LONDON - GETTING AROUND
Touring central London on foot is the best and cheapest way to get to know the city. However, the city's layout adheres to no comprehensible grid or plan, and it's very easy to get lost. Arm yourself with a copy of London's iconic street atlas, the London A-Z (£6.95), on sale everywhere (www.az.co.uk/maps-atlases/london-a-z-premier-map.html), as well as a sensible pair of walking shoes. Greater London, which is huge (28 miles north to south, 35 miles east to west) requires the use of public transportation, which is easy and efficient.By the Tube
By far the easiest and most practical way to get around is on London's extensive Underground train, or 'Tube'. Not only is it safe, it is one of the most efficient and reliable transportation systems in the world. That said, the lines are often under construction during the weekend, so you may want to check your route in advance. We strongly urge you to try the Tube in order to get a feel for the local's London. Of course pickpockets can be an issue, especially for tourists, so pay close attention to your bags, wallets and purses on the platforms and in crowded Tube cars.
The Tube has color coded routes, clear signage and many connections. Trains travel out into the suburbs, and all stations are marked with the London Underground circular symbol. (Do not be confused by similar signs reading 'subway'. In Britain, the word subway means pedestrian underpass). Exact times for first and final trains are posted in each station (using the 24 hour clock), but they usually operate from 5 a.m. (0500) to just after midnight (0000), and Sundays 7 a.m. (0700) to 11:30 p.m. (2330). Some lines start on weekdays at 4:30 a.m. (0430). Trains on the Piccadilly, Victoria, Central, and Jubilee lines and on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line run 24 hours a day on weekends (from Friday morning to Sunday night). Still, if you plan to take the train after midnight, always check the schedule beforehand. Some lines have multiple branches (Central, District, Northern, Metropolitan, and Piccadilly) so be sure to note which branch is needed for your particular destination. Also, London is divided into six concentric zones (maps and booklets with ticket options are available at Underground stations). Be sure to buy a ticket for the correct zone or you may be required to pay a fine of £40 on the spot.
If you're planning several trips in one day you may want to consider buying an Oyster card (£5) as it offers cheaper rates than regular tickets. The plastic card can be reloaded as often as you want and your £5 will be reimbursed when you hand the card back. IMPORTANT - you need to have your ticket (Oyster card pass or regular ticket) handy in order to exit the turnstiles of the Tube system, not just enter them. And as long as they're accompanied by an adult, children under 10 travel free on just about everything public, including Tube, Overground, DLR, bus, and regular rail services.
A 24-hour information service is available at tel. 0343/222-1234. The best resource is the TfL Journey Planner, online at tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey. For specific journey information using a mobile, you can text your start-point and end-point as full postcodes (but who knows those?), or station or stop names, in the format 'A to B' - to tel. 60835. TfL will send a reply text with the quickest route and scheduled times. The best resource is the free app Citymapper, which tells you which Tube, bus, or train to use, how long it takes, and includes mapped walking directions to the nearest stop. Search the London Underground's website (www.tfl.gov.uk) for the 'Tube and Rail Services map.' It's a more accurate picture than the Tube map alone because it shows all the places Oyster will take you by rail. The site also has terrific simplified bus maps that show you routes from any neighborhood. Just enter your hotel's address before you go, access Citymapper via WiFi, and you'll be set.
Buses are a good way of seeing the city, especially if you want to hop on and off to see the sights. Perched on the upper level of a candy-apple red double-decker bus, watching the landmarks go by, is one of London's highlights. Bus stops are clearly indicated with signs that feature a red TfL symbol on a plain white background. You can pick up a free bus guide at a TfL Travel Information Centre (at Liverpool Street, Piccadilly Circus, King's Cross, and Victoria Tube stations, at Paddington railway station, and at Heathrow and Gatwick Airports). Each numbered route is listed on the main stop, and buses have a large number on the front with their end destination. Not all buses run the full route at all times so check with the driver to be sure. To get off, press the red 'Stop' buttons mounted on poles near the doors. You will usually see a sign light up indicating 'Bus Stopping'. Night buses have an 'N' before their route numbers and run from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on a more restricted route than day buses. IMPORTANT - approach night bus routes with caution and avoid the top deck.
All bus journeys cost £1.50 (previously £2) and there are no transfers. If you plan to make a number of journeys in one day, consider buying a prepaid Oyster card or Travelcard, which offers unlimited use of the Tube, buses and commuter rail.
By Commuter Rail
The commuter rail system (Docklands Light Railway or DLR) is an over ground network that connects outlying districts and suburbs to the center. Prices are comparable to those of the Underground, and you can easily transfer between the Underground and other connecting rail lines at many Tube stations. On the DLR (the Overground) and commuter trains, carriages may not automatically open. Push the illuminated button and it will.
Hotels and tourist areas have cabstands, but you can also flag one down on the street. If the yellow 'For Hire' sign on the top is lit up, the taxi is available. Known as 'black cabs' or Hackney carriages, the traditional black London taxicabs are as much a part of the city's streetscape as red double-decker buses. To earn a taxi license, drivers must undergo intensive training (known as 'the Knowledge') on the history and geography of London so there is very little they won't know about the city. Fares start at £3 and are charged by the minute. Fares goes up from 8 p.m. - 10 p.m. and 10 p.m. - 5 a.m. Thankfully, there is no charge for extra passengers or for luggage. It has become customary to tip 10%, but most people just round up to the nearest pound. Black cabs used to predominantly deal only in cash; now they have been brought into the 21st century. All London black cabs take credit cards and contactless payment options since January 2017. There was once a surcharge for using credit cards but now there is not one.
Minicabs, although cheaper than black cabs, must be pre-booked by phone, internet or in person at the registered office. These are usually unmarked, private hire passenger cars whose drivers are not native Londoners, and therefore, do not have to take 'the Knowledge' test. If you choose to use them, don't ever take an unlicensed cab (especially women traveling alone) as these have been associated with recent crimes and can be dangerous. For a licensed cab, look for a small purple version of the Underground logo on the front or rear windshield with 'private hire' written on it. Addison Lee (tel. +44 20 7387 8888) has a large, efficient fleet, and will text you the license plate of your cab for added security. When using a minicab, always verify the price with the driver before the journey begins.
Scattered throughout town, you'll see racks of identical blue bikes in racks. They are officially called Santander Cycles, (Londoners call them Boris Bikes, after the blustery mayor who brought them here), and they work like this: you choose one and pull it out of the rack by lifting the seat. You ride it to any other docking station in the city with a free space, and you park it by sliding the front wheel in until a green light appears on the dock. When you're ready to ride somewhere else, just get another bike. You buy the right to borrow bikes for £2, and £2 for every 30 minute increment after an hour, up to 24 hours (payments are on your credit card).
The idea is for you to use the bikes in place of public transport, not to keep it with you all day. If you think your trip will take more than a half hour, just stop off at another rack, select a new bike after a 5 minute wait, and the clock restarts. You can do that as many times as you want, but you are required to follow the same traffic rules that cars do. Locations of nearby docks are on every pylon, use the free apps Santander Cycles (tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles; tel. 0343 222 6666). Don't expect many dedicated bike lines, but the major parks are perfect places for an afternoon ride.By Boat
Since the 2012 Olympics, river travel has become a part of London's overall public transport system. River bus service now stops at 22 piers between Putney and Woolwich (Royal Arsenal). Tickets are £8.60, with a discount to £7 for Oyster card and Travelcard holders. A £19.80 River Roamer ticket offers unlimited river travel from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. There is also a River Bus Express boat to and from The O2 for concerts and special events (£10, £7.30 if bought online or through Oyster card).
Thames Clippers (tel. 020/7930-2062, www.thamesclippers.com, generally 9am - 9pm) catamarans go every 20 minutes during the day. Narrowboat trips on London's canals, especially Regent's Canal, are also a good way of seeing the city. The season runs April to October, with daily trips at 10:30am, 12:30pm, and 2:30pm. Contact Jason's, www.jasons.co.uk, Jason's Wharf, Westbourne Terrace Road Bridge opposite 42 Blomfield Rd., Little Venice, W9 (tel. 020/7286-3428; Bus no. 6: Little Venice; Tube: Warwick Ave.).By Car
Our best advice on driving in London would be: don't. London's streets are a chaotic mess of one way and winding roads. Traffic is tediously slow and parking is restrictive and expensive, perhaps as much as £40 for 24 hours in a West End garage. Furthermore, the £11.50 daily congestion charge, instituted to reduce traffic through central London, as well as the price of gas (approximately $6 USD per gallon) make having a car in the city extremely cost prohibitive!
London's roads are also among the most camera-dense on the planet, and you can expect to be photographed and fined if you err. And don't think you'll avoid a fine if you're driving a rental car: the rental agency will pay up and bill your credit card automatically, perhaps with an 'administration fee' as well.
If you are planning on taking any day trips or touring the English countryside then we suggest you pick up your rental car as you depart the city to avoid excessive rental/parking expenses. Alternatively, you may consider renting the car in a town in the area where you will be visiting and then traveling there by train and picking up the car once you arrive.