Travelling In and Around London
London Tourist Guide > London Transport
Travelling in and around London depends on many things, such as your budget and where you want to go. By far the easiest way to travel around London is by using the bus services and the underground (also known as the Tube) railway system.
Both the buses and underground go to virtually every main part of London that you can think of. The network of places and stops is very comprehensive and most of all – easy. During quieter periods, it’s easy to just hop on and off buses, while during busy times, it’s wise to use the underground as it’s not affected by rush hour traffic!
London is split into different ‘zones’, which means that travelling between zones can cost you more. However, it’s worth noting that all major attractions and hotels are located within Zone 1, so bear this in mind when planning your journeys.
Tickets for Travelling Around London
Tickets for travelling on the tube vary depending on which ‘zone’ you are travelling in. By far the easiest method of keeping your travel in check in and around London is with an Oyster Card. This ingenious little card makes it easy for you to pay for your travel, and you can ‘top up’ the card beforehand, ensuring you’re never caught without any money for getting home.
The brilliant thing about an Oyster card is that you can even store credit for buses, trams and trains as well as the Tube on it – meaning you never have to carry too many tickets or cash. One card will do the job. And travelling with the Oyster card means cheaper fares for each journey.
The typical cost for travelling in Zones 1-2 using an Oyster card is £8 for the day for as many rides as possible. If you are visiting from outside the UK, you can order an Oyster card two weeks before your travel dates, and you can find out costs and delivery dates here.
You can also choose to use a Travelcard which allows unlimited travel within a fixed period. Unlike Oyster cards though, you can’t top them up and store credits. This makes them perfect for visitors in London for a very short stay and who don’t have the time to apply for an Oyster card.
The other advantage is that for some groups of people, an Oyster photo ID card is needed which must be ordered beforehand. Travelcards get around this problem easily. One thing to note here is that it is more expensive to buy a card which covers you for example for Zones 1-6 (Zone 6 is Heathrow and outer London). Instead, you should purchase your Travelcard for Zone 1 with something called an extension fare for whichever zone you are visiting. This is a lot cheaper.
Using the Tube
The London underground or tube is made up of 12 main lines and links with the Docklands Light railway (DLR) and a local train network. Trains are available from 5am up until midnight from Monday to Saturday, with fewer trains running on Sunday.
You should always check and prepare in advance for timetables if travelling on a Sunday. Using the tube network isn’t that difficult, and you can pick up a map at any station or tourist centre. Central London is covered by Zones 1 and 2, while outer London such as the airports is covered by Zone 6.
Concessions for trips are available for students, the elderly and disabled, and trips for children under the age of 11 are free. Avoid rush hour on the tube – as it can get very congested and difficult to manage, especially if you have kids in tow.
There are steps leading down into the stations and escalators – those with mobility problems should stick to the lifts and should also sit in the front carriage near the driver if possible so that the driver can see you when mounting and disembarking.
Trains and Trams
London has an extensive rail and tram network and will get you to wherever you want to go with ease. London’s trams (called Tramlink) are very reliable and very frequent, and are easily accessible. There are no steps and no need for any platforms, making it perfect for prams and wheelchair users.
The tram runs from Wimbledon, Croyden and Beckenham and run at 10 minute intervals, so are perfectly reliable. You can use your Oyster card on trams which have a flat fare system with peak and off peak prices.
Travel is free for wheelchair users who don’t need any kind of pass to board. Those who are eligible for discounts such as children, disabled and the elderly will need a Freedom Pass (elderly and disabled) or a photo ID card (for children). You will need to apply for these from the Transport for London website.
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is prevalent in East and South East London. Again, you can use your Oyster card to travel by DLR which connects the tube to lesser known attractions and also serves London City Airport.
All stations for DLR’s have wheelchair access with lifts and ramps to the main platform. Wheelchair users will find it easiest to board the trains with their largest wheels first (usually rear wheels).
Travelling by Bus
Bus travel in London is cheap and easy. Services in central London are regular and have improved access for disabled travellers and those with prams. You can pick up the Central London Bus Guide and Map to all the services and the main attractions.
The brilliant thing about buses in London is that they run right around the clock, unlike most cities in the UK which stop running before midnight. If you get lost or stuck, Trafalgar square is the local hub for night buses and you are sure to get the right bus from here.
All buses in central London operate a flat fee of £1.30 with an Oyster card or £2.20 if you travel by cash. However, for those of you travelling a lot, a day pass using an Oyster card to cover bus fare and tram fare is capped at £4 for unlimited travel. As with the Tube, concessions are available and travel is free for young children.
There are over 8,000 buses which makeup the bus network in London, and all of these are fitted with low floors and are user friendly for those with wheelchairs, walking sticks and prams.
Tour buses are available in central London and will take you to all the major tourist hotspots, where you can hop on and off all day. You can purchase tickets online which is recommended because they are much cheaper than buying from the tourist offices. There are an array of different pricing structures around single fares, adult fares, family tickets and concessions. Check with operators for details.
Taxis and MiniCabs
The official taxi in London is the black cab with a yellow taxi sign on its roof which lights up when they are for hire. Technically speaking, drivers must take you anywhere within 12 miles of your destination, or up to 20 miles from Heathrow.
The drivers are licensed and therefore very safe, with bookings that can easily be made in advance. All black cabs have disabled access and have a minimum charge regardless of where you are going. The minimum charge from Heathrow is £2.40, with an additional £2 charged if you book via the airport. Most black cabs will accept credit card, although charge you for the privilege of between £1 or 12.5% – whichever is more. You can read about the full pricing structure in force here.
Your other option is to use private hire cars which include luxury limousines and local licensed minicabs. Never ever get into an unlicensed vehicle, as they are not registered and is a huge safety issue. At least if you have booked private hire in advance, there is a record of your journey should anything go wrong. The other thing to remember is that a licensed vehicle will display a ‘Transport for London’ badge in both the front and rear windows, so you can be sure that it is regulated. You should also ask to see the drivers identity card for extra reassurance.
Private hire mini cabs are cheaper than using black cabs and must be booked in advance – offices can be found on most major streets. When ringing for a minicab or other private hire, be sure to mention whether you have a disability or kids in tow, as the vehicle they send out should be fit for purpose.
Transport for London offer a text service for those who need the assurance of having a cab to hand regardless of their location. All you need to do is text CAB to 60835 and you’ll get a black cab number and two mini cab numbers. The cab companies will know where you are since they can track your location using GPS. It’s worth storing the text number in your phone for whenever you need it and is charged at 35 pence each.
Recent innovations have seen the emergence of a company named Uber. Uber offer private cars for hire via an app. You can read about their pricing model here.
Cycling and Walking Around London
It’s worth mentioning the use of bicycles or walking here too, since London is keen to promote alternatives to cars. If you are confident cycling and want some fresh air and exercise at the same time, cycling is a great choice to explore London.
London traffic is notoriously busy, so make sure you wear a helmet and pads as well as light reflective clothing. Bike routes are scattered throughout all the main tourist areas, making it easy and safe to get around. Our advice is to stick to the cycle lanes at all time where possible.
You can hire a bike with an upfront deposit of £100-£200 per person, and is fixed regardless of how long you want to hire the bike for. The London Bicycle Company hires out bikes and even has dedicated bike tours which you can take part in. Bikes can be hired year round and tours start from just £16.95.
Walking is ideal for those who dislike travelling too much on public transport, and you will be surprised at how close some attractions are to one another. The council has been working hard to ensure that London is a ‘foot friendly’ city, with maps on most street corners to help you find your way around. And walking is perfect for those who like to get some exercise while doing things at a slower pace.
A different way to travel for tourists and commuters is by the River Thames. TFL have a range of maps and routes and the main service is run by Thames Clippers. You can use your Oyster card too, so if you have a spare hour or two it’s a great way of seeing London by water.
Other Transport Modes
You may decide to hire a car and drive around London instead. Be aware that a a Congestion Charge system exists that has an £11.50 daily charge for driving a vehicle within the charging zone between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday. The easiest way to pay the charge is by registering for Congestion Charge Auto Pay which saves you £1.50.
You will know when you have arrived in a congestion charge zone, as the floor will be marked with a large letter ‘C’ in a red circle.
Driving around London is painfully slow, and rush hour can mean hours stuck in very heavy traffic. The best advice is to stick to using public transport or walking/cycling where ever possible.