600. One wrong
turning can result in the charge being levied as
your number plate is picked up by cameras. There is
a 'safe route' through the centre, via Victoria,
Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch, but pay strict
attention to the signposting!
This used to be the main form of transport East-West in London as the streets were crowded and filthy. In the 21st century it's becoming increasingly possible with clipper services running up and down all day, most giving a reduction if you have a travelcard or such. They can actually be much faster than the tube, especially the new THAMES CLIPPER catamarans, based on the Dover-Calais ferries... see HERE. There are full details, as always at the TFL website. You can download a River services map HERE. The fastest trip is to be had by taking a RIB tour - rather costly, though.
Main services go from Westminster Pier, Blackfriars (south side, near the Globe), London and Tower Bridges. You can go as far as Greenwich and beyond, though it's better to stay on the boat past Greenwich and see the O2 and Thames Barrier from the water.
Our favourite method of transport in London.
Follow one or more of our walks
or simply wander. Cars HAVE to stop if you step onto
a crossing and most will stop even if you jump out
into the road. Jaywalking is not an offence, but
natural selection can operate if you get too
foolhardy. Walking down the south side of the Thames will take a couple of hours from Westminster to Tower Bridge, depending on how often you stop, and give you access to most ofthe best attractions: Shakespeare's Globe, Tower Bridge, St Pauls (via the 'wobbly' bridge) Parliament, the South Bank, etc.
Not as good as it should be, it is possible to get
around with a wheelchair or frame - however you'll
need to get help with many lifts, where they exist,
especially in tube stations, and even then there are
lots of stairs between platforms. The tube seems to
be very bad at lifts and help, and more focused on
collecting fares. Many taxis have wheelchair ramps,
and an increasing number of buses. The bus and tube
websites mentioned above have good disablilty
information and the Interactive London Travel map
has a station-by-station access guide. The new TFL
Access site is HERE and there's
another good site HERE
Buy one from a Tube or Train station or
participating newsagents, check the zones on the
maps in tube stations. Heathrow Airport is in Zone
6. You cannot buy travelcards, or reduced tickets
(with a Railcard) once you are on the train or bus.
A £6.50 travelcard gives you unlimited travel
in zones 1 + 2, which is all you'll probably ever
need. Alternatively just get an oystercard - you
can;t be charged more than a day's travelcard when
using it. remember that when you change modes of
transport (train to underground, bus to tram) you
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