Finding your feet
It may seem daunting at first, but you’ll soon get to grips with London’s network of buses and trains – and you’ll be complaining about it like every other Londoner in no time.
The Tube’s your best bet when you first arrive, as it’s the quickest and easiest way to get around the city. North London is best served by the Underground, but you can get around the parts of the south the tube doesn’t cover pretty easily too on buses and rail services. We’ve outlined the basics, but it’s also worth checking out Transport For London’s website tfl.gov.uk for maps, ticket prices and a handy journey planner.
Tickets and zones
London’s transport services are divided into six zones, and the price of your ticket depends which zones 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.
Make sure you get yourself an Oyster card as soon as you arrive – it’s much cheaper than buying tickets as you go. The electronic smart-card can be topped up and used on the Underground, Overground, bus network and Thames river boats. You can buy one at Tube stations, convenience stores or online at tfl.gov.uk.
You need to pay a £5 deposit when you first get your Oyster, but this is refundable when it is returned. Then add some cash to get started, which will be deducted every time you swipe it for a journey.
Top up via 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.
Zone 1 journeys on the Tube cost £2 with an Oyster but it costs a hefty £4.30 per journey when you pay with cash on the day.
And to take the bus, it’s £1.35
a pop with your Oyster, but
£2.30 in cash.
If you take several journeys in one day on your Oyster, your spending will be capped at the cost of a day Travelcard, so you’ll never be paying more than you would if you’d bought a normal ticket.
Travelcards, or season tickets, are also a good, cheap way to travel, especially if you’re commuting, as they allow you unlimited Tube, bus and train travel in designated zones.
For zones 1-2, a day Travelcard is £8.40 to travel anytime and £7 off peak. Or it’s £29.20 for a week, £112.20 a month and £1,168 a year. See tfl.gov.uk/oyster for more information.
With 11 lines, plus DLR and Overground lines, 260 stations and has 402km of track, the Tube is a vast system. The oldest subway in the world, London’s Metropolitan line was the first to be built in 1863. So now it isn’t in fantastic nick (there’s no air conditioning), but it works alright and it’s how most Londoners get to work.
Affectionately called “the Tube” (or “the fucking bastard Tube” when it’s down), it runs from around 5.30am until just after midnight. It gets pretty crowded at peak times, so if you can avoid it then, do.
Because the Olympics are coming up this summer, engineering works causing lines to shut are common, especially during the weekend. The Underground is set to be crammed when the games arrive in London, so take alternative transport, walk or cycle from July 27 to August 12 if you can. Always check the TfL website ahead of time to find out line closures.
Travel by bus
The London bus system is a labyrinth, which still baffles locals at times, but it’s worth mastering. As buses are cheaper, opting to travel by double decker instead of the Tube is a good way to save your cash. It also covers the areas of London not covered by the Tube, and there are plenty of night buses running when the Underground is shut. Maps and travel information are available via TfL.
Some parts of London are better reached by rail, like Hackney, Battersea, Peckham, Denmark Hill and a host of other spots. The newest addition is the handy East London Line, connecting New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon with Dalston Junction and then onto Highbury and Islington. For up-to-date information on London’s rail services, see the TfL website or nationalrail.co.uk.
Taxis and minicabs
London cabbies are some of the best in the world – they know the streets of the city like the backs of their hands. Yellow lights mean black cabs are available for hire, so flag those ones down. You’ll pay a lot for cabs in London, but they are handy at the end of a night out.
Minicabs are usually a bit cheaper than taxis, and firms are all over the city, but they can’t be flagged, so call ahead. It’s good to ask for the price of your trip first, because they don’t all have fare metres.
Never risk using an unlicensed minicab, no matter how badly you want to get home, because they’re notoriously dangerous.
To get numbers of reputable taxi firms near you, text “CAB” to 60835.