So you’re visiting London and you’ve realised that it is a big place. There’s a lot that you’ll want to see and sometimes not much time to see it in. Your biggest problem might not be whether to see the National Gallery instead of the Houses of Parliament, it might just be that you just don’t know how to get there. Well fear not, we at LordPriceXP are here to help with a small guide on how to navigate the public transport and get yourself around the city like a seasoned Londoner. We’ll have you using the London Underground and buses in no time.
USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN LONDON AND THE LONDON UNDERGROUND
The tube is the network of underground (and sometimes above ground) railways that criss-cross the city, mostly to the north of the River Thames. The London Underground was the first underground railway in the world, opening in 1863, and has been constantly upgraded with many lines. Once you get the hang of it, the system is very easy to navigate and use. The fares are integrated with the extensive bus system and also the overground railway lines, which are usually quicker for longer journeys out of the centre of town. The site which covers all of London Transport is the TFL website.
How to Pay for London Transport
Transport For London (TFL) have a site with full information on how to pay, but we give you the information here as well.
You can buy individual journey tickets on the London Underground (tube) or train, but buses do not accept cash, so the best system is to pay for unlimited journeys for one day or one week at a time. The city is divided into concentric zones, 1 being the centre moving out to zone 6 which is quite some way out and will take you as far away as Hampton Court Palace, for example.
You can buy daily or weekly Travelcards, which cover the whole region at a cost (for 2018) of £12.70 or £49 and are a paper ticket inserted into slots on station barriers or as you board a bus. These are available at all railway stations (underground and overground).
TFL have just recently introduced a Visitor Pass; these are for either 2 or 3 Days and give unlimited off-peak (after 09.30) travel in Zones 1-6. They can be purchased at major central London tube stations and TFL visitor centres, including Heathrow Airport and Victoria Station, the terminus for trains from Gatwick airport.
A Londoner will usually get a contactless Oyster Card; this is a small plastic card, like a credit card, that can be topped up with money and used to tap in through the ticket barriers at stations, or on the terminal that sits by the bus driver when boarding a bus. Always look out for the small yellow circle, and that’s where to place your card until you hear the beep. You can buy them online, at any station and at some shops.
The Oyster Card will monitor exactly where you travel in London and charge you the cheapest ticket option, whether that be a daily all-in, return ticket, or a single journey. It will also monitor this over a 7-day period and cap your fares at the £49 limit for those 7 days. Over any one day it is cheaper than the Travelcard, especially if you limit your journeys to the centre, where the cost is only £6.80 for all travel in Zones 1 and 2.
Things to remember about travelling in London:
- Tap out at the end of your journey to make sure your ticket fare is correct and you’re only charged what you travel.
- You don’t have to tap out if you’re travelling on a bus or tram.
- Keep your Oyster topped up with money so that you don’t get caught out. Your Oyster will allow you to go into negative numbers but you will have to top it up after your journey.
- You can top up your card at any station ticket machine, online, or you can visit small newsagents with the Oyster symbol on a sign outside.
- You need to have one Oyster Card per person.
- The Oyster Card will only work within zones 1-6 but that covers all of the centre of London and out to almost all of Greater London.
If you’re arriving in Heathrow it is on the underground, Piccadilly Line, and the Oyster card can be bought at the station in the airport; at Gatwick you need to buy an overground train ticket into London (Victoria Station) where you can then buy your Oyster card. You will have to give a £5 deposit when you get a card for the first time that you can then claim back when you have finished using it.
When you leave, if you have money left and don’t want to keep the card for another visit or to give to a friend or family member, you can refund what you have left. If there is less than £10 on it you can get refunded the money and your deposit from any ticket machine, including ones at Heathrow but not at Gatwick airport. Any more than that will have to be done through the TFL website but this is more complicated so don’t put too much on your card at any one time, just in case you don’t use it.
If you have a credit or debit card that has contactless enabled, then you can now use that as a substitute for the Oyster Card. It will still give you all the same benefits and not need a deposit or to be topped up all the time. However if you are from abroad the charges for individual transactions may make this uneconomic – best check that out with your bank.
Full details of fares and payments are on the TFL website here.
Navigation Around London
Now you know how to get onto public transport, you now need to know where you’re going. Well do not fret, it seems confusing but is actually very easy.
The London Tube System (London Underground)
A great resource to use is the Tube Map of the London Underground. It seems like a mess but take a careful look and it has everything laid out perfectly for you. Each line is colour coded, with a key to the side that tells you what colour has what name, and each station can be found with a bit of a search. When you look up the place you want to go on Google Maps, the nearest tube station is usually marked well and won’t be far away. You’ll be able to find tube maps in all stations and on all platforms, so help is always at hand.
There are hundreds of bus routes and thousands of buses in London, so the maps can get complicated! However there is a really good simple diagram of Central London bus routes here. London buses are certainly very good for short distances and with an Oyster/Travelcard if your bus goes the wrong way just hop off and get another, as you can in most European cities. However at every proper bus stop there are very good simple diagrams/maps showing the buses that stop there and their onward routes. At the top of the sign are the main locations that the routes will travel towards.
Getting on the top deck of a double-decker bus is certainly a wonderful (and cheap!) way to see London’s streets and sights.
Railway Trains in London
Trains can take you further outside of the city, or even beyond the limits of London and to other cities. There are several major stations in the city, such as Waterloo, KingsCross St Pancras, Paddington and Liverpool St. They can be very useful to take you to places like Hampton Court Palace, which is in zone 6. It is always best to check the route and times that the train leaves before you travel, to make sure that you are going to the correct stations. I suggest using THIS site to plan your travel arrangements. If in doubt about whether or not your destination station is within the London travel zones ask at the station before travelling to avoid confusion and embarrassment (and a penalty fare!).
River Thames Buses
The river buses are also part of the London Transport system, with 6 routes running on the Thames from 22 piers between Putney upstream down to Woolwich. They are a great way to both get around and see the city from the river.
There is an extra cost to use the boats and that is taken either off your Oyster card when you touch in, or as a supplement when using your Travelcard to buy the tickets at the machines located on the piers. Go to the MBNA Thames Clippers website to check out those fares and all other details. Most piers have departures every 20 minutes but you can check routes and timetables online.
You can also get a Thames Roamer ticket which allows you to hop on and off the boats all day as often as you want.
That’s all the basic information you should need to get around using the London Underground and London Transport. Just remember not to panic, it isn’t as hard as it seems, and that every station has lots of lovely staff who will do their very best to help you.
If you choose to book any of our Lordprice London Experience Tours then our guides will always arrive 10 minutes before it starts. This is so that you can chat with them and ask any questions you have about getting around London as a visitor. Our guides won’t just take you around the history of London, they’re also happy to guide you around its present.
We hope this guide has been helpful and that you enjoy your visitor to our great city!