London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents' perpetual (and sometimes justified) grumbling about unreliability, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere for visitors and residents alike.
In central London use a combination of the transport options listed below - and check your map! In many cases you can easily walk from one place to another or use the buses. Be a Londoner and only use the Tube as a way of travelling longer distances. You're here to see London - you can't see it underground!
Transport for London (TfL) is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. TfL publishes a useful 'coping guide' specially designed for travellers who wish to use public transport during their visit to London. This can be downloaded in PDF format and printed as a nine-page brochure. TfL also offers a 24-hour travel information line, charged at premium rate: tel +44 843 222 1234 (or text 60835) for suggestions on getting from A to B, and for up to the minute information on how services are running. Fortunately for visitors (and indeed residents) there is a single ticketing system, Oyster, which enables travellers to switch between modes of transport on one ticket.
The main travel options in summary are:
Oyster is a contactless electronic smartcard run by Transport for London. In general, Oyster is the most cost-effective option if you plan to be in London for any more than a couple of days, or if you intend to make return visits to the city: the savings quickly recover the initial purchase cost. You can buy an Oyster card from any Tube station for a deposit of £5. You can "top up" an Oyster card with electronic funds. This cash is then deducted according to where you travel. The cost of a single trip using the Oyster card is considerably less than buying a single paper ticket with cash. Prices vary depending on distance travelled, whether by bus or tube, and on the time of day. You can also add various electronic seven-day, 1 month and longer-period Travelcards onto an Oyster, and the card is simply validated each time you use it.
The deposit is fully refundable if you hand it in at any staffed Tube station's ticket office, and you will also get any pay-as-you-go credit refunded. However, your Oyster card, and the credit on it, never runs out or expires, so it's often worth keeping your Oyster around in case you return to London. Be prepared to give your signature on receipts or even show ID for refunds over a few pounds.
Oyster is valid on all red London buses, and almost all trains in London: a list of destinations is available on the London Tube and Rail Services map. Oyster is not valid on buses or trains outside London: if you need to travel beyond the stations on the map, you will have to pay for a paper ticket. (If you do not, you may be liable for a penalty fare or prosecution!) Oyster is also not accepted on long-distance coaches, nor on tour buses, charter buses or on the community bus route 812 in Islington.
Also, Oyster can not be used on:
If you have a National Railcard, such as the 16-25 Railcard or the Senior Railcard, you can register this with your Oyster card at a Tube ticket office to receive substantial discounts on your off-peak pay-as-you-go fares.
When using your Oyster card to travel, make sure the reader is displaying an orange light, then place it flat against the reader. Listen carefully for a single beep, and watch for a green light: if this happens, it means your card has been accepted, and you can proceed. If you hear two beeps and see a red light, this means your card has not been accepted. Take the card off the reader, wait for the orange light, and try again; if this continues to happen, ask for help from a member of staff.
When getting on any kind of train, such as the Tube, the DLR or the London Overground, simply touch your Oyster card on the yellow circular reader at the start and end of your journey. At stations with ticket gates, these readers will be on the right-hand side of the gates; at stations without gates, they will be on free-standing cabinets. Always make sure you touch in at the start, and out at the end of your journey! If you do not, the system has no way of knowing where you have travelled, and you will be charged the maximum fare.
Usually you will not need to touch your Oyster card on a reader when changing trains. However, some stations have pink Oyster "route validators" on the platforms: if you are getting off one train and getting onto another at one of these stations, touch your Oyster on the pink reader so that the system charges you the right fare for the route you have taken. There are a few other situations where you might need to touch out when changing trains: always ask a member of railway staff if you are in doubt.
When using a London bus, you only touch in once, when getting on the bus. Most buses have their Oyster reader on the ticket machine next to the driver. Some buses have Oyster readers on poles next to the middle and rear doors. You don't need to touch out when you get off the bus!
Some buses on routes 9 and 15 in central London are operated by heritage w:Routemasters. These buses have only one entrance, at the back, and are operated by conductors. Simply take your seat on the bus, and have your Oyster card ready: the conductor will take your card and scan it with a hand-held ticket machine.
When using a tram, simply touch your Oyster card on the reader on the tram platform before you get on a tram.
You can top up your Oyster card with electronic cash at any Tube station ticket machine or ticket office (you can use a credit card if it has a PIN number) with Oyster pay-as-you-go, also known as PrePay. Money is then deducted from your Oyster card each time you travel. When travelling by train, the fare is calculated based on where you started and ended your journey. Pay-as-you-go is much cheaper than paying by cash for each journey. For instance, a cash fare on the Tube in Zone 1 costs £4.50, while with an Oyster Card it costs £2.10. Furthermore, a cash bus fare is £2.40 while with Oyster it is £1.40. Bus fares are flat and you will be charged the same fare every time you get on the bus, regardless of whether you're getting off after one stop or going right to the end of the route.
The amount of Oyster credit deducted from your card in one day is capped at the cost of the equivalent day Travelcard for the journeys you have made. This means that on a day-to-day basis, you will always get the best fares when using Oyster pay-as-you-go. If you travel by bus only, your total fares are capped at £4.40 each day: this makes bus travel very good value in central London if you are making lots of journeys.
Don't forget: when travelling by train, make sure you touch your Oyster in and out at the start and end of each journey, or you will be charged extra!
A Travelcard gives you unlimited travel on trains within the relevant zones, and unlimited travel on all red London buses, even outside the zones of your Travelcard. You can have your Travelcard loaded onto your Oyster, or you can have it as a paper ticket. For periods longer than 7 days, you will usually need to register your Oyster card or provide some form of photographic I.D.
The above prices are adult prices and are correct throughout 2013. For an up-to-date and comprehensive list of fares, see TfL's web site.
If you are using Oyster and travel beyond the zones of your Travelcard, you will be charged an extension fare from your pay-as-you-go credit when you touch out at your destination. If you are using a paper Travelcard and need to travel beyond your zones, you should alight at the boundary of your last valid zone and buy a ticket for the rest of your journey: if you do not, you will be charged a penalty fare and may be prosecuted!
The following table summarises the validity of the different tickets you can use on Oyster. For most tourists, trains and buses are the only transport you will use, but be aware that Oyster is not valid at all on airport express trains to Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted or Southend. However, Oyster is valid on the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport, as this is an Underground train.
The London Underground has connections to all terminals at Heathrow (including Terminals 4 & 5) and most major London rail termini,
with the exception of Fenchurch Street. A number of interchange hubs are also served (such as Farringdon, Elephant & Castle, Harrow & Wealdstone and Stratford )
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker's delight. In many instances, walking is the quickest method of transport between two points.
Because Britain drives on the left hand side of the road, for most foreign visitors it can be all too easy to forget that traffic will come at you from the opposite direction than you are used to when crossing a street - for this reason remember to look right when you cross the road. If you are using a pedestrian crossing, don't think it's safe to risk it, even if you can't see any traffic coming: always wait for the green man to appear, and then cross quickly and carefully.
Particularly on Central London's busiest streets, it is easy to spot native Londoners as they weave in and out of the large crowds at fast speed; tourists who cannot will stand out. Make sure you're aware of your surroundings when in London—Londoners are usually very considerate, but a group of tourists standing in the middle of the pavement can be a major annoyance!
In some instances it can be more pleasant or faster to walk your intended route instead of taking the Tube. Walking to another Tube station can also help you to avoid crowds. By looking at a map you'll notice that some central London Tube stations are very close to each other.
The London Underground, known popularly as The Tube due to its tube-like tunnels drilled through the London clay, is a network of 11 lines which criss-cross London in one of the largest underground rail networks in the world. It was also the first, with the oldest section of the Metropolitan Line dating back to 1863. The Tube is an easy method of transport even for new visitors to London.
The Tube is London's equivalent to subway and metro systems in other world cities.
The routes operated by the London Underground fall into 2 broad typesː the older 'sub-surface' lines, such as the Circle and District lines, date from the nineteenth century. The newer (a term used loosely here) 'deep level' routes, such as the Northern and Piccadilly lines, were largely constructed in the early- to mid- twentieth century. Each line has stations with interesting architectural and artistic features typical of the era they were opened. As you travel around the network, look out for Victorian finery, Edwardian glazed tiles, smooth Art Deco symmetry and striking modern masterpieces.
Although not strictly part of the London Underground, the zonal fare system includes the Docklands Light Railway (or "DLR", a local transit system in the Docklands area using computer-operated "driverless" trains) and the Croydon Tramlink routes.
In addition to the Underground, there are routes termed 'London Overground' which are operated as part of the National Rail network, but on which certain Underground zonal fares can be used.
Travel on the tube system will always require the purchase of a ticket or the use of an Oyster card if you have one; fare evasion is treated as a serious matter.
Prices given are as of January 2013.
Single tickets are charged at two rates, depending on the payment method. Cash fares are zonal, Zones 1-2 being £4.50 between any two stations in those zones, a zone 1-6 single ticket is £5.50, Single Oyster fares are charged by the number of zones crossed, starting at £2.10 for 1 zone up to £5.50 for 6 zones. There are additional fares payable for zones beyond 6, but these are mostly outside what is considered London. Paper travelcards valid for 1 day, 3 days or 7 days are also available and can also be used on buses, National Rail trains, the DLR and Croydon Tramlink. They are priced by zones: a 1-day travelcard for Zones 1-2 costs £8.80 (Day anytime). Under operator-specific schemes, registered students, seniors and the disabled can claim specific discounts by showing a suitable photocard having been obtained in advance of travel.
Almost all stations have automatic ticket barriers. If you pay by Oyster Card, just tap your card against the yellow pad to open the barriers (both upon entrance and exit). If you have a paper ticket, insert it face-up into the slot on the front of the machine, and remove it from the top to enter the station. If you have a single-ticket it will be retained at the exit gate. If you have luggage or if your ticket is rejected there is normally a staffed gate as well. Paper tickets can be purchased from vending machines in the station lobby. There are two types of machine: the older machines that have buttons for different fare levels and accept only coins and the new touchscreen machines that have instructions in multiple languages, offer a greater choice of ticket and accept bills and credit/debit cards (note that if your card has no embedded microchip, you cannot use these machines and you must pay at the ticket counter).
Tube maps are freely available from any station, most tourist offices and are prominently displayed in stations and in the back of most diaries. The Tube is made up of 11 lines each bearing a traditional name and a standard colour on the Tube map. To plan your trip on the Tube work out first which station is closest to your starting point and which is closest to your destination. You can change between lines at interchange stations (providing you stay within the zones shown on your ticket). Since the Tube Map is well designed it is very easy to work out how to get between any two stations, and since each station is clearly signed it is easy to work out when to exit your train. Visitors should be aware, however, that the Tube map is a diagram and not a scaled map, making it misleading for determining the relative distance between stations as it makes central stations appear further apart and somewhat out of place - the most distant reaches of the Metropolitan Line for example are almost 60 km (40 mi) from the centre of the city.
In central London, taking the Tube for just one stop can be a waste of time; Londoners joke about the tourists who use the Tube to travel between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations, a journey which can take over 10 minutes on the Tube, despite the two stations being only a couple of minutes' walk apart. This is especially true since the walk from a tube station entrance to the platform at some central stations can be extensive. The Tube Map also gives no information on London's extensive bus and rail network.
Trains run from around 05:30 to about 01:00. They are usually the fastest way to travel in London, the only problem being the relative expense, and that they can get extremely crowded during rush hours (07:30-10:00 and 16:30-19:00). On warm days take a bottle of water with you as there is no air conditioning in the stations and carriages. Also note that engineering works usually take place during weekends or the evening. Contact TfL, especially if you plan to travel on a Saturday or a Sunday when entire lines may be shut down.
All lines are identified by name (e.g. Circle line, Central line, Piccadilly line). Many lines have multiple branches rather than running point-to-point so always check the train's destination (which is shown on the front of the train and the platform indicator screens, and will be broadcast on the train's PA). Some branches run as shuttles and require a transfer onto the 'main line'.
Note that the Northern line has two separate routes through the city centre which split at Euston and rejoin at Kennington, one (officially called the Charing Cross Branch) runs through the West End serving Leicester Square, Charing Cross and Waterloo, while the other route runs via the City of London (officially called the Bank branch but also referred to as the City branch) with major stops at Kings Cross St Pancras and Bank. Despite the confusing layout of the line, it is fairly easy to work out which way your train is going; for example a northbound Northern Line train to Edgware along the Charing Cross branch will be displayed on the indicator as 'Edgware via ChX' and the on-board PA will announce "This train terminates at Edgware via Charing Cross".
Finally, note that direction signs for the platforms indicate the geographical direction of the line, not the last stop of the line. It is always advisable to carry a pocket Tube Map to help you with this.
Although the doors to the Tube trains have buttons, you don't need to push them to open the doors. Pushing a button will only mark you out as a tourist. If the train pulls into the station and the doors don't open immediately, have faith, they will.
Crime levels on the tube systems are comparable but typically lower than many other subways systems, and traveller advice about watching luggage and valuables is reasonable. Owing to a heightened security climate, and a history of political violence targeting the tube, unattended baggage may be treated as a suspect or explosive device, and may be destroyed.
Lost items (if not destroyed) will end up at the LU Lost property Office (Tube: Baker Street).
The tube system is covered by an extensive CCTV system, although it is not advised to be reliant on this fact when travelling.
The London Underground considers its safety record to be a matter of professional honour, major accidents being incredibly rare. Front-line staff are well trained for emergencies and will follow well rehearsed procedures. In addition front-line staff are generally appreciative of traveller vigilance, if concerns are politely expressed.
Although there is no specific law barring casual photography, owing to the increased threat from political violence, some front-line staff can be nervous about the intent and nature of those undertaking it. Large scale or commercial photography requires a specific permit. Under no circumstances should direct photography of security critical equipment be taken, and before photographing front-line staff, it is advised to ask. Flash photography is explicitly prohibited on safety grounds, as it could create an undesirable distraction to safety critical personnel.
London's iconic red buses are recognized the world over, even if the traditional Routemaster buses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, have mostly been phased out. These still run on Heritage Route 9 and 15 daily between about 09:30 and 18:30, every 15 minutes.
Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for shorter (less than a couple of stops on the Tube) trips, and out of central London you're likely to be closer to a bus stop than a Tube station. Most buses in London are very frequent (at least every ten minutes.) Buses are usually accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. Buses also have a flat rate fare which stays the same no matter how far you travel (you will need to pay the fare again if you board a different bus).
Over 5 million bus trips are made each weekday; with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus. Each bus stop has a sign listing the routes that stop there. Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters. For example, route 8 runs between Oxford Circus and Bow Church, via Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green. If the background of the route number on the sign is yellow, this means you must buy your ticket or have a valid Travelcard or Oyster card before you get on the bus. The machines at the bus stops don't give change (all the more reason to use one of the other options.) If the route number on the sign is white, you can buy cash tickets on the bus. Most central London buses will require you to have a valid Travelcard or Oyster card before boarding.
Buses have very clear blinds on the front, with their route number and their destination. When you see your bus approaching, signal clearly to the driver that you intend to get on their bus: the way to do this is to stick your hand out, with an open palm. The driver will indicate and pull into the stop.
Most buses have two doors. Form an orderly queue at the front door: when you reach the driver, touch your Oyster card on the reader, show them your Travelcard or pass, or place your cash fare on the tray and state your destination. Some buses are worked by the 'New Bus for London': if you are using Oyster, you can get on this bus at any of its three doors. Some buses on routes 9 and 15 over the central sections are run by heritage Routemasters: simply take a seat on the bus, and wait for the conductor to come round to collect your fare or scan your Oyster card.
Hold on tight - especially if you can't find a seat! Buses can accelerate and brake very fast so always grab hold of one of the handrails.
Most buses have a system called iBus fitted: this announces the bus's destination at every stop, and announces the stops and nearby landmarks, both with an announcer's voice and on a screen at the front of the bus. Keep a close eye on this, because this will tell you where you need to get off. On Routemasters, the conductor will usually make announcements.
When you are nearing your stop, press one of the red "STOP" buttons on the handrails once only. You'll hear a bell, or a buzzer, and the words "Bus Stopping" will appear on the iBus screen. Hold on tight until the bus has stopped, and then get off the bus using the middle or rear door once it has opened.
If you're travelling on a heritage Routemaster, there are only two bell-pushers: alternatively, there is a cord hanging from the ceiling on the lower deck which you can pull to ring the bell. Be very careful only to ring it once: two bells is the signal the conductor uses to tell the driver to continue past the next stop!
Finally, always watch out for moving traffic when you get off the bus, especially if you are on a bus with an open platform at the back (a Routemaster or a New Bus for London.) Don't try to get off the bus until it has stopped, or is moving very slowly, and always be careful of cyclists and pedestrians.
The adult bus fare using Oyster is £1.40. If you buy a paper ticket with cash, it costs £2.40: this is a very good reason to get an Oyster card! When you are using Oyster, the most you will be charged for single bus journeys in one day is £4.40: daily bus travel is 'capped' at this level, so all further bus journeys once you've reached this cap are effectively free as long as you touch in when you get on the bus. If you have a Travelcard for any zones, that includes free bus travel across all of London, even outside the zones of your Travelcard.
You can also pay for bus travel (at the Oyster fare) with a contactless debit or credit card. You touch the card flat against the reader, like you would with an Oyster card, but your bank account or credit card is charged instead. If you have more than one contactless card, be careful and keep them in separate pockets, and only touch one on the reader. The system is supposed to reject both cards if it doesn't know which one you want to pay with, but there is a small chance you may be charged twice for the same journey. It's important to note, however, that daily price caps don't work on debit/credit cards, so you will be charged for every single journey you make, even once you have spent more than £4.40 on bus travel in one day. Contactless debit/credit card payments are also not accepted on the few buses on route 9 and 15 worked by Routemasters: this is because the conductors' ticket machines cannot read them. For full information about debit/credit card fares, including caveats, see TfL's web site.
Children aged 10 and under travel for free on the bus when accompanied by an adult. Children between the ages of 11 and 15 must touch in using a special kind of Oyster card called a Zip card, yet journeys are still free. 16-18 Student Oysters (only available to students studying in London) go up to age 18 and journeys are still free. Residents of England who have an ENCTS free bus pass (for the elderly or disabled) also get free travel: simply show your pass to the driver or conductor.
Unlike on the Tube, single bus tickets are valid for one journey on one bus only. You are charged for each bus you travel on.
Bus route maps
Standard bus services run from around 06:00-00:30. Around half past midnight the network changes to the vast night bus network of well over 100 routes stretching all over the city. There are two types of night buses: 24 hour routes and N-prefixed routes.
24-hour services keep the same number as during the day and will run exactly the same route, such as the number 88, for example. N-prefixed routes are generally very similar to their day-route, but may take a slightly different route or are extended to serve areas that are further out. For example, the 29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green during the day; however, the N29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green and then continues to Enfield.
Night buses run at a 30 minute frequency at minimum, with many routes at much higher frequencies up to every 5 minutes.
Prices stay the same, and daily travelcards are valid until 04:29 the day after they were issued, so can be used on night buses. Most bus stops will have night bus maps with all the buses to and from that local area on it, although it is good to check on the TfL website beforehand, which also has all those maps easily available.
While Britons on public transport are normally a model of reserve, those using night buses have a bit of a reputation for loud and rowdy behaviour. This is mainly because passengers are often people who have been having a good time in central London's clubs and bars; particularly true on buses leaving central London between 01:00 and 03:00. While the buses are normally quite safe, if this is a concern for you, consider taking a pre-booked minicab instead, or failing that sit or stand on the lower deck of the buses nearer the driver. Always call out to the driver if you are pickpocketed, threatened or attacked.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the tube network at Bank, Tower Gateway (close to Tower Hill station), Canning Town, Heron Quays (close to Canary Wharf tube station) and Stratford. As the trains operate automatically, it can be quite exciting - especially for children - to sit at the front and look out through the window, whilst feeling as though one is driving the train oneself. The DLR also runs above ground on much of its route, and travels through many scenic parts of London, including the Docklands area where most of London's skyscrapers are located (which is how the network gets its name). Apart from the trains looking very different and running slightly less frequently than the Tube, visitors may as well treat the two systems as one system.
Unlike on the Tube, most DLR stations do not have ticket gates (except for Bank and Stratford). Also, unlike the Tube, you do need to push the buttons to open the doors. You can top up an Oyster card, buy a Travelcard or buy a paper ticket (at a substantial premium) from the ticket machines at the station. (Most stations are unstaffed, so if you want to pay by cash, make sure you have plenty of change!) As there are no gates, when travelling by Oyster you must always remember to touch in at the start, and out at the end of your journey. Even if you are changing to the Underground at Canary Wharf/Heron Quays, you must still touch in/out at the DLR station: the system will recognise that you have made an interchange between the two stations and treat it as part of the same journey.
The DLR can be a little confusing as the routes are not easily distinguished. Generally trains run on the following routes:
Check the displays on the platform, which will show you the destination and the wait for the next three trains, and also check the destination displays on the front and side of the train and listen for announcements. At busy times, some trains do not run the full length of the route. Take the first train, listen for announcements, and change where necessary.
Beware Canning Town station as it is very busy, and the line divides into two sections - one heading to Woolwich Arsenal and the other heading to Beckton. The Woolwich Arsenal branch will take you to London City Airport and the Beckton branch will take you to Custom House for ExCel. Always check the destination on the front of the train before getting on: especially at off-peak times, if you get on the wrong branch the return train could take several minutes!
Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom, with information applicable to using the National Rail system within London.
The British railway system is known as National Rail (although some older signs still refer to it as "British Rail"). London's suburban rail services are operated by several private companies under tightly-written government contracts, and mostly run in the south of the city, away from the main tourist sights. Only one line (Thameslink) runs through central London - on a north-south axis between London Bridge or Blackfriars stations, and the underground level of St Pancras main line station. There is no one central station - instead, there are twelve mainline stations dotted around the edge of the central area, and most are connected by the Circle line (except Euston, Fenchurch St and those South of the river like Waterloo and London Bridge).
Most visitors will not need to use National Rail services except for a few specific destinations such as Wimbledon, Hampton Court, Kew Gardens (Kew Bridge station), Windsor Castle, Greenwich, or the airports, or indeed if they are intending to visit other destinations in the UK. It's important to know that the quickest route between two stations is often a combination of the Tube as well as National Rail trains. For instance, if you are going from central London to Wimbledon, it will usually be much quicker to go to Waterloo and take the first Wimbledon train (around fifteen minutes, maximum) rather than take the District line, which can take up to 45 minutes.
Your pay-as-you-go Oyster card is valid in London zones 1-6, but not beyond, so be careful—if you want to travel beyond, you will need to buy a paper ticket from the ticket office at the station. If you travel beyond the London zones with no valid ticket, you will be charged a Penalty Fare (on National Rail services this is usually £20), you will have to buy another ticket for the remainder of your journey, and you will also be charged the maximum Oyster fare because you didn't touch out. This adds up to a lot, so be careful and make sure you plan your journey! If in doubt, ask at the ticket office.
There are express trains to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Tickets are often sold at a substantial premium, so you may want to consider taking the slightly slower 'stopping' services instead: for instance, an Anytime single from Victoria to Gatwick costs £19.90 on the Gatwick Express, and only £14.40 when marked "Route Southern Only"—taking a Southern train to Gatwick is only eight minutes longer. Don't forget: Oyster cards are not valid to the main airports, except for London City Airport and to Heathrow when travelling by Tube.
Don't throw your ticket away until you're out of the station at your destination! Many stations have ticket gates which you will need to put your ticket through to exit; also, you need to retain all the parts of your ticket throughout your journey, as a member of railway staff may need to see it.
In common parlance, Londoners may refer to travelling by "overground" (or "overland"), meaning going by National Rail (as opposed to going by Underground). However, only one service is officially called Overground - London Overground is a Transport for London rail service. It is operated and promoted just like the Underground, with the logo like the Tube (except orange) on stations and full acceptance of Oyster cards throughout. Trains will usually run every fifteen minutes or less.
London Overground consists of seven separate routes, forming a loose outer orbital with 'corners' at Clapham Junction, Surrey Quays, Highbury & Islington and Willesden Junction. These routes are:
All London Overground trains are spacious, air-conditioned trains in a distinctive orange livery. These trains have plenty of seating and standing room, and big windows allowing for great "urban scenic" views.
London Overground appears on the Tube map as an orange line. At many stations (Whitechapel, for instance) trains leaving from the same platform will go to different destinations, so listen carefully for announcements and always check the destination on the front of the train. The Overground can be a great way to avoid changing trains in central London by skirting around the centre. It's also well-connected: you can frequently change for Underground trains, other Overground destinations, or for mainline National Rail services from Stratford, Clapham Junction and Watford Junction.
Tramlink, opened in 2000, is the first modern tram system to operate in London. South London is poorly served by the Tube and lacks east-west National Rail services so the network connects Wimbledon in South West London to Beckenham in South East London and New Addington, a large housing estate in South Croydon. The network is centred on Croydon, where it runs on street-level tracks around the Croydon Loop.
Route 3 (Wimbledon to New Addington - green on the Tramlink map) is the most frequent service, running every 7 1/2 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 15 minutes at all other times. Beckenham is served by Routes 1 and 2 (yellow and red on the Tramlink map), which terminate at Elmers End and Beckenham Junction respectively. Both services travel around the Loop via West Croydon and run every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 30 minutes at all other times. Between Arena and Sandilands, these two services serve the same stops.
Due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of central London, cycling is a tempting option. Excellent free cycle maps can be obtained from your local tube stations, bike shop, or ordered on-line.
London now offers a city-wide bicycle hire scheme known as Barclays Cycle Hire, operated by Transport for London. For an hourly charge, bicycles may be hired from automated hire stations around the city. The bikes, all coloured a distinctive bright blue, can be unlocked and ridden around the city with a credit card, and must be returned to another hire station by locking the bike into the rack.
Despite recent improvements, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists. The kind of contiguous cycle lane network found in many other European cities does not exist. The safest option is to stick to minor residential roads where traffic can be surprisingly calm outside rush hours.
Most major roads in London will have a bus lane which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles.
Cycle-lanes exist in London with both on road and off road routes. The network is not comprehensive and on road lanes vary in quality normally between 1–2 metres wide. Cycle superhighways (major cycle routes) are painted blue other cycle lanes are green or red however, some are indicated just with an stensled image of a bike on the road. If the line between the traffic lane is solid cars may not use it as it is a mandatory cycle lane. A dashed line indicates a recommended cycle lane and motorists may make use of this road space but its is recommended they don't. Many improvements have been made for cyclists in the city over the last few years, Noticeably, there are many new signposted cycle routes and new cycle lanes as well as a review of junctions considered dangerous for cycling. A new network of "Cycle super-highways" has recently been launched: these are indicated by bright blue-painted tarmac. Motor vehicles often park on cycle lanes, rendering them unusable.
Normally a cyclist should keep to the left of the lane when cycling on a road with traffic, to allow faster-moving traffic to overtake. However, it is legal for a cycle to dominate a lane by maintaining a central road position like any other vehicle. This will make you unpopular with any traffic behind you but it is recommended in London on approach to right-hand turns at junctions. Making a right-hand turn from the normal left-position means crossing the lane of traffic, which may often ignore you and any turn signals you might have been using, leading to near misses and even collisions.
The towpaths in North London along the Grand Union Canal and Regent's Canal as well as in Londons parks and green ways provide traffic-free cycle path in the capital. The Grand Union canal connects Paddington to Camden and the Regent's Canal connects Camden to Islington, Mile End and Limehouse in East London. It takes about 30-40 min to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths.
Care should be taken lock your bike properly as many areas, some surprisingly busy, attract cycle thieves, while chaining a bicycle to a railing which appears to be private property can occasionally lead to said bike being removed.
Taking bikes on trains is very limited in London due to overcrowding. Non-folding bikes can be taken only on limited sections of The Tube network, mostly only on the above-ground sections outside peak hours. For this reason, folding bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. There is a map showing this on the Transport for London website. Most National Rail operators allow bicycles outside peak hours also.
Critical Mass London is a cycling advocacy group which meets for regular rides through central London at 18:00 on the last Friday of each month. Rides start from the southern end of Waterloo Bridge.
The London Cycling Campaign is an advocacy group for London cyclists. With active local groups in most of the city's boroughs, it is recognised by local and regional government as the leading voice for cycling in the capital.
London is going to become heaven for cyclists in upcoming years as a cycle-only highway is being planned to construct in the city which is first of its kind in the world.
London has two types of taxis: the famous black cab, and so-called minicabs. Black cabs are the only ones licensed to "ply for hire" (i.e. pick people up off the street), while minicabs are more accurately described as "private hire vehicles" and need to be pre-booked.
The famous black cab of London (not always black!) can be hailed from the curb or found at one of the many designated taxi ranks. It is possible to book black cabs by phone, for a fee, but if you are in central London it will usually be quicker to hail one from the street. Their amber TAXI light will be on if they are available. Drivers must pass a rigorous exam of central London's streets, known as 'The Knowledge', to be licensed to drive a black cab. This means they can supposedly navigate you to almost any London street without reference to a map. They are a cheap transport option if there are five passengers as they do not charge extras, and many view them as an essential experience for any visitor to London. Black cabs charge by distance and by the minute, are non-smoking, and have a minimum charge of £2.20. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers' expectations - use your discretion. If you like the service you may tip. If the ride has been uncomfortable or unsafe, or if the driver was rude, don't. Most Londoners will simply round up to the nearest pound.
Taxis are required by law to take you wherever you choose (within Greater London) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them. However some, especially older drivers, dislike leaving the centre of town, or going south of the River Thames. A good way to combat being left at the side of the curb is to open the back door, or even get into the cab, before stating your destination.
Minicabs are normal cars which are licensed hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Minicabs are usually cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TFL) License - usually in the front window. One of the features of the license plate is a blue version of the famous London Transport "roundel". A list of licensed minicab operators can be found at TfL Cabwise.
Some areas in London are poorly serviced by black cabs, particularly late at night. This has led to a large number of illegal minicabs operating - just opportunistic people, with a car, looking to make some fast money. Some of these operators can be fairly aggressive in their attempts to find customers, and it's now barely possible to walk late at night through any part of London with a modicum of nightlife without being approached. These illegal cars are also regularly unsafe: a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators (11 per month) and there is also a risk of robbery. You should avoid minicabs touting for business off the street and either take a black cab, book a licensed minicab by telephone, or take a night bus. Always remember: if it's not licensed and it's not pre-booked, it's just a stranger's car. Never get into an un-booked minicab.
TfL operate a service called Cabwise, which will determine your location and provide three local, licensed cab numbers. If you have an iPhone or an Android smartphone, you can use the Cabwise application (search your platform's app store) or text CAB to 60835 (be careful - this might not work from some phones!) You can also use an app such as Hailo, which allows you to summon a black cab to your location and will provide a map and approximate wait time for your taxi to arrive. Most railway stations will also be able to provide a list of good local cab firms (many will display this outside the station, even after the last train of the night has gone.)
Londoners who drive will normally take public transport in the centre; follow their example. Unless you have a disability, there is no good reason whatsoever to drive a car in central London.
Car drivers should be aware that driving into central London on weekdays during daylight hours incurs a hefty charge, with very few exemptions (note that rental cars also attract the charge). Cameras and mobile units record and identify the number plates and registration details of all vehicles entering the charging zone with high accuracy. The Central London Congestion Charge M-F 07:00-18:00 (excluding public holidays) attracts a fee of £8 if paid the same day, or £10 if paid on the next charging day. Numerous payment options exist: by phone, on-line, at convenience stores displaying the red 'C' logo in the window and by voucher. Failure to pay the charge by midnight the next charging day (take note!) incurs a hefty automatic fine of £80 (£40 if paid within 2 weeks).
Despite the Congestion Charge, London - like most major cities - continues to experience traffic snarls. These are, of course, worse on weekdays during peak commuting hours (i.e. between 07:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00). At these times public transport (and especially the Tube) usually offers the best alternative for speed and reduced hassle. Driving in Central London is a slow, frustrating, expensive and often unnecessary activity. There are many sorts of automatic enforcement cameras and it is difficult (and expensive) to park. A good tip is, that outside advertised restriction hours, parking on a single yellow line is permissible. Parking on a red line or a double yellow line is never permissible and heavily enforced. Find and read the parking restrictions carefully! Parking during weekdays and on Saturday can also mean considerable expense in parking fees - fees and restrictions are ignored at your extreme financial peril - issuing fines, clamping and towing vehicles (without warning!) has become a veritable new industry for borough councils staffed by armies of traffic wardens.
For the disabled driving can be much more convenient than using public transport. If disabled and a resident of a member state of the EU then two cars can be permanently registered, for free, for the congestion charge.
Motorcycles and scooters are fairly common in London as they can pass stationary cars, can usually be parked for free and are exempt from congestion-charging. Scooters and bikes with automatic transmission are much more preferable - a manually-geared racing bike is completely impractical unless you have excellent clutch-control (although it has to be said you will see plenty of them being ridden aggressively by motorcycle couriers and locals as it can be the fastest way to get around!) Likewise to bicycles, car-drivers can show disregard to anyone on two wheels and larger vehicles have an unwritten priority so take care when crossing junctions. Crash helmets are mandatory. Parking for bikes is usually free - there are designated motorcycle-parking areas on some side-streets and some multi-level parking lots will have bike parking on the ground level.
London is now starting to follow the example of cities such as Sydney and Bangkok by promoting a network of river bus and pleasure cruise services along the River Thames. London River Services (part of Transport for London) manages regular commuter boats and a network of piers all along the river and publishes timetables and river maps similar to the famous tube map. While boat travel may be slower and a little more expensive than tube travel, it offers an extremely pleasant way to cross the city with unrivalled views of the London skyline - Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, etc. Sailing under Tower Bridge is an unforgettable experience.
Boats are operated by private companies and they have a separate ticketing system from the rest of London transport; however if you have a Travelcard you get a 33% discount on most boat tickets. Many boat operators offer their own one-day ticket - ask at the pier kiosks. Generally, tickets from one boat company are not valid on other operators' services. Oyster cards can be used as payment for the 'Clipper'-styled commuter services but not for tour boats.
Boats run on the following routes:
Some key tourist attractions that are easily accessible by boat include:
plus all the central London sights in Westminster and the South Bank
As well as the Thames, consider a trip along an old Victorian canal through the leafy suburbs of North London. The London Waterbus Company runs scheduled services (more in summer, less in winter) from Little Venice to Camden Lock with a stop at the London Zoo (pick up only). The 45-minute trip along Regent's Canal is a delightful way to travel.
Inline skating on roads and pavements (sidewalks) is completely legal, except in the City of London (a district). Roads are not the greatest but easily skateable. Central London drivers are more used to skaters than those in the outskirts.
The Emirates Air Line is London's newest (2012) form of transportation, a cable car that runs across the Thames in East London and connects the Greenwich Peninsula on the South Bank (near the O2) and the Royal Docks on the north bank (near ExCel). The Greenwich Peninsula terminal connects to the North Greenwich tube station on the Jubilee Line and the Royal Docks terminal connects to the Royal Victoria DLR station. Although it is part of the TfL network and uses Oyster card, the Air Line sees more frequent use by tourists than by commuters and offers a more scenic alternative of crossing the Thames from this point without going below the surface. Service also does not operate as late as the Tube, bus or DLR.
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