Pick up a tube map and an Oyster Card as soon as you arrive and memorise the Transport for London web address — www.tfl.gov.uk — it’s journey planner is extremely useful.
You should also buy a London A-Z street directory (available at all good newsagents) — every Londoners bible.
The London Underground, or ‘the tube’, has 275 stations and is the world’s oldest subterranean transport system. It runs from about 5.30am until just after midnight and the map of its network is made up of 12 colour-coded lines, including the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) in the east.
The tube can be crowded during rush hour and is prone to delays and breakdowns but Transport for London ensures Londoners that it’s because of old equipment that will be refurbished by 2020.
However, the tube is more reliable than the locals like to let on and is usually the quickest way to get from point A to B. Avoid peak times and your journey should be smooth.
The red bus network is cheaper, but often slower, than the tube or train. Routes reach every corner of the capital.
Night buses — with the letter ‘N’ before the route number — run all night.
Single tickets for the bus can only be used once per journey and can’t be carried onto other buses. If you want to make multiple journeys by bus it’s best to use an Oyster card or Bus Pass/Travelcard.
Travelling to some parts of suburban London is best accomplished on mainline rail services. Again, the network is complicated, but all the information you need will be on the Transport for London website.
Tickets and zones
London’s Underground and rail network is divided into six zones and the price of your ticket dependents on which zones your journey covers.
Zone 1 covers Central London, with Zones 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 spiralling in rings around it.
Get an Oyster card! It is an electronic smartcard-type ticket that will save you money.
Oyster can can be used on the Underground, the bus network and some Overland services.
Buy an Oyster card from any station or ticket stop (there’s a £3 refundable deposit). Make sure you register the card so that you can get the Oyster card replaced if it gets lost. In some instances, you may be able to get the money you had on the lost card transferred to the new one.
Pay As You Go
Once you have the Oyster card you add any amount of money on it and the fare is then docked from your Oyster card when you pass through the ticket barriers or board a bus. Unfortunately you cannot use Pay As You Go on mainline trains (but your Travelcards are valid).
When the money runs out, you simply add more to your card at one of the ticket machines in every station. You can also set up the Oyster so it automatically tops itself up from your bank account.
Oyster is the most convenient and cheapest way to travel. A Zone 1 tube journey costs £1.50 when paid with an Oyster card, but £4 if paid in cash. Your Oyster card is also capped at a daily amount. Similarly, a journey on any bus service costs 90p when paid by Oyster but £2 in cash.
Season tickets, called Travelcards, are also available and allow the holder unlimited tube, and train travel in the designated zones (and bus travel in all zones).
Travelcards covering Zones 1 and 2 cost £6.80 a day at peak times, £24.20 a week, £93 a month and a whopping £968 a year. You can also get a Bus Pass for travel on buses only for £3.50 a day, £13 a week, £50 a month and £520 a year. (Prices as at September 2008)
Other transport options
Taxis and minicabs
Black cabs are as famous as London’s red buses, and they don’t only come in the black variety. You can hail them on the street — if the light is on, they’re available. They’re pricey, but can seat up to five people.
Minicabs are ordinary, unmetered cars which operate as taxis. Transport for London has numbers for licensed minicab firms. You can book by phone or in person from the company’s offices, which are located all over the city.
It’s illegal for minicab drivers to pick up passengers on the street. Fares should be agreed in advance and are usually cheaper than black cabs. There are many unlicensed — and illegal — taxis operating in London. Use them at your own risk. There is a high rate of women sexually assaulted by illegal minicab drivers, so it’s best to be careful.
Don’t forget that the cheapest, easiest and, sometimes, quickest way to get around London might be to buy a bike and get cycling. Log on to the London Cycling Campaign to find a bike shop in London (including second-hand bike shops). People who join London Cycling Campaign get up to 15 per cent off bikes and accessories at the listed shops, which can save you a packet on your new wheels. Don’t forget to invest in a decent lock to beat those pesky bike thieves.
There are several boat services running regularly up and down the length of the Thames in London. Details are at Transport for London.