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Getting Around

The Basics

Etiquette

  • Have your ticket or card ready before you go through the gate. Londoners are well practised at moving through ticket barriers without breaking stride.
  • On escalators, stand on the right-hand side and use the left if you want to walk down. Failure to observe this can cause consternation and tutting among other users, especially during rush hour.
  • Take your rucksack off at rush hour to avoid sweeping off somebody's newspaper, tablet or child.
  • Give up your seat for people less able to stand than you – people with reduced mobility have priority over the seats closest to the doors on the tube.
  • Cars will almost always stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings without a traffic light; remember to look right first!

Key Routes

Bus Route 15 This ‘heritage’ bus route uses the classic Routemaster double-decker buses and takes in the Tower of London, St Paul's, the Strand and Trafalgar Sq.

Bus Route 9 Another 'heritage' classic Routemaster double-decker bus passing Somerset House, Trafalgar Sq, Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge and Kensington High St.

Bus Route RV1 Links the sights along the South Bank with Covent Garden across the river.

DLR: Bank to Greenwich Bag the seats at the front for an amazing sightseeing trip through the Docklands and Canary Wharf.

Tube: Piccadilly Line This tube line stops at some of London’s key sights and neighbourhoods – Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge – and also runs from all Heathrow airport terminals.

How to Hail a Taxi

  • To hail a black cab, look for a stationary or approaching cab with its ‘For Hire’ sign lit up.
  • If the car is approaching, stand in a prominent place on the side of the road and stick out your arm.
  • Alternatively find them at the numerous taxi ranks dotting the city (at stations, airports, outside big hotels etc).
  • Use a smartphone app such as mytaxi (https://uk.mytaxi.com/hailo), which uses your phone's GPS to find the nearest available black cab.

Tickets & Passes

  • The cheapest and most convenient way to pay for public transport is to buy an Oyster Card, a smart card on which you can store credit. The card works on the entire transport network and can be purchased from all tube and train stations and some shops.
  • Oyster Cards will work out whether to charge you per journey, for a return or for a day Travelcard.
  • You need to pay a £5 deposit per Oyster Card, which you will get back when you return the card, along with any remaining credit.
  • If you're staying for more than just a few days, consider getting a weekly or monthly pass (which can be loaded on to the Oyster Card).
  • Paper tickets are still available but are more expensive than Oyster Card fares.
  • Contactless cards can be used instead of Oyster Cards (they benefit from the same 'smart-fare' system); just check for international fees with your card issuer.

Key Phrases

Black cab London’s signature taxi. Despite the name, they're not all black!

Boris bike A colloquialism that has stuck for the red Santander-branded bikes for hire all across London. Nicknamed after former mayor – and current Foreign Secretary – Boris Johnson.

Contactless Payment card (debit or credit) that can be used to make quick (and reduced fare) payments without signature or chip and pin; used in the same way as an Oyster Card.

DLR Docklands Light Railway, an overground, driver-less train in East London.

Minicab A taxi that cannot be hailed in the street and must be pre-booked over the phone, in person with the dispatcher (offices generally have an orange flashing light) or through apps such as Uber.

Oyster Card Smart-card ticket for London’s transport network.

Night tube London's underground all-night service, running 24 hours on Friday and Saturday across five lines.

The tube London’s underground metro system.

When to Travel

  • Rush hour is between 6.30am and 9.30am and from 4pm to 7pm.
  • Travelling at these times can be uncomfortably crowded: think seat races, face-in-armpit standing, toe-treading and frayed nerves.
  • Tube fares are more expensive at rush hour.
  • Weekends are notorious for engineering works, when entire tube lines or sections shut down. Replacement bus services are usually in place, but they take longer so try to plan ahead.
  • On Sunday to Thursday nights, the tube stops running around 12.30am. The Night Tube operates a 24-hour service on Friday and Saturday nights, covering the Central, Jubilee, Victoria, Northern and Piccadilly lines, with trains running roughly every eight to 10 minutes. Night Tube fares are standard off-peak.
  • Night buses cover all of London, but some services only run every half-hour. Check times before leaving.

Travel at Night

There are some 50 night buses (prefixed with the letter 'N'), which run from around midnight to 5am, and another 60 buses that run 24 hours a day. Their stops and routes are well signposted. The tube runs regular trains along five lines (Central, Victoria, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly) through central London on Friday and Saturday all night. Public transport is usually safe at night, but use common sense: stick to busy carriages or sit near the bus driver.

Top Tips

  • As a general rule, eschew the tube within Zone 1 unless going from one end to the other: cycling, walking or the bus will be cheaper/quicker.
  • Check www.tfl.gov.uk or advanced notices in tube stations for engineering works and line closures at weekends.
  • Get an Oyster Card – and return it when you leave to get the £5 deposit back, along with any remaining credit.
  • Santander Cycles are good for short trips. Get a rental bike for longer trips.

  • Hail black cabs in the street and book ahead for a minicab.

Left Luggage

Left-luggage facility Excess Baggage operates at London’s main train stations and airports: Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, Luton Airport, St Pancras, Paddington, Euston, Victoria, King’s Cross, Liverpool St and Charing Cross. The pricing structure varies but allow £11 per 24-hour slot.

Cable Car

The Emirates Air Line is a cable car linking the Royal Docks in East London with North Greenwich some 90m above the Thames. The journey is brief, and rather pricey, but the views are stunning.

Walking

You can't beat walking for neighbourhood exploration. There are plenty of bridges across the Thames and a couple of pedestrian tunnels beneath the river too. It's also worth noting that some tube stations can be far closer to each other on the ground than they may appear on the tube map and it can be quicker to walk (eg Covent Garden to Leicester Square).

There are two pedestrian tunnels beneath the River Thames; one at Greenwich and one at Woolwich. Both can be an interesting, diverting, free and unusual way of getting between the north and south sides of London.

Underground, DLR & Overground

The London Underground (‘the tube’; 11 colour-coded lines) is part of an integrated-transport system that also includes the Docklands Light Railway (DLR; www.tfl.gov.uk/dlr; a driverless overhead train operating in the eastern part of the city) and Overground network (mostly outside of Zone 1 and sometimes underground). Despite the never-ending upgrades and 'engineering works' requiring weekend closures, it is overall the quickest and easiest way of getting around the city, if not the cheapest.

The first trains operate from around 5.30am Monday to Saturday and 6.45am Sunday. The last trains leave around 12.30am Monday to Saturday and 11.30pm Sunday.

Additionally, selected lines (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.

During weekend closures, schedules, maps and alternative route suggestions are posted in every station, and staff are at hand to help redirect you.

Some stations, most famously Leicester Sq and Covent Garden, are much closer in reality than they appear on the map.

Fares

  • London is divided into nine concentric fare zones.
  • It will always be cheaper to travel with an Oyster Card or a contactless card than a paper ticket.
  • Children under the age of 11 travel free; 11 to 15 year olds are half price if registered on an accompanying adult's Oyster Card (register at Zone 1 or Heathrow tube stations).
  • If you’re in London for a longer period and plan to travel every day, consider a weekly or even a monthly Travelcard.
  • 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.

Oyster Card

The Oyster Card is a smart card on which you can store credit towards ‘prepay’ fares, as well as Travelcards valid for periods from a day to a year. Oyster Cards are valid across the entire public transport network in London.

All you need to do when entering a station is touch your card on a reader (which has a yellow circle with the image of an Oyster Card on it) and then touch again on your way out. The system will then deduct the appropriate amount of credit from your card, as necessary. For bus journeys, you only need to touch once upon boarding. Note that some train stations don't have exit turnstiles, so you will need to tap out on the reader before leaving the station; if you forget, you will be hugely overcharged.

The benefit lies in the fact that fares for Oyster Card users are lower than standard ones. If you are making many journeys during the day, you will never pay more than the appropriate Travelcard (peak or off-peak) once the daily ‘price cap’ has been reached.

Oyster Cards can be bought (£5 refundable deposit required) and 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.

Contactless cards (which do not require chip and pin or a signature) can now 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 foreign visitors should bear in mind the cost of card transactions.