London: Getting around

London cabs are great. But they aren’t cheap

London is enormous. It’s very much spread out and though it’s walkable and fairly flat, it’s quite a long way from the Tower of London to Big Ben and Westminster and all points in between. What’s the best way to get around London?

Everyone talks about the Underground or Tube and it is indeed efficient and fast. It’s also crowded and hot and sticky at times. The bus system is quite good though can also be pretty crowded sometimes.

Obviously the Tube is faster than a bus which has to contend with traffic. The underground network  has a lot of stairs and not that many of the stations have elevators or are a combination of stairs, elevators or escalators. If you have mobility problems or are just like me, not that fit for stairs, the bus is better and you get to see more. The underground network is really good and it’s not difficult to use.

It’s not cheap, however. You really *really* should get at least a day travel card/pass. It pays for itself in 3 trips on the tube.  It will be a bit more expensive if you include all types of travel but if you decide just to take the busses everywhere, it’s cheaper.

For stays longer than a few days, get an Oyster card which is a smart card you can load up with a travel pass for a few days or a week. You then just tap it on the big yellow pads on the underground gates or on the busses as you get on. You never pay more than the cost of a one day travel card each day you use it, no matter how many times during the day you tap it. I have two cards that I got when my mom and I were in London for a week. We’d loaded them with a bus pass each and that was great for us. I have kept the cards and use them with a “pay as you go” top up whenever my partner and I go to London and I’ve lent them to friends as well who have used them.

I think you do have to pay a deposit on the card but when you leave London, you can take it to a transport booth in the train stations and they will refund your money and any funds leftover on the card.

The Transport for London site has a good map with the bus routes on it for all the tourist attractions.You can find that at the bottom of this page, and it’s got a good visitor guide included in the PDF file.  Also on that page are links to other useful maps and services.

There are so many diverse areas and neighbourhoods in London, walking around always finds a new shop or pub to discover.  I like walking in London because you can always find little hidden spots like a park built around the remains of a bombed out church behind an office building in the City (the old original part of London near the Tower of London).  Covent Garden is wonderful to wander. There are lots of little squares and narrow streets with little shops to discover. One of the oldest pubs in London, the Lamb and Flag, is tucked up at the end of a little alley. They do a nice Sunday roast lunch!

Most of London is fairly flat, too.  That makes it easier to walk distances.

And what about taxis? The traditional black cab may or may not be black anymore but the style is instantly recognizable. You can flag one down if it’s roof light is on. Black cabs are not altogether cheap but they’ll get you where you need to go.  If you can, phone a ‘mini cab’ which is a private cab company. They generally have cheaper rates. This is useful if you are booking a cab to go to the theatre at night. It’s not always easy getting a cab after the theatre. Though there are lots of them around, there are also lots of people looking for one. Prebooking might be a good  idea.

Now, just a little aside info:

When  you get on the bus, enter from the front, but get off at the back door, not the front one if you can as others will be getting on.

When you are on an escalator, stand to the right. Chances are very good that other people will be climbing the escalator stairs and want to get by you. If you stand in the middle, you’ll definitely get scowled at and rudely nudged aside. There are many tube stations with escalators so you will definitely run into this if you travel underground.

A travel pass is also good on the rail within the same zones that the pass covers. Most tourists will only need a zone 1 and 2 pass; that covers the central part of London but you could also get a commuter rail train to Greenwich which is on the edge of zone 2. A travel pass is cheaper to buy if it’s not going to be used in the morning rush hour. What you want to ask for is an off-peak travelcard which you can get for one or seven days. You can’t use it before 9:30 a.m. You can also load the travelcards onto the Oyster card. A regular travelcard covers the tube, busses, DLR (light rail) and National Rail within the zones it covers. You can get passes for busses only.

You can get travelcards at news stands as well as in the tube and rail stations. I think you’ll have to get the Oyster cards at the stations.

Oh. And if your travel agent tries to sell you the travel cards before you go, double check the prices. In some of the package tour brochures I’ve seen, they charge you 1o or 15 percent more than if you bought them in London. It might be convenient but I don’t see the point in paying their fees on top of the regular cost.

The Tube stops running at night about 11:30 or midnight at the latest. There are busses that run all night though you may or may not find that comfortable as they are often filled with people coming home from clubs and pubs and can be a bit rowdy.

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