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How to get around in London

( blog )

Read time : 6 minutes

Public transport in London is brilliant making owning a car practically unnecessary!

When you first arrive in the UK,  you will probably fly into one of three airports: Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.

Heathrow is approximately 24 km west of central London, and is the most convenient to travel from by public transport, served by tube, trains, buses and coaches. The fastest, but more expensive option at £25 one-way, is the Heathrow Express train which will get you to Paddington station in 15 minutes. From here you can catch trains to the west and south-west of England as well as connect to other lines on the London Underground network. The cheapest option is the tube which, although not as comfortable, will only cost you £6 for a single ticket to central London.

Gatwick is approximately 47 km south of central London. You can take the Gatwick Express to Victoria station where you can then take trains, buses or the tube to your destination. It takes about 35 minutes and will cost £19.90 for a single fare. If you are not in a hurry, you can take a National Express coach. Prices start from around £5 and journey time to Central London is from one to three hours depending on stops and changes.

Stansted is located about 56km north-east of central London. The Stansted Express is the fastest way to get from Stansted to central London, with trains running from 6am till midnight. The average journey time is 45 minutes and costs £17 for a one-way ticket. You can then connect to other lines from Liverpool Street Station.

Once you are in the city, it is really easy to get just about anywhere with an extensive range of transport available.

The Tube

The London Underground, or metro, is known as the 'Tube' in London. It is fast and convenient (when there isn’t a staff strike!) and there are 11 lines available covering 402 km and serving 270 stations. The Tube handles up to 5 million passengers per day!

Stations are easily located by looking for the underground sign and are usually within walking distance of each other. They are split into six zones, depending on location, and fares are charged accordingly.

There are 4 ways to pay to travel on London's transport network.

You can pay with cash, get a travelcard, use an Oyster card or the contactless method - making payments on your debit or credit card.

A single cash fare starts from £4.90. Alternatively, a Travelcard will give you unlimited travel within the zones you purchase for, including use on buses. However, the cashless methods of payment make the standalone one-day paper travelcard redundant and your travel more expensive than it needs to be.

With an Oyster card, you basically purchase your single fare, Travelcard or weekly ticket on your Oyster (for a lower price than paying cash) and then when your ticket expires you buy another on the same Oyster card. Oyster cards can be used on the Tube, National Rail, Buses and Trams. The cheapest single fares are on an Oyster card - £2.40 in Zone 1 and £1.50 in Zone 2.

Another way of using an Oyster is to ‘pay as you go’, this means you put a cash amount on your card (you can do this at most Tube stations) and use it until it runs out. Every time you touch the card to one of the electronic readers it will tell you how much you have left on your card so you know when you have to top-up.

Similarly to the Oyster card, contactless payments are made by tapping your debit or credit card on a reading device. This removes the need to purchase and load up an Oyster card.

The Tube runs from around 5.30am till midnight, depending on where you are beginning your journey, and conveniently links up with bus stops and National Rail stations.

Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and Tramlink

The DLR and Tramlink are basically extensions of the Underground. The DLR is the best way to reach a number of locations in East London. It connects with a number of other train services and can be used to reach Greenwich, Canary Wharf, and Stratford.

The TramLink runs across South London with three routes. The first takes you across South London starting at Wimbledon with many connections to the National Rail System. The second route goes from Croydon to Beckenham Junction and the third route runs from Croydon to Elmers End. Very useful for those IKEA trips!

The red double-decker buses

London's double-decker buses link residential areas of London where the Tube tracks don't go, and also criss-cross Zone 1 as an alternative to the Tube. A ride on a bus is £1.50.

Catching the bus is a great way of seeing London’s streets, but, of course, they almost always take longer than the tube.

The great thing about buses is that when regular bus services stop, night buses take over. They run less frequently but are very useful services to get you home when the Tube shuts down at around 1am. Night buses usually start around midnight and have the letter 'N' before the usual bus number. An easy and cheap option for getting home after a late night in the centre!

National Rail

National Rail is the collective name for the train companies who operate Britain's rail service, the above-ground equivalent of the Tube. These trains can be excellent to use if you live out of Zone 1 and just off a Tube line and want a speedier option than the bus. Main National Rail stations closest to the centre of London are Paddington and Victoria servicing the West and South West, King's Cross and Euston servicing the North, and North East, Waterloo servicing the South and London Bridge and Liverpool Street servicing the South East and East.

River Services

There are a number of different routes along the River Thames. The faster commuter services operate all day from Greenwich Pier to Embankment and from Putney and Chelsea Harbour to Blackfriars during Peak Hours only. Fares for River Services vary a great deal between routes (and provider). Travelcards will get you a discount off the price of the Riverboat services if you show your Travelcard at the time of purchasing your ticket. On some services you will need to buy your ticket on the boat so don’t worry if you can’t find a ticket office or if its closed.

Black Cabs

Black cab drivers know London like the back of their hands as they have to pass s comprehensive test to get their licenses! Cabs are available when the yellow sign above the windscreen is lit and fares are metered. The meter starts at £3, and then increases by approximately £1 per minute. It is possible to pay in cash or by card with no extra charge.

Mini Cabs

Mini cabs are unregistered, freelance competitors of Black Cabs. These are normal looking cars parked on the side of the road offering transport. Mini cabs cannot legally be hailed on the street – they must be hired by phone or pre-booked through a mini cab office. They are not metered so you will need to agree on a fee for the ride before getting in the car. Be wary of drivers who approach you, especially if you’re female. Make sure you only use services from licensed mini cab companies.


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