Getting there & around
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
The black London taxicab (www.londonblackcabs.co.uk) is as much a feature of the cityscape as the red bus. Licensed black-cab drivers have ‘the knowledge’ – ie they undergo rigorous training and exams, and are supposed to know every central London street.
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 a minimum charge of £2.20 (covering the first 336m during a weekday), rising by increments of 20p for each subsequent 168m. Fares are more expensive in the evenings and overnight. You can tip taxi drivers up to 10% but most people round up to the nearest pound.
Do not expect to hail a taxi in popular nightlife areas of London such as Soho late at night (and especially after pub closing time at 11pm). If you do find yourself in any of those areas, signal all taxis – even those with their lights off – and try to look sober. Many drivers are very choosy about their fares at this time of night. To order a cab by phone try Computer Cabs (7908 0207); it charges a £2 booking fee, plus what it costs to get to you, as well as your actual fare. You can only prebook using a credit card; if you’re paying cash you must ring when you need the cab. (For cash prebookings, see Minicabs, below.)
Zingo Taxi (0870 070 0700) uses GPS to connect your mobile phone to that of the nearest free black-cab driver – after which you can explain to the cabbie exactly where you are. This service costs only £1.60, which is included in the final price of the taxi. It’s a good idea late at night, when it’s notoriously difficult to find a free cab. The service has only 1000 vehicles and it will find you a (more expensive) Computer Cab if none of these are available.
Minicabs, some of which are now licensed, are cheaper freelance competitors of black cabs. However, minicab drivers are often untrained and less sure of the way than black-cab drivers and may not be properly insured. 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). Minicab drivers seeking fares might approach you; it’s best to decline their offer, as there have been allegations of rape made against some unlicensed cab drivers.
The cabs don’t have meters, so it’s essential to fix a price before you start (it’s therefore not usual to tip minicab drivers). Most drivers start higher than the fare they’re prepared to accept.
Ask a local for the name of a reputable minicab company, or phone a large 24-hour operator (7387 8888, 7272 2222, 7272 3322, 8888 4444). Women travelling alone at night can choose Ladycabs (7272 3300), which has women drivers. Liberty Cars (7734 1313) caters for the gay and lesbian market and is used widely by straight Londoners too, although gay couples are extremely unlikely to experience open homophobia from drivers of black cabs.
London’s iconic double-decker Routemaster was phased out a couple of years ago, only to be brought back (by popular demand) to serve the more scenic routes (bus routes 9 and 15). Even getting on the modern double-deckers and single-decker ‘bendy’ buses, you see more of the city than while underground on the tube. Just beware that the going can be slow, thanks to traffic jams and the nearly four million commuters that get on and off the buses every day.
Any single-journey adult bus ticket within London costs £2; children under 16 travel free, and so do under-18s in full-time education. It now costs 90p to travel on buses with an Oyster card. Travelcards are valid on all buses, including night buses.
A Saver ticket (£6) is a book of six bus tickets valid on all buses, including those in central London and night buses. They are transferable but valid for one journey only.
If you plan to use only buses during your stay in London, you can buy a one-day bus pass valid throughout London for £3/1 (adult/child). Unlike Travelcards, these are valid before 9.30am. Weekly or monthly bus passes cost £13/4 (adult/child) or £42.30/15.40.
You should definitely get an Oyster card even if you’re here only for a weekend, because you’ll be paying double without it.
Maps are available from most transport travel information centres, via the Transport for London Order Line (7371 0247) or from www.tfl.gov.uk/buses. For general information on London buses call 7222 1234 (24 hours).
More than 60 night bus routes (which are prefixed with the letter ‘N’) run from midnight to 4.30am, when the tube shuts down and the daytime buses return to the barn. Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd and Trafalgar Sq are the main hubs, but check bus-stop information boards to familiarise yourself with routes. Night buses can be infrequent and stop only on request, meaning you must signal clearly to the driver to stop.
Many buses are also ‘24-hour buses’, which means that they are different from night buses because they are the same bus you’d take during the day, though their frequency thins out during the night. Check the bus timetable for frequency details.
National Express (0870 580 8080; www.nationalexpress.com) and low-cost Megabus (0900 160 0900, per min 60p; www.megabus.com) are the main national operators. Megabus operates a no-frills airline style of seat pricing, where some tickets go for as little as £1. National Express has dropped its fares to compete. Smaller competitors on main UK routes include Green Line (0870 608 7261; www.greenline.co.uk).
Eurolines (0870 514 3219; www.eurolines.com; 52 Grosvenor Gardens SW1) has buses to Continental Europe, operated via National Express and leaving from Victoria coach station (7730 3466; 164 Buckingham Palace Rd SW1).
A small London tram network, Tramlink, exists in South London. There are three routes, one running from Wimbledon through Croydon to Elmers End, one running from Croydon to Beckenham and one running from Croydon to New Addington. Single tickets cost £1.20/40p per adult/child. Oyster cards and bus passes are also valid on trams. See www.tfl.gov.uk/trams for more details.
London is served by nearly every international airline, most with offices in the city.
Aer Lingus (0870 876 5000; www.aerlingus.com)
Aeroflot (7355 2233; www.aeroflot.co.uk)
Air Canada (0871 220 1111; www.aircanada.com)
Air France (0870 142 4343; www.airfrance.com/uk)
Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; www.airnewzealand.co.uk)
Alitalia (0870 544 8259; www.alitalia.com)
American Airlines (0845 778 9789; www.aa.com)
BMI (0870 607 0555; www.flybmi.com)
British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com)
Brussels Airlines (0905 609 5609; www.brusselsairlines.com)
Cathay Pacific (8834 8888; www.cathaypacific.com)
Continental Airlines (0845 607 6760; www.continental.com)
Delta Air Lines (0845 600 0950; www.delta.com)
easyJet (0905 560 7777, per min £1; www.easyjet.com)
El Al (7121 1400; www.elal.com)
Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com/uk)
Fly Be (British European; 0871 522 6100; www.flybe.com)
Iberia (0870 609 0500; www.iberia.com)
Icelandair (0845 758 1111; www.icelandair.net)
KLM (0870 243 0541; www.klm.com)
Lufthansa (0845 773 7747; www.lufthansa.co.uk)
Olympic Airways (0870 606 0460; www.olympicairways.com)
Qantas Airlines (0845 774 7767; www.qantas.co.uk)
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com)
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS; 0870 6072 7727; www.scandinavian.net)
Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; www.singaporeair.com)
South African Airways (0870 747 1111; www.flysaa.com)
TAP Air Portugal (0845 601 0932; www.tap-airportugal.co.uk)
Thai Airways International (7491 7953, 0870 606 0911; www.thaiair.com)
Turkish Airlines (7766 9333; www.thy.com)
United Airlines (0845 844 4777; www.ual.com)
Virgin Atlantic (0870 574 7747; www.virgin-atlantic.com)
London is served by five major airports: Heathrow (the largest), Gatwick, Stansted, London City and Luton.
Fifteen miles west of central London, Heathrow (LHR; 0870 000 0123; www.heathrowairport.com) is the world’s busiest international airport. It has five terminals. For information call the relevant terminal during the times listed below:
Terminal 1 (8745 5301; 6am-11pm)
Terminal 2 (8745 4599; 5am-11pm)
Terminal 3 (8759 3344; 5am-10.30pm)
Terminal 4 (8745 7460; 5am-11pm)
Each terminal has competitive currency-exchange facilities, information counters and accommodation desks. Two Piccadilly line tube stations serve the airport: one for Terminals 1, 2 and 3, the other for Terminal 4. There are also left-luggage facilities. The charge is £5.50 per item for 24 hours, up to a maximum of 90 days. All branches can forward baggage.
There are some 15 international hotels at or near Heathrow, should you be arriving or leaving particularly early or late. To reach them from Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 or 3, take the Heathrow Hotel Hoppa bus, which departs every 15 minutes 5.30am to 9pm, then every 30 minutes until 11.30pm (£4). The bus does not serve Terminal 4.
Here are options for getting to/from Heathrow Airport:
Black cabs A metered tripto/from central London (Oxford St) will cost around £55.
Heathrow Connect (0845 678 6975; www.heathrowconnect.com) Also travelling between Heathrow and Paddington station, this modern passenger service (one way/return £6.90/12.90, 28 minutes, every 30 minutes) makes several stops en route, in places such as Ealing and Southall. The first trains leave Heathrow at about 5.30am (6.15am Sunday) and the last service is around midnight. From Paddington, services leave between approximately 4.45am (6.15am Sunday) and 11pm.
Heathrow Express (0845 600 1515; www.heathrowexpress.com) This ultramodern train (one way/return £15.50/29, £1 off if booking online; 15 minutes, every 15 minutes) whisks passengers from Heathrow Central station (serving Terminals 1, 2 and 3) and Terminal 4 station to Paddington station. The Heathrow Central train runs approximately from 5.10am (in both directions) to between 11.30pm (from Paddington) and midnight (from the airport). To Terminal 4 takes an extra eight minutes.
National Express (0870 580 8080; www.nationalexpress.com) Buses 032, 035, 403, 412 and 501 (one way/return from £10/15, tickets valid three months; 45 minutes to 70 minutes, every 30 minutes to one hour) link Heathrow with Victoria coach station (7730 3466; 164 Buckingham Palace Rd SW1) about 50 times per day. The first bus leaves the Heathrow Central Bus station (at Terminals 1, 2 and 3) at 5.35am with the last departure at 9.35pm. The first bus leaves Victoria at 7.15am, the last at 11.30pm.
Underground (7222 1234; www.tube.tfl.gov.uk) The tube (one way adult/child £4/2, from central London one hour, every five to nine minutes) is the cheapest way of getting to Heathrow. It runs from approximately 5am (5.50am Sunday) to 11.45pm (10.50pm Sunday). You can buy tickets from machines in the baggage reclaim areas of the Heathrow terminals or in the station.
Located some 30 miles south of central London, Gatwick (LGW; 0870 000 2468; www.gatwickairport.com) is smaller and better organised than Heathrow. The North and South Terminals are linked by an efficient monorail service, with the journey time about two minutes. For information call the relevant terminal during the times listed below:
North Terminal (01293-502013; 5am-9pm)
South Terminal (01293-502014; 24hr)
Gatwick also has left-luggage facilities. The charge is £5.50 per item for 24 hours or part thereof, up to a maximum of 90 days.
Here are options for getting to/from Gatwick Airport:
Black cabs A metered tripto/from central London costs about £85.
Gatwick Express (0845 850 1530; www.gatwickexpress.com) Trains (one way/return £14.90/26.80, 30 minutes, every 15 minutes) link the station near the South Terminal with Victoria station. From the airport, there are regular services between 5.50am and 12.35am. From Victoria, they leave between 5am and 11.45pm. In both directions, there are four less-regular overnight services.
National Express (0870 580 8080; www.nationalexpress.com) Bus 025 (one way/return £6.60/12.20, tickets valid three months; 65 minutes to 85 minutes) runs from Brighton to Victoria coach station via Gatwick nearly 20 times per day. Services leave Gatwick approximately hourly between 5.15am and 10.15pm and operate from Victoria between 7am and 11.30pm, with one very early service at 3.30am).
Southern Trains (national rail enquiries 0845 748 4950; www.southernrailway.com) This service (one way/return £8.90/17.80, 45 minutes, every 15 to 30 minutes, every hour from midnight to 4am) runs from Victoria station to both terminals.
Thameslink service (national rail enquiries 0845 748 4950; www.thameslink.co.uk) This service (one way/return £8.90/17, 70 minutes) runs through King’s Cross, Farringdon and London Bridge train stations.
London’s third-busiest international gateway, Stansted (STN; 0870 000 0303; www.stanstedairport.com) is 35 miles northeast of central London, heading towards Cambridge. It’s become Europe’s fastest-growing airport thanks to no-frills carriers Ryanair and easyJet, which use it as a hub. With many services to central and eastern Europe, it was also boosted by the expansion of the EU in 2004.
Here are options for getting to/from Stansted Airport:
Black cabs A metered tripto/from central London costs £105.
National Express (0870 580 8080; www.nationalexpress.com) Coaches run around the clock, offering some 120 services per day. The A6 runs to Victoria coach station (one way/return £10/17, one hour 45 minutes, every 15 to 20 minutes) via North London (£8/15, one hour). The A9 runs to Stratford (£8/15, 45 minutes, every 30 minutes), from where you can catch a Jubilee line tube (20 minutes) into central London. The A7 runs via Stratford to Victoria between approximately midnight and 5am.
Stansted Express (0845 850 0150; www.standstedexpress.com) This service (one way/return £15/25, 45 minutes, every 15 to 30 minutes) links the airport and Liverpool St station. From the airport the first train leaves at 5.30am (6am Saturday and Sunday), the last just before midnight. Trains depart Liverpool St station from 4.30am (5am Saturday and Sunday) to 11.30pm. If you need to connect with the tube, change at Tottenham Hale for the Victoria line or stay on to Liverpool St station for the Central line. Some early services do not stop at Tottenham Hale. Stansted Express also operates a night coach service (one way/return £15/25, one hour, every 30 minutes) between the last train and the next morning’s first service. Services depart Liverpool St between 2.30am and 4.30am. From the airport, they leave between midnight and 4am. They do not stop at Tottenham Hale.
Its proximity to central London, 6 miles to its west, and to the commercial district of the Docklands, means London City Airport (LCY; 7646 0000; www.londoncityairport.com) is predominantly a business airport, although it does also serve holiday travellers with its 22 Continental European and eight national destinations.
Here are options for getting to/from London City Airport:
Black cabs A metered trip to/from central London costs about £25.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR; 7363 9700; www.tfl.gov.uk/dlr) The Docklands Light Railway stops at London City Airport (£4). The journey to Bank takes 20 minutes, and trains go every 10 minutes from 5.30am to 12.30am Monday to Saturday, and 7am to 11.30pm Sunday.
A smallish airport some 35 miles north of London, Luton (LTN; 01582-405100; www.london-luton.co.uk) caters mainly for cheap charter flights, though the discount airline easyJet operates scheduled services from here.
Here are options for getting to/from Luton Airport:
Black cabs A metered tripto/from central London costs around £100.
Green Line bus 757 (0870 608 7261; www.greenline.co.uk) Buses to Luton (one way/return £10.50/15, one hour) run from Buckingham Palace Rd south of Victoria station, leaving approximately every half-hour from 9.30am to 8pm, with hourly services between 8pm and midnight and one or two staggered services before 9.30am.
Thameslink (national rail enquiries 0845 748 4950; www.thameslink.co.uk) Trains (off-peak one way/return £11.10/20.60, 30 to 40 minutes, every six to 15 minutes 7am to 10pm) run from King’s Cross and other central London stations to Luton Airport Parkway station, from where an airport shuttle bus will take you to the airport in eight minutes.
To drive in London is to learn the true meaning of road rage: traffic jams are common, parking space is at a premium and the congestion charge adds to the general expense, including the high price of petrol. Traffic wardens and wheel clampers operate with extreme efficiency and if your vehicle is clamped it will cost you at least £215 to have it released. If this happens call the number on the ticket; this varies across different London boroughs. If the car has been removed, ring the 24-hour Tracing Section (7747 4747). It will cost you at least £200 to get your vehicle back.
Although driving in London is expensive and often slow, there is no shortage of rental agencies. Competition is fierce, with easycar.com having significantly undersold many of the other more traditional companies over the past few years, forcing down prices. Compare prices, models and agency locations at one of the following websites: www.easycar.com; www.hertz.com; www.avis.com. You should always book in advance as early as possible as cars are often in short supply, especially at weekends.
With the drive to make use of London’s often overlooked ‘liquid artery’, companies running boats on the river have been sprouting up in recent years. Only the Thames Clippers (0870 781 5049; www.thamesclippers.com) really offers commuter services, however. Running from 6am to just after 1am, the services (adult single/return £5/8, child -5yrs and under- half-price, roughly every 20 to 30 minutes) give you access to lots of the river sights. Boats run from Embankment to Woolwich Arsenal Piers, passing the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Greenwich and the O2.
Looking a bit like an urban ski train, the driverless Docklands Light Railway (DLR; 7363 9700; www.tfl.gov.uk/dlr) is basically an adjunct to the Underground. It links the City at Bank and Tower Hill with Beckton and Stratford to the east and northeast and the Docklands (as far as Island Gardens at the southern end of the Isle of Dogs), Greenwich and Lewisham to the south. The DLR runs from 5.30am to 12.30am Monday to Saturday and from 7am to 11.30pm Sunday. Fares are the same as those on the tube, although there are some group discounts and a Rail & River Rover ticket unique to the DLR.
For news of how services are running, call 7222 1234.
Several rail companies operate passenger trains in London, including the Silverlink (0845 601 4867; www.silverlink-trains.com) line and the crowded Thameslink (0845 748 4950; www.thames link.co.uk). Silverlink links Richmond in the southwest with North Woolwich in the southeast via Kew, West Hampstead, Camden Rd, Highbury & Islington and Stratford stations. Thameslink goes from Elephant & Castle and London Bridge in the south through the City to King’s Cross and as far north as Luton. Most lines connect with the Underground system, and Travelcards can be used on them. Note, however, that Oyster prepay cannot yet be used at all train stations.
If you’re staying long term in Southeast London, where suburban trains are usually much more useful than the tube, it’s worth buying a one-year Network Railcard. This card offers one-third off most rail fares in southeast England and on one-day Travelcards for all six zones. Travel is permitted only after 10am Monday to Friday and at any time on Saturday and Sunday. The card costs £25 and is available at most stations.
‘The Tube’, as it’s universally known, extends its subterranean tentacles throughout London and into the surrounding counties, with services running every few minutes from 5.30am to roughly 12.30am (from 7am on Sunday).
It’s incredibly easy to use. Tickets (or Oyster card top-ups) can be purchased from counters or machines at the entrance to each station using either cash or credit card. They’re then inserted into the slot on the turnstiles (or you touch your Oyster card on the yellow reader) and the barrier opens. Once you’re through you can jump on and off different lines as often as you need to get to your desired destination.
The tube map itself is an acclaimed piece of graphic design using coloured lines to demonstrate how the 14 different routes intersect. However, it’s not remotely to scale. The distance between stations is much greater the further from central London you travel, while Leicester Sq and Covent Garden stations are only 250m apart.
Most of the large mainline London stations have left-luggage facilities available, although due to the perceived terrorist threat, baggage lockers no longer exist. Excess Baggage (0800 783 1085; www.excessbaggage.co.uk) has services costing £6 per bag per 24 hours or part thereof. These services operate from Paddington, Euston, Waterloo, King’s Cross, Liverpool St and Charing Cross stations.
Main national rail routes are served by InterCity trains, which can travel up to 225km/h. However, with the privatised service known for its inefficiency, don’t be surprised by delays. Same-day returns and one-week advance purchase are the cheapest tickets for those without rail passes (which are available from mainline train stations). National Rail Enquiries (0845 748 4950; www.nationalrail.co.uk) has timetables and fares.
The high-speed passenger rail service Eurostar (0870 518 6186; www.eurostar.com) links St Pancras with Paris’ Gare du Nord and making the formerly three-hour journey between last two hours and 15 minutes (up to 25 per day); a trip to Brussels is reduced to one hour 50 minutes (up to 12 per day). Some trains also stop at Lille and Calais in France. Fares vary enormously. To Paris/Brussels, for example, costs between £59 for a cheap APEX return (booked at least 21 days in advance, staying a Saturday night) and £309.
Eurotunnel (0870 535 3535; www.eurotunnel.com) transports motor vehicles and bicycles between Folkestone in England and Coquelles (near Calais) in France. Services run up to every 15 minutes (hourly 1am to 6am). Booking online is cheapest, where day/overnight return fares start at £44 and a two- to five-day excursion fare is from £150. All prices include a car and passengers.
For other European train enquiries contact Rail Europe (0844 848 5848; www.raileurope.co.uk).
Cycling along London’s canals or along the South Bank is delightful, but heading through the heavy traffic and fumes of central streets is pretty grim. So not only should you always wear a helmet and have lights on the front and back of your bike if cycling after dusk, you might also want to join the Londoners who also wear facemasks to filter out pollution.
The London Cycling Campaign (LCC; 7928 7220; www.lcc.org.uk) is working towards improving conditions throughout the city, campaigning to establish a comprehensive London cycle network. Also, City Hall and the mayor are very procycling and its popularity has sky-rocketed in recent years. In general things have never been better for cyclists in the city with massive increases in the numbers of cycle lanes.
In conjunction with the LCC, Transport for London publishes a series of free London Cycle Guides. These can be ordered via www.lcc.org.uk or www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/roadusers/cycling/cycleroutes/default.asp, or by calling 7222 1234. Online maps of cycle routes are also available at www.londoncyclenetwork.org.
Bicycles on public transport
Bicycles can be taken only on the District, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan tube lines outside the rush hour, ie 10am to 4pm and after 7pm Monday to Friday. Folding bikes can be taken on any line, however. Bicycles can also travel on the above-ground sections of some other tube lines and the Silverlink line, but not on the DLR.
Restrictions on taking a bike on suburban and mainline trains vary from company to company but many now have carriages with very generous handicapped sections that cyclists can take advantage of when not in use. For details call 0845 748 4950.
London Bicycle Tour Company (7928 6838; www.londonbicycle.com; 1a Gabriel’s Wharf, 56 Upper Ground SE1; Blackfriars) Rentals cost £4 per hour or £19 for the first day, £9 for days two and three, £6 for days four and five, £49 for the first week and £10 for second week. It also offers 3.5 hour bike tours of London (10.30am, 12noon and 2pm daily). (Those with their own bikes get a discount of about 20%.) Routes and prices are on its website. You will need to provide credit card details as a deposit and must show ID.
On Your Bike (7378 6669; www.onyourbike.net; 52-54 Tooley St SE1; London Bridge) Rentals cost £12.50 for the first day, £8 for subsequent days, £35 per week. Prices include hire of a helmet. A deposit of £150 (via credit card) is necessary and you will be required to show ID.
Three-wheeled cycle rickshaws, seating two or three passengers, have been a regular, if much-cursed, part of the Soho scene since the late 1990s. They’re less a mode of transport than a nice gimmick for tourists and the occasional drunk on a Saturday night. Prices start at £5 for a quick trip across Soho. For more information visit www.londonpedicabs.com.