London travel made simple: 9 tips for getting around the city
Whether you’ve never been to London before or you know the Underground map like the back of your hand, using London transport can make anyone a bit anxious. Worried about navigating Tube changes that are more like quick changes? not sure you’ll keep track of where you’re going? With our foolproof London travel tips, you’ll become a know-it-all navigator in no time. Need some help travelling into London? Our guide is full of information.
London travel made easy
Use your contactless card on public transport
While you can still purchase paper tickets from machines or use a pre-paid Oyster card, the contactless card system makes paying for your London travel an invisible process. As long as your bank card has the symbol (right) on it, you’re good to go. Using your contactless card on London transport couldn’t be simpler. When you go to a ticket barrier, simply tap the card you wish to pay with on the yellow card reader when you start and end your trip (you might have heard this as “tap in” and “tap out”) and you’re done. The readers will calculate how much your journey costs and then deduct it from your bank account. If you’re unsure of how to pay for your travel, Transport for London employees are at every station for you to answer any payment questions.
Don’t get stung by card clash. If you’ve got multiple bank cards on top of one another, then the card reader may read one card but you wanted it to read another. When using contactless, make sure you use the card you want to and have any other cards you may have firmly stashed away.
Contactless works on the tube and the buses. For the tube, you’ll have to tap in and tap out, but when riding the bus, you just need to tap in!
Best times to travel
To avoid travelling at the busiest times and for a cheaper journey, go at off-peak times. Here’s a simple chart to tell you what’s peak and what’s off-peak.
Peak and off-peak fares only apply from Monday to Friday, with off-peak fares applying all weekends. Fare prices are worked out from when you tap in.
|Peak Fare||Off Peak Fare|
|06:30 to 09:30 (only in Zone 1, if you are travelling from Zone 2 into Zone 1 at this time, it is still off-peak)||09:31 to 15:59|
|16:00 to 19:00||19:01 to 04:29|
When getting about, it’s best to wait for off-peak times for the cheapest deal. When using contactless, there are caps limiting how much you can spend on London travel in one day. Even if you find yourself making lots of trips, you’ll only be charged the maximum amount. This changes depending on what zones you enter, but the maximum on an Oyster daily price cap is £12.50.
What should I do if I get lost?
Even if you’re a London travel whizz, everybody gets it wrong from time to time. With tubes departing from platforms every few minutes, you can hang tight and board the next tube or if you realise you’ve gone too far, change to the platform on the other side and ride back. But tubes sometimes take longer than it would if you walked between stations. Take this moment as an opportunity to explore what’s around you. Who knows, you may find a new restaurant or attraction to visit?
Are there stations to avoid?
Some stations get extremely busy, especially at peak times. If you want to avoid this, then steer away from Covent Garden or Oxford Circus as these tend to get crowded. Just a few minutes walk from Covent Garden is Holborn station, which is much larger and accommodates a greater amount of people at one time and is a perfect alternative for travelling into London to see West End shows at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Aldwych Theatre or Gillian Lynne Theatre. Leicester Square station is also a few minutes walk away from Covent Garden. Getting off here will get you even closer to the Wyndham Theatre and the Harold Pinter Theatre.
For those wanting to stay away from Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road station south of Oxford Street is great for getting on the underground without facing a bundle of people. Plus, it’s right next to the Dominion Theatre, so why face a large queue when you can book tickets to see a West End favourite!
Should I take an Uber or a black cab?
If you’re looking for a cheaper ride and don’t have any cash on you, then an Uber is your best bet. You’ll be able to track when your drivers arriving and you won’t have to worry about setting up a currency-specific card, just hop into your Uber and away you go! But hailing a black cab is part of the London experience. Taxi drivers know their way around the city and can use bus lanes, so it may be quicker to arrive at your destination if you go in a black cab, even if you end up spending a little bit more than you would do in an Uber.
Handy apps to help your travel
Smartphones make it easy to carry the world at your fingertips. Before travelling, download apps that will help your journey go smooth and there really is an app for everything. If it’s the tube map you struggle with, then Tube Map – London Underground has the official tube map and a smart route planner that will help you work out your route online and offline, meaning you don’t need to rely on data.
Citymapper is another London lifeline. Helping people get from A to B by telling you details across a range of transportation methods. Citymapper will give you live data that even tells you how many calories you could burn! It holds everything you need to make your London travel comfortable and work out how to travel in a way that can save you time and money.
Stand still on the right-hand side
Brits take great pride in forming a queue and standing in an orderly fashion. It seems small in the grand scheme of things, but when using an escalator or stairs, stand on the right-hand side. It keeps a flow of people moving quickly without becoming too congested, but also allows for people to run up the left side of the escalator in a hurry! Don’t block someone’s path, just stand on the right and you’ll be making everyone’s travel that little bit easier.
Don’t stop in the middle of the pavement
If you’re walking down a road and you’re unsure of where you’re going, don’t stay in the middle of the path where more people will be walking. Step to the side and look up where you need to go so that people can walk past you and you’re not blocking a group of people behind! If you find yourself lost, step into a coffee shop and just ask a member of staff where you want to go and they’ll definitely know their way around the city to give you some advice. Londoners may seem scary during rush-hour but they’re friendly and approachable and may even offer you more tips to get around.
Hire a bicycle
You may see bikes dotted around the city at some of over 750 docking stations in London. Unofficially known as “Boris bikes”, the Santander Cycles allow for people to travel across London by bike. Not only will you get your exercise, but it could work out much cheaper to put in some pedal power. For £2, you’ll be able to access the bikes for 24 hours and make as many journeys as you need. In this £2, the first 30 minutes of each journey is included, but after this, the bike will cost an extra £2. For around the price of a coffee, why not use the Santander bikes to get your way across London.
If you want to ride a bicycle but don’t know what route to take, there are plenty of bike tours to choose from. Offering tours at any time of day and travelling to historical destinations, they’ll definitely get you exploring!
Be prepared for a change in the weather
You can know the quickest way to get somewhere, but you never know what the weather’s going to do! There’s always a possibility when you step out of the door in Britain that it’s going to rain, so it’s best to carry a waterproof coat in your bag and an umbrella. You don’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm and have to face the day in a damp outfit. Also, the feeling of getting an umbrella out when it starts to rain to everyone’s envy is more than enough to make you feel like an expert at London travel.
Photo credit: Wikipedia under public domain.