by Sandy Lai
Mention London transportation and you immediately think of its iconic Underground signs, double-decker buses and black cabs. With the wide range of options available, getting around this huge city can be both convenient and confusing. This article will get you better acquainted with your travel choices so you can focus on enjoying your time rather than how you get around.
Walking is a rewarding way to explore London. However, there is often a lack of visible street signs, which can be frustrating and time consuming when trying to get somewhere. Rather than spend a fortune on roaming on your smartphone, grab a London A-Z map book, available at any bookstore in the city. This handy tool has been helping the lost since the 1930s.
Transport for London
When you take the tube your fares depend on your destination
The Underground (the Tube), the Overground, DLR, buses, riverbuses and Tramlink are all part of the Transport for London network. Most tourists (and residents) will never need to use riverbuses or the Tramlink. Riverbus fares are also higher, so if you want to see things along the river, an actual boat tour might be a better idea. In any case, while using public transit in London, the simplest and cheapest way to buy tickets is to purchase an Oyster card. This reloadable smartcard can be used to touch in and out of stations to pay your fare; and the fares are cheaper this way than paying by cash.
London Zones: When traveling by Tube, Overground, DLR or rail, your fare is determined by which zones you travel through and if you travel during peak or off-peak times. The transit network is divided into 9 zones, with zone 1 being in the city center, zone 2 a little further out, and so on. You will most likely do the majority of your traveling within zones 1-3, unless you take the Tube to Heathrow Airport in zone 6. Traveling through zone 1 at any point will increase your fare, and the number of zones traveled also affects it. You can add a “travelcard” on your Oyster for unlimited travel between specified zones in a given time period. You can see a map with the zones here and fares here.
The Tube: The Journey Planner on the Transport for London website is very handy and will include all transportation options. There are many apps available for your smartphone with offline access that can help you plan your journey on the Tube – TubeMap is recommended for the iPhone. Note that the last Tube is around 12:30am, so if you plan to be out late, check out your late night transit options first on Journey Planner.
The red buses are London's signature. Take them at night if you missed the last tube
Night Buses: So you’ve missed your last Tube. Without internet access, you can’t use Journey Planner; so what to do after a late night out? There are several buses that run throughout the night, though it can be hard to determine exactly which route to take. Each bus stop has a letter. If you head to a bus stop, there should be a map with night bus routes that indicate the location of the stop in the area you need to be at. You can look up your destination on the map, but if there are no buses in the area that go there, then you’re in trouble. But wait! Why not use that London A-Z book to find a location listed on the bus map that is the closest to your destination. At least then you’re headed in the right direction, and you’re likely to find a connecting bus to your final stop. And of course, you can always take a cab…more on that later.
National Rail Services
As the name suggests, National Rail runs services through London that connect the city to other areas of the country. The Oyster card can be used at most National Rail stations within London and follow the same fare rules as the Tube. Check a map if you’re unsure if you can use the Oyster card or if you have to buy a separate ticket to your destination.
Black Cabs and Minicabs
The classic black cab is a safe way to get home, and also the priciest. These licensed cabs can be hailed or booked. A cheaper alternative is a licensed minicab, which does not have a meter, so ask for a price ahead of time. There are numerous minicab companies, but you must book one at an office, by phone or email. They are not permitted to pick up passengers in the streets. Never get into an unlicensed minicab, there have been many reports of sexual assault. Look for the Transport for London license disc in the windshield to ensure they’re licensed.
Barclays Cycle Hire
A recent addition to London’s transport lineup, Barclays Cycle Hire allows you to rent a bike at over 400 docking stations around the city. With reasonable pricing and 6000 bikes available for hire, you can enjoy the freedom of cycling through the city, including its many trails.