For most people, travel around London is best by public transport. Unless you are staying VERY centrally and intend to walk, public transport is a cheap and efficient way to get around the City. If you are visiting on business and able to charge back taxi fares of course, you may not want to bother, but at certain times of the day, the underground system is still the fastest route for London travel (even faster than a black cab).
It’s also worth noting that the underground map is NOT drawn to scale and much of central London is ‘walkable’. So, for instance if you are staying in or near Trafalgar Square you should easily be able to walk to the main shops of Oxford Street and Regents Street, to sights like Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, to the South Bank for music and theatre and to Soho and the West End for nightlife, food and shows. The Underground (or tube) system is not open 24×7 and although there ARE buses throughout London late at night, they can follow different routes and are known as night buses.
Never use an unlicensed Mini Cab for London travel. In London, the only cabs that you can hail from the street are licensed taxis (mostly black cabs). Mini cabs are available from hotels, restaurants and clubs, but they are also registered and the hotel concierge or restaurant management will call them for you to arrange for them to pick you up.
Driving in London is, in my personal opinion, not a good idea. It’s VERY expensive to park and most of central London is within a congestion charging zone where you will be charged daily simply for being there. Some parts of London have almost exclusive residents only zones and other than on Sundays and Bank Holidays you can find it almost impossible to park on the street. There are special allowances for disabled people travelling in London, but certain areas are except from the standard blue badge agreements and even a disabled driver is very limited in where they can park. More details can be found on the Transport for London link at the bottom of the page.
As a long-term London resident, I genuinely think the London travel system is better than it used to be. But, there are a few tricks you need to understand if you are not going to pay through the nose for public transport. Essentially Transport for London encourages you to pay in advance for a multi-journey ticket for London Travel.
London travel options
- Pay individual fares each time you travel. You will need the correct change on some buses and the fares are sometimes almost twice as much as the cost with a pre-paid card. You may find this form of London travel very frustrating as a result!
- Buy a pre-pay card, called an Oyster card that will charge you as you use it. Oyster cards are quite flexible and will in theory only charge you a set maximum each day equivalent to the daily travel card. You can top them up with a debit card, credit card or cash and you can buy them in advance before you arrive in the UK (there is a £3.00 fee for this service).
- Buy a daily or weekly travel card (paper) that gives you London travel within set zones and either for all times of the day or for off peak only.
Generally, for London travel, I believe Oyster is a little more flexible than a travel card because you don’t have to pre-determine what TIME you plan on travelling or what ZONES you plan travelling to. Transport for London fares are banded into peak and off peak fares and into a series of Zones. Most but not all tourist attractions are in either Zone 1 or 2.
So, the best deal for you will depend on your travel patterns. If you are not sure, then buying an oyster card makes sense for both convenience and flexibility.
You can buy oyster cards in advance through Transport for London, or when you arrive in London from an Oyster card stockist and from most underground stations.
It’s worth picking up a TfL rail map and checking out how the system works. The lines are colour coded on the map and the same coding is used on stations. You need to check the DESTINATION of the train you catch, some lines have several branches and all work in two directions! It’s also worth noting that the underground system is often subject to extensive closures over weekends, so if you are planning travel, either check in the station or online. I find the bus system a little more complicated and the best advice I can give is to work out what bus NUMBER you need in advance of travelling, and ask the driver as you board the bus.
London also has a riverboat and river cruise service and you might like to consider travelling along the Thames from Central London to the Tower of London or up to the Thames Flood Barrier, or going out to Kew Gardens for a day. The different services include guided trips (which can be expensive), river cruises with food and a river taxi, which is currently around £6 for a one way ticket from Westminster up to Canary Wharf or the Tower).
Finally we also have what are affectionately known as ‘Boris Bikes’ (after the mayor of London who introduced them). They are hire bikes available from key London locations. If you are a confident cyclist then why not try! You can cycle from one bike park to another and just leave your bike at your destination (in an appropriate rack!).
For more information about London travel or to check a specific route use the Transport for London link.