Getting Around London
Tips to Help You Navigate Around the City
London is an easy city to get around, thanks to a vast network of buses, a popular bike share program and the city’s underground train system (the Tube). Stations are often just a short walk apart, particularly those on the Piccadilly line. Still, pack a pair of comfortable shoes because you might get so absorbed in the shops and landmarks, you walk several miles without noticing. Do not rent a car. There is an inner-London congestion charge, and parking is tricky. Just follow our tips and you'll be using the public transport like a local.
London from Heathrow Airport
Excellent transport links to central London await at Heathrow Airport. Hail a taxi if money is no concern (it costs about £70 or $110 to reach the city center), you don't mind an hour's journey and the possibility of traffic jams. The Heathrow Express is a fast train service into Paddington station (about 20 minutes), and costs £18 ($28) for a single journey. The Piccadilly line reaches many hotel locations (Earls Court, Hyde Park Corner and Russell Square, among them), The Tube is also a good bet, at £5 ($8) for a single ticket.
The London Underground
The Tube is an affordable transportation option, but prices can quickly add up if you pay cash. Try an Oyster card. Order it online before you travel and get it delivered to your address in the US, or pick one up from any Underground station ticket office. You pay a £5 ($8) deposit, which will be refunded when you return it to any station ticket desk. Then add pre-paid credit at machines or ticket desks throughout the Underground and your fares will cost nearly half the price of a cash fare (a journey in central London's zone 1 is £2.50 ($4) during commuter hours and £1.90 ($3) at other times). You touch the card on a reader and the gates open automatically. Take as many journeys as you want in a day; you’ll never be charged more than a one-day travel card.
Hop on board one of London’s double-decker buses, or one of the new double-length “bendy” buses. Both are red, distinctive, and easy to spot in the London traffic. You can pick them up at any designated bus stop, marked on the pavement by a red signpost detailing the available routes. A single cash fare is £2.20 ($3.60) or £1.30 ($2.10) with an Oyster card. Bus fares paid by an Oyster card are capped at £4, regardless of the number of journeys you make, so you can explore the entire city for the price of a Big Mac meal. And don't worry about knowing where to get off. People tend to be more sociable on the bus than on the tube, and chances are someone will tell you when you've reached your stop.
The Barclays Cycle Scheme
Londoners and visitors can bicycle around town with ease. London is now home to 6,000 distinctive blue bicycles for public use. Pick one up at one of any of 352 docking stations throughout the capital. This is by far the cheapest and easiest way to navigate the city. About £1 ($1.60) buys you 24-hours access and £5 ($8) buys you 7-days access. Bikes don't come with a helmet, so bring one along or buy one at a cycle shop in town.
If you are caught in a sudden downpour without an umbrella, or have just 10-minutes to get to a show, use a taxi. London's distinctive “black cabs” are the regulated service, although they can be maroon or white or painted in advertising. Cab drivers must pass an arduous test of London's streets, which makes them invaluable when you can't remember where you're meant to be going. Often just the name of a hotel, bar or restaurant is enough to get you there. And if you are lost on foot, most cabbies will wind down the window and point out a direction if you ask. Fares are metered, so you won't be ripped off.
However you choose to navigate the city, schedule in time getting lost. Wherever you end up, London’s transportation offers an easy way to get you back to your original destination.