London for visitors with a disability

The quality of provision for people with a disability varies enormously between hotels, restaurants and sights in London. But many of the city’s top attractions and entertainment venues can be enjoyed with a limited amount of additional planning. The transport network is continually improving in regards to accessibility and there are a number of ways to ensure that getting around is as simple as possible.

The City of London's skyline. Image by Matt Kieffer / CC BY-SA 2.0 The City of London's skyline. Image by Matt Kieffer / CC BY-SA 2.0

Accessible transport

The London transport network is not 100% accessible, but with forward planning visitors with mobility problems should be able to get around most destinations without too much difficulty. Plan your trip on the Transport for London (tfl.gov.uk) site, which has an online journey planner that allows you to filter your search according to accessibility requirements, as well as informative videos about particular modes of transport. Assistance and advice is also available on the 24-hour helpline (0343 222 1234), or use Textphone on 0800 112 3456.

You can travel with assistance dogs across the entire London transport network.  And it’s also worth checking whether it may be quicker to get between points under your own steam rather than using public transport – central London is surprisingly compact in places.

London Underground, Overground and the DLR

Seats are available on the majority of London Underground, Overground and Docklands Light Railway platforms, while audio and visual info is provided on most trains and platforms. Almost all stations have wide ticket gates for wheelchair access or those with guide dogs.

Around a quarter of tube stations, half of the Overground stations and all DLR stations are step-less between street and platforms but some stations still present challenges for people with a disability. These include gaps between the platform and the carriage door and high vertical gaps into the carriage from the platform (although all trains have clearly marked priority seating next to doors) or simply inaccessible platforms for those in wheelchairs. TfL provides guides detailing many different aspects of accessibility, including information for those that need to avoid steps (tfl.gov.uk/forms).

Staff assistance

At almost all Tube, Overground and DLR stations there will be staff that can assist you, although you may have to wait (there’s no need to pre-book, but you can if you prefer on 0845 601 4867). There are also points inside stations where you can contact staff from the platform. Where lift access is unavailable from a particular station, staff will advise on alternative routes. There’s also a travel mentoring service where you can be accompanied on your first few journeys on the network.

Buses

All of London’s 8000 buses are low-floor and able to ‘kneel’ to the curb to allow access, and have designated wheelchair spaces and priority seats near doors for people with a disability. The next stop, the route number and the final destination of the bus are all automatically announced. You’ll find live arrival information displayed at 2500 bus stops around town.

Taxis

All licensed London black cabs are wheelchair-accessible and come equipped with induction loops, intercoms, intermediate steps, swivel seats, grab handles and other features; assistance dogs can board. If booking a licensed minicab, check on the accessibility features available or request a particular vehicle.

Driving

Holders of a Blue Badge (a Europe-wide scheme for drivers with a disability) have additional rights in relation to parking. Blue Badge parking is pretty restricted in central London however, and different rules may apply in certain areas. For more information and interactive maps check out the Blue Badge website (bluebadgelondon.org.uk) and Parking for Blue Badges (parkingforbluebadges.com).

Boats

For river services, all piers are wheelchair accessible, with step-free access from pier to boat, but passengers should consult individual operators about the level of accessibility on board their boats.

Bikes

Launched in 2010, London's cycle hire scheme (tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles) is an good way of getting around for those who are able to cycle, have a credit or debit card and are over the age of 14 (or 18 to hire independently). Hundreds of docking stations supplying thousands of the three-speed public-use bikes are dotted around London. The pricing structure encourages short journeys.

Restaurants

Numerous websites review restaurants in London. Lonely Planet has a wide selection, while World in a Wheelchair (worldinawheelchair.com) and Accessible Countryside (accessiblecountryside.org.uk) list pubs and restaurants with accessible facilities. It's worth phoning in advance to confirm the set-up.

More information

Transport for London has a large-print downloadable guide to getting around London and also provides a free Dial-a-Ride service for people with a disability who are unable to use public transport – check the website.

Beyond London, if you’re travelling on National Rail (nationalrail.co.uk) check out Disability Onboard (disability-onboard.co.uk) for tips and information. For coach travel, National Express (nationalexpress.com) has a helpline (0871 781 8181) and can assist people with a disability if given 36 hours' notice.

London is generally well provided with disabled loos, from fast food outlets to shopping centres, cinemas and public conveniences. Use the search engine on Inclusive London (inclusivelondon.com) to find one.

Useful websites

  • Thorn Tree (lonelyplanet.com/thorntree) Home to Lonely Planet's Travellers with Disabilities forum.
  • Inclusive London (inclusivelondon.com) Comprehensive website detailing sites around London with icons indicating provisions made for each listing, including guide dog accessibility, wheelchair access, accessible lift provision and facilities for the partially sighted or blind.
  • Transport For All (transportforall.org.uk). Information about accessible travel across the capital.
  • gov.uk (gov.uk/transport-disabled) The UK government's portal includes useful tips for travellers with disabilities.
  • Visit London (visitlondon.com/traveller-information/essential-information/accessible-london) Detailed information for disabled travellers about London’s attractions, transport, hotels, tours and neighbourhoods.
  • VisitEngland (visitengland.com/accessible-england). The focus here is on accessible England, with a link to a page on easy access in London.
  • Tourism for All (tourismforall.org.uk) Information on accessible travel and leisure across the UK, with a membership scheme offering discounts, further information and news. They also host the useful webpage Open Britain (openbritain.net)
  • Disabled Go (disabledgo.com/accessible-london-visit-london) Together with VisitLondon, Disabled Go – an organisation that sends reviewers to destinations all over England to assess their accessibility – has developed an Accessible London guide, which is multilingual and equipped with voice-over option.
  • Euan's Guide (euansguide.com) This recently launched, award-winning review site has a page dedicated to London.
  • Changing Places (changing-places.org) For people who cannot use a standard accessible toilet, this website has a search function for publicly accessible toilets with a height-adjustable changing bench and a hoist.

This article was first published in May 2012 and was updated by Sally Schafer  in March 2015.