London is serviced by an extensive network of transport types: Tubes, buses, taxis, riverboats and trams. They are all easy to use, once you know how. Here’s the basics.
Tickets and zones
London’s transport services are divided into six zones with the price of your ticket depending on which zone/s you’re travelling through. Zone 1 covers central London and zones 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 continue in rings going away from the centre. The more zones you travel through the more expensive the ticket.
Get yourself an Oyster Card
Ensure one of the first things you do when you arrive in London is to get yourself an Oyster card – it works out much cheaper to have one of these cards than buying tickets as you go. This electronic smart-card can be topped up and used on the Tube, overground rail, the bus network and the Thames River boats. You can buy one at a Tube station, some convenience stores and online.
It will cost you £5 when you first get your Oyster, but this deposit is refundable on return. Then you top it up with cash which will be deducted every time you swipe it for a journey. You can top up in a number of ways including at the Tube station ticket booths, self-service machines or online. Or you can set your Oyster to be topped up automatically from your bank account whenever it falls below a certain balance.
To give you examples as to why it is essential to get yourself an Oyster Card – A Zone 1 journey on the Tube will cost you a hefty £4.30 per journey when soupy with cash on the day but if you have an Oyster Card the journey will only cost £2. Good value or what? A similar trip on a bus would cost you £1.35 with your Oyster Card and £2.30 in cash without an Oyster Card. So you see, having an Oyster Card will save you loads of cash when travelling around London.
Invest in a Travelcard if you are working and commuting
Travelcards, or season tickets, are also a good and cheap way to travel, especially if you are working and commuting, as they allow you unlimited Tube, bus and train travel in designated zones.
For example, to travel in zones 1-2, a day Travelcard is £8.40 to travel anytime and £7 off peak. Or currently it’s £29.20 for a week, £112.20 a month and £1,168 a year.
They say the London Underground, or what most affectionately call it ‘the Tube’ is the easiest and quickest form of transport in London. Yes, to the tourist it can be, but to those who rely on the daily services it can be a nightmare particularly when you are in a hurry to get somewhere and their is a signal failure. The Tube reminds me of a nursery rhyme where the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead is either very, very good or awful.
The Underground is a deceptive name, as only the central stations are underground; once you leave this central area the stations are at ground level. It is the oldest subway in the world with the first line, the Metropolitan Line built in 1863, and stations can be dirty, smelly, stuffy and claustrophobic with no air conditioning and they can be extremely crowded during peak times. Some lines and stations are deeper underground than others and you can imagine people taking shelter in them during the Blitz during World War II.
There are 11 Tube lines, each with its own distinguishable colour. Tubes operate from 5.30am until about midnight Monday to Saturday and from around 7.30am to 11.30pm on Sunday (if you are arriving at Heathrow on a Sunday the trains run from around 6.00am). Stations where you can change from one line to another are indicated by a black circle and are called mainline stations. There is absolutely no smoking anywhere on the Underground since the King’s Cross fire of 1987. Night Tubes began in 2016. Check out the maps at stations when you arrive as more routes are being added all the time.
London’s bus network is one of the largest urban bus networks in the world and can be baffling at times. Every day around 6,500 buses travel the 700-odd routes in London carrying around 5.4 million passengers. In central London the red double-decker buses are famous and they are a very good way to get around the city. They are also slightly cheaper than using the Tube so will help you save a bit of cash. The best place for sightseeing is upstairs on the front seats. The buses also cover many of the areas the Tube doesn’t and there are plenty of night buses running when the Underground shuts for the night. There are two types of bus stops: fare stage or compulsory stops and request stops. The buses will stop at all fare stages unless they are full. You need to hail the bus by putting your arm out if you are at a request stop–you might want to stand at a bus stop and check it out, inconspicuously of course, but that is the way to learn. The front of the bus will have the route number and final destination indicated. Sometimes buses do not go to the end of the route, so read the front of the bus carefully.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
London’s first enclosed dock, The Isle of Dogs was opened in 1802. Over the next 120 years the docks were a major centre of employment. In the 1960’s a dramatic change occurred in the way imports and exports were transported which led to shipping traffic moving away from the East London Docks to coastal ports. This left London with a large expanse of unused land. Today, it is known as the Docklands, where many people live. The Docklands is serviced by the Docklands Light Railway which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 31 July, 1987.
London’s tram network, Tramlink, was introduced to South London in 2000. The network runs from Wimbledon through Croydon to Beckenham.
The black cab is synonymous with travel in London. The older, rounder model black cabs are being privatised which has led to many changing their colour; some even have advertising plastered all over them. There are also newer, squarer models of cab driving the streets. They can take up to five passengers with three sitting across the back seat and two on Pull-down seats which spring back when you get off them. Cabs can be hailed on the street when the orange ‘For hire’ sign is illuminated. There is flag-fall fee (the initial fee for hiring the cab) and their prices are listed on the dashboard along with the driver’s identification.
Mini Cabs and Uber
Mini-cabs are a private-run network of cars. They must be ordered in advance. They do not have meters. You tell them (the driver or booker) where you want to go and they will quote you a price for the journey. You can book by phone, at their office or online. Uber is very popular in the UK and can be easily booked online.
The Thames has been a water thoroughfare for centuries however, it is undergoing a renaissance. In 1997, the Cross River Partnership (CRP), a consortium of public and local authorities, private sector organisations and voluntary bodies with an interest in promoting the use of the River Thames, began working on proposals to develop new river piers and boat services. You can now catch a boat from 27 piers along the Thames.
One of the best ways to discover London is to walk around the streets. Many of the major sites are grouped together. There are also loads of blue plaques all over the city showing where famous people have lived.
Worth a visit is the Transport for London website www.tfl.gov.uk for maps, ticket prices and a handy journey planner.