NOTE – The map above was prepared before major engineering works commenced at London Bridge. Until 2018 the trains branded Thameslink from St Pancras to Gatwick do not go via London Bridge. Through train still operate but during this multi-year engineering project, they bypass London Bridge. Due to London’s huge global city status it is the most served destination in the world when it comes to flights.
London (all airports IATA code: LON) is served by a total of six airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, City, Stansted, Luton, Southend). Travelling between the city and the airports is made relatively easy by the large number of public transport links that have been put in place over recent years. However, if transiting through London, be sure to check the arrival and departure airports carefully as transfers across the city may be quite time consuming. In addition to London’s five official airports (of which only two are located within Greater London), there are a number of other regional UK airports conveniently accessible from London. Since they offer a growing number of budget flights, choosing those airports can be cheaper (or even faster, depending on where in London your destination is).
Transferring between London’s airports is never quick or simple, and any itinerary requiring an inter airport transfer should be regarded as a “last resort” if no other option is available. There are inter-airport bus service bys National Express between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, which run at least hourly. Heathrow-Gatwick services take 65min in clear traffic – but they use roads that are frequently congested (£18. Heathrow-Stansted services 90min (£20.50) (note that services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it’s essential to allow leeway, as all roads near London, especially the orbital M25 and the M1 motorway, are often congested to the point of gridlock. Some buses have toilets on board.
Heathrow Airport (IATA: LHR) is London and Europe’s largest airport and the world’s busiest airport in terms of international passenger movement, with services available from most major airports world-wide.
There are five separate terminals. During 2015, T1 closed for redevelopment.
Heathrow is dominated by the UK’s flag-carrier British Airways, who use the airport as its home base and principal hub, and consequently operate nearly 40% of all the airport’s flights. BA have their main base in Terminal 5, but also have a major presence in Terminal 3. Flights landing at Heathrow may be delayed by up to an hour as a simple result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots. To complicate the matter, airlines that fly into Heathrow are currently playing a system-wide game of musical chairs as gate assignments are cycled through the new terminal, making it even more necessary for travellers to check their terminal and gate assignment in advance. Do plan your itinerary to allocate some time needed to get through Heathrow Airport T3, there can be long queues if you are not holding an EEA passport.
(IATA: LGW) London’s second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. It is the world’s busiest single runway airport and is split into a North and South Terminal. The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle train (5 minutes). The train station is located in the South Terminal. To get to the centre of the city, there are various rail options and two bus options; please note the wide range of prices. If you need a Travelcard added on, to cover any onward travel that same day on Underground or bus, Tickets valid on trains branded Express are most expensive – £30.10, compared to £15.20 with Southern and only £13 with Thameslink; this cheapest option connects with more Underground lines than the other two, and takes about the same time.
- By rail: Gatwick Express, ☎ +44 20 8528 2900,. Every 15 min, journey time 30-35 min. Gatwick Express is a brand name of GoVia Thameslink Railway, and used on certain trains. One way £19.90, round trip £33.20, for the cheapest fare visit their website.
- By rail: Southern Railway, ☎ +44 20 8185 0778,. Southern is another brand name used by GoVia Thameslink Railways. Services every 15 min, journey time 35-40 min. All services between Gatwick and Victoria are operated by GoVia Thameslink Railway. Some trains carry ‘Express’ branding: premium fares are charged for these services. The time saving on the “Express” trains compared to the normal services is minimal, 30/35 minutes for ‘Express’ compared to 35/40 minutes for normal services. The normal services call at intermediate stations (usually East Croydon and Clapham Junction) whereas services branded ‘Express’ run non-stop. There is little differentiation in on-board comfort – the ‘Express’ trains use commuter type carriages, similar to all other trains serving Gatwick. During rush hour periods the ‘Express’ services continue onwards to/from Brighton and will be busy with commuters. For most of the day, both ‘express’ services and ‘ordinary’ services run at least every fifteen minutes. Southern also operate services to Milton Keynes (north of London) – these use an orbital rail line through the Earls Court area which avoid central London. Prices (2013 fares, will be higher in 2014). One way £19.90 (valid on any train) or £14.40 (not valid on trains branded ‘Express’). Note that for many destinations in central or east London, the Thameslink services are a better option – quicker and cheaper.
- By bus: easyBus,. Every 15-20min, journey time 60-90min. To Earl’s Court/West Brompton. Not recommendable as very unreliable. As of 2013, service is horrendous, and the company has no staff at Gatwick, so you’re on your own. Factor in the cost of getting to the drop off location in London before booking. It is far from Victoria station. One way prices start from £2. Book online.
- By bus: National Express,. Every 30min, journey time 75-110min. To London Victoria. As of March 2015 passengers with reservations were being turned away when boarding at Victoria. For some reason they are keeping seats on the coach free for EasyBus passengers to board later in the journey, but the National Express booking system is double booking those seats. According to the drivers, several people are turned away from each bus, and it’s especially problematic in the middle of the night. If you choose this option, arrive at the station early to make sure you get on. One way prices start from £7. Book online.
- By Minicab, ☎ +44 7505 616915,. Journey time 90-120 min. approx £70.
- By car. 47km (29 mi). The road journey from Gatwick to central London is slow – for most visitors a rail journey will be significantly quicker.
- By cycle,. There is a long-distance cycle path into Central London, but as it involves an indirect route, going over the North Downs and through South-East London, it will likely be quite a ride. For adventurous people.
After passing through security you will find no drinking fountains in the South Terminal departure lounge so as to increase the profits of drink vendors.
North Terminal: after passing through security, the intrepid traveller can find power sockets on many of the large columns. There are accessible sockets to the right of the left hand door from security, adjacent Super Dry. Starbucks also has sockets below the seating by the window around the corner from the serving area. All are unofficial. There are official mobile charging stations (paid) also.
Stansted (IATA: STN) is London’s third airport, and is dominated by the two low-cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair who use the airport as a hub, as well as holiday charter airlines Thomson and Pegasus. Stansted also accommodates a few other scheduled carriers within Europe and a small number of inter-continental flights.
|Sleeping at Stansted Airport
A large number of budget flights depart from Stansted as early as 06:00 (when the lowest fares are available). However, this presents travellers with a problem, as the airport’s location is a long way outside London, and transport to the airport is sporadic before 05:30.
Due to the high price of accommodation in the city and near the airport, and the fact that many budget airlines don’t pay for accommodation in the event of cancellation, an increasing number of travellers choose to spend the night in the airport prior to their flight. A crowd of around 100 travellers (up to 400 in summer) camp in the main departure/arrivals hall every night, effectively turning it into a giant dormitory.
Tips for sleeping at Stansted Airport:
Stansted is very distant from the centre of London at Charing Cross – almost 38 mi (60km) away in Essex but less than 29 mi (47km) from either Cambridge or Colchester.
There are several commercial Wi-Fi hotspots covering most of the airport, but they charge extortionate rates. A free Wi-Fi hotspot is in the arrivals gate area, next to the phone booths offering fixed internet.
Getting to Stansted for an early morning flight is fairly straight forward, coaches run through the night, provided by National Express from London Victoria and London Liverpool Street. Since Oct 2015 Terravision is no longer allowed to trasnfer people to and from Stansted: be careful, since this is not advertised on the website (check the news on the Guardian). Be aware that lines are very common at Stansted. The airport authorities have been making an effort to increase passenger processing times. Even at the peak of the morning rush, security checks shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, with 15 more common. Also getting to the airport can take longer than the proclaimed 90 minutes, expect more like 120 minutes. Arriving in the airport, queueing for passport control can easily take up to an hour for non-EU passport holders, especially for Sunday night arrivals. If you are eligible to use the biometric passport scanners, the lines for these are often shorter than the standard queues.
The airside departure area is currently being renovated, and there is very little waiting area. There’s not much you can do to avoid this however.
Transport options into central London:
- By rail: Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street, ☎ +44 845 600 7245,. Every 15 min, journey time 45-60 min. One way £23.40, round trip £33.20. Cheaper if you book 7 days in advance or travel in a group. Travelcard not valid. Some budget carriers’ websites offer reduced price deals for the Stansted Express, allowing you to save a few pounds.
- By rail then London Underground: Stansted Express to Tottenham Hale then London Underground (Victoria line), ☎ +44 845 600 7245,. Every 15 min. If you are going to South London, the West End or West London then take Stansted Express to Tottenham Hale then the London Underground (Victoria line). At Tottenham Hale ask for an Oyster card
- By coach: National Express, ☎ +44 870 580 8080,. Every 15-30min; journey time to Stratford is 1 hour, to Victoria: 90min. To Stratford (tube: Stratford) or Victoria (tube: Victoria). Folding bicycles only. To Stratford: £8 one way, £14 round trip. To Victoria: £10, £16. You can also buy tickets via easyBus for a fraction of the price. Check the timings match (as the easyBus website doesn’t make it clear that it is a National Express service), then buy via easyBus. Travelcard not valid.
- By minibus: EasyBus,. To Baker St (tube: Baker St). Leave plenty of time to avoid missing your flight. From £2 (advance web purchase) to £8 one way. The minibuses are normally full, with cutomers standing by to board earlier buses. Reliabilty leaving London isn’t great, and there is no customer service. It is now also possible to book a seat on a National Express bus (leaving Victoria, Marble Arch, Finchely Road or Golders Green) through the easyBus website for the same price as the easyBus minibus. This is a far more comfortable and reliable way to the airport as full sized buses are used. Travelcard not valid.
- By taxi. 60 mins. This airport is a long way from London! It’s normally better to take a train to London Liverpool St and continue by taxi from there. approx £70.
- By Minicab, ☎ +44 1279 816901,. Journey time 90-120 min. Stansted Airport Cars, located just outside of the terminal complex. approx £70.
Luton airport (IATA: LTN) is physically much smaller than Stansted, but still a major hub for many Low Cost airlines, and over 10 million passengers fly through the airport each year. It boasts the same facilities of the other major airports and also like Stansted, it is common place for some passengers on early morning flight, to sleepover in the terminal before their flights. The Parkway Airport station, which serves the terminal is about 20 minutes walk back into town, though there is a regular shuttle bus charging £1.50 to take you to the station. If your train ticket says Luton Airport (rather than Luton Airport Parkway), then the bus ride is included in the ticket.
The airport is a major hub for easyJet, Ryanair, Wizzair, Thomson Airways and Monarch Airlines, with other airlines also serving the airport like Aer Arann, FlyBE and El Al, to cities primarily in Scotland, Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. If leaving on a morning flight (departing 07:00-08:30), it is advisable to leave extra time to check in and clear security due to the large number of flights leaving (particularly Wizzair).
- By rail: journey time: 20-55min and £13.50 one way, Travelcard not valid. The airport has its own railway station “Luton Airport Parkway”, and is served by trains 24 hours a day from Central London using “Thameslink” and connects with St Pancras International. There are up to 10 trains an hour, depending on the time of day. All trains go to London St Pancras International, but many also continue on to Blackfriars, London Bridge and Elephant & Castle, Gatwick Airport and Brighton. The station is nearly 2km (1 mi) from the terminal building, there is a shuttle bus service running between the terminal and airport every 10 minutes, costing £1.50 each way. At rush hour times, this journey can take up to 25 minutes.
- By coach: Green Line number 757, ☎ 0844 801 7261,. Every 20min, journey time 90min. To Victoria (tube: Victoria) via Brent Cross, Finchley Rd tube station, Baker St, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner. £10 one way if bought from the driver. Service is run by Greenline and in conjunction with easyBus (but can be used by all travellers regardless of airline you travel with). Travelcard not valid.
- By coach: National Express, ☎ 0870 580 8080 (premium rates from most mobiles and non-BT landlines), . Every 2 min, journey time 90min. To Victoria (tube: Victoria) via Golders Green and Marble Arch. From £1 (advance web purchase) one way. Travelcard not valid.
- By car. 60km (34 mi) north of London, just off the M1 motorway which connects London with the Midlands and the North of England. Depending on where you are travelling from in London and time of day, journey times take 45-90min. Road users should plan their journey and check traffic conditions, as if an incident occurs on London’s busy roads, journey times can dramatically increase. There is no free location to wait or drop passengers off. It costs £1 to stay in the “drop off zone” for a maximum of 10 minutes (non-extendable without penalty). There is also a short stay car park nearby.
(IATA: LCY) A commuter airport close to the City’s financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. There are a growing number of routes to holiday destinations including Malaga, Ibiza and Majorca. There is also a business class only flight to New York JFK operated by British Airways.
Not as expensive to fly into as it used to be, and you may indeed find that from some origins, this may be your cheapest London airport to fly to, without even considering the cost savings of NOT coming from the distant larger London airports with £10+ transfer costs. Then there is the added bonus that it is close to central London, with a convenient link on the DLR. Minimum check-in time for most airlines is around 30 minutes, with some offering 15 minute check-in deadlines. Queues for security can be long at peak business times. From touchdown to the DLR (including taxi, disembarkation, immigration and baggage reclaim) can be as fast at 5 minutes, although 15 minutes is normal.
To get to the city centre the following options exist:
- By Docklands Light Railway (DLR). See also: Get around. The DLR runs to Bank station (27 minutes). During weekday rush-hours, some trains operate to Stratford International. There is a convenient change to the Jubilee line at Canning Town. Travelcard valid.
- By taxi. Journey time approximately 30 min. £20-35.
- By car. 10 km (6 mi).
- By bus,. Take the 474 bus to Canning Town station and then the 115 or N15 into central London. This is a much slower option than using the DLR and rarely a wise choice for travel to central London. See also: Get around. Travelcard valid.
(IATA: SEN) only officially became London’s sixth airport when it was recently included within IATA’s classification of the Metropolitan Area of London, LON – meaning the airport is now officially London Southend to the rest of the world and airline booking systems. Like “London Gatwick” or “London Stansted”, the name is something of a creative liberty, since Southend is certainly not in the south end of London – it is located near the seaside town of Southend-on-Sea in Essex, which is some 42 miles (67km) to the east of the city. As this is a small airport (the smallest of the other 5 London airports), it is recommended to allow plenty of time to get through security (especially on early morning and Friday/Sunday evening flights), as there can be long queues (expect a maximum 30 minute wait at peak times) and there is often only one scanner working. Staff are also very strict in monitoring Easyjet’s hand luggage policy, at the boarding gates. There are not a lot of facilities on landside (An Arnold and Forbes café that is not open all the time and has very limited choices, Moneycorp, Europcar and Taxi Desk), but once you get through to departures, there is a lot more choice (Another Arnold and Fobres café with more options, a bar/restaurant called Laker’s Bar and Restaurant, WHSmith, another Moneycorp, a First Class Lounge and a Duty Free shop). It is best to get to the airport no more than 2 hours before departure, any earlier can leave you getting bored very quickly.
There has been an ongoing programme of development and EasyJet started operating services in April 2012. A regular rail service runs from Southend Airport Station to London Liverpool Street Station in central London 36 miles (58km) to the west.
- London Southend Airport, ☎ +44 1702 608100 (firstname.lastname@example.org),. Serves a range of destinations in Europe and the British Isles
By rail, a journey time of 55-65 min. Travelcards are not valid. The airport has its own railway station “Southend Airport”, and is served from Liverpool Street, via Stratford by trains 17 hours a day. Trains often run every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday (with increased frequency at weekday morning and evening peak times) and every 30 minutes on Sundays and Bank Holidays. The station is c. 200 yd from the terminal building.
By coach: National Express runs a daily night-time coach service from the airport to Stratford, Liverpool Street and Victoria Coach Station. Allowing passengers to still get to London from late evening flights and catch some early morning flights from Southend, by still using public transport and not pay a fortune in taxi fares and hotel rooms. Tickets can be purchased online on the National Express website, or at the Moneycorp Bureau de Change in arrivals. Fares often avarage £10 one-way. Book early, as seats are limited on the coach!
By taxi: Taxis to and from the airport and London are very expensive and should only be used as a last resort (e.g. Missing the last train to London). Andrew’s Airport Cars are based at the airport, but the service is not very good (e.g. no taxis availible for arriving passengers) and the fares tend to be slightly more expensive than other taxi firms in the Southend-on-Sea area.
NOTE: Passengers from central London intending to use the first departures of the day (or the latest arrivals into SEN) should note that the earliest train from Liverpool Street arrives too late for first flights, and the final train to Liverpool Street leaves before the final arrival of the day. The airport terminal building is not open 24 hours a day, opening at 4am and closing at midnight, or 45 minutes after the last flight has landed, so it may sometimes be closed earlier. Passengers will be asked to leave the terminal building when it closes. Therefore, this airport is not suitable for sleeping overnight for an early morning flight. There is a Holiday Inn Express hotel, a few minutes walk from the terminal, but it is wise to book in advance for better deals and lower prices. The first train from London arrives at the airport just after 6:30am and the last train of the day from the airport to London is at 11:05pm. Trains start later and finish earlier on Sundays and Bank Holidays. If you miss the last train to London, you could be in for a very expensive taxi journey (taxi fares from the airport to Liverpool Street station can run up to £100!). It is wise to plan your journey to and from the airport in advance, to prevent dissapointment and being stranded. There is the nightly coach service to London from Southend Airport, but seats are limited!
Other airports near London
- London Ashford Airport, also known as Lydd Airport has rather seasonal, limited services and is used primarily for businessmen.
- Southampton Airport, ☎ +44 870 040 0009. Every 30min, journey time 1 hour. (IATA: SOU) is not officially a London airport, though accessible enough to conveniently serve the capital, especially South West London. A couple of budget carriers serving an increasing number of European destinations are based here. Direct trains connect Southampton airport to London Waterloo station. £30-35 round trip. Bournemouth Airport similarly operates a couple of Ryanair flight amongst others, and is not too far west on the train line from Southampton.
- Birmingham International Airport, ☎ +44 870 733 5511,. (IATA: BHX) is another non-London airport worth considering as a less congested and hectic alternative to Heathrow, being 75 minutes away from London on a direct train (so a similar journey time as the tube to Heathrow, or the bus to Stansted). As a major airport serving the UK’s second largest city, there is a good choice of long distance and European destinations. Direct trains connect Birmingham International to London Euston and Watford. The train station is connected to the terminal via a free shuttle train (2 minutes). From £6 (advance web purchase) one way, £35-100 round trip.
- Other small airports, such as Oxford Airport can also be useful. Kent International Airport and Shoreham Airport (near Brighton) are similarly small. Biggin Hill in Bromley borough had a rejected licence bid in 2010 for commercial flights for the Olympics but may receive one in the near future.
London is the hub of the British rail network – every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort – although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.
Rail fares to London vary enormously from very cheap to prohibitively expensive – the golden rules are to book Advance tickets for a particular train time, don’t travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid buying tickets on the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below. Note that much of the advice applies to rail travel in general within the United Kingdom.
- ANYTIME – travel on any train, any operator at any time, returning within one month with few restrictions. Very expensive however – on a long distance journey from Northern England or Scotland for example – an Anytime return ticket to London won’t leave you with any change out of £250!
- OFF-PEAK – travel on certain trains within a specific time-frame; again returning within one month. Typically this excludes anything that arrives into London during the morning rush hour (before 10:00 typically), or any train which departs during evening rush hour (16:30-18:30). Weekends generally carry no restrictions on the use of Off-Peak tickets. There are however, a monumentally complex number of exceptions for which Off-Peak tickets are and aren’t valid which are barely fathomable to the British, never mind overseas visitors. If you are in any doubt at all about the validity of an Off-Peak ticket, ask a guard at the station or a ticket office BEFORE getting on a train – as on-train conductors can be notoriously unforgiving.
- ADVANCE – travel on a specific day and train time, booked up to 12 weeks in advance either in person at a railway station, over the telephone, or online. Two Advance single tickets for the outward and return legs of the journey are generally cheaper than the Off-Peak return ticket. Better deals can often be had by going directly to the train operator’s website. The earlier you book, the more you save – you can get down to as little as £12.00 one-way from Scotland for example, but these tickets are non-refundable, and cannot be used on anything other than the date, train time and operator that is printed on the reservation. Go on any other train and get caught and you will be obliged to pay the Anytime fare for the journey you are making – which as we’ve said before is hideously expensive!
The local and commuter rail companies within the London and Home Counties area also have a bewildering array of special fares which are all in essence, variations of the Off-Peak ticket and are far too detailed to cover here, go directly to the website of the operator concerned for more information. Note that if you only intend to use trains within the Greater London boundary, then the Oyster Card (explained below) is by far the easiest and cheapest option to use.
Seats can be reserved for free on all long-distance trains to London – the reservation is always issued automatically with an Advance ticket, and with most Off-Peak and Anytime tickets bought on-line. If, for whatever reason you hold an Anytime or Off-Peak ticket and there is no seat reservation coupon, then it is highly recommended you get one from any railway station ticket office – if you want to avoid camping out in the vestibule for all or part of the journey!! First Class is available on all long distance services to London, the standard of service varies from operator to operator, but in general you get a wider, more comfortable seat, free tea/coffee for the duration of the journey, and some sort of complimentary catering service. If can be great value if you get an Advance first-class fare, but it is extremely expensive otherwise, and to be honest – not really worth it. You can pay a Weekend supplement (generally £15-£20) to sit in the first class section of the train on Saturdays and Sundays, – useful if the service you are on is hideously overcrowded – but you don’t get the same catering service as during the week.
If you are the holder of a Britrail pass, things are simpler – but remember you still have to make a seat reservation for the train you intend to travel on – otherwise you run the risk of standing for the journey! If you intend to use the overnight Sleeper trains to London, you will have to pay a berth supplement for every member of your party – provided there is berth availability on the train.
London has one international high speed rail route (operated by Eurostar 0870 518 6186 ) from Paris (2h 15min) and Brussels (1h 50 min) diving under the sea for 35 km (22 mi) via the Channel Tunnel to come out in England. It terminates at St. Pancras International Station. For domestic train services, there are no fewer than 12 main line National Rail terminals (although in conversation you may hear the brand National Rail infrequently if ever it differentiates main line and London Underground services; journey planner online or phone 0845 748 49 50). With the exception of Fenchurch St (tube: Tower Hill) these are on the London Underground. Most are on the circle line. Clockwise starting at Paddington, major National Rail stations are:
- London Paddington, serves South West England and Wales including Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth andCardiff and Swansea. Also the downtown terminus of the Heathrow Airport Express (see above) and serves some suburban stations such as Acton Main Line and Ealing Broadway.
- London Marylebone, serves some north western suburban stations such as Amersham, Harrow on the Hill and Wembley Stadium. Also serves Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Banbury, Stratford-upon-Avon and the city of Birmingham. It is much cheaper but slightly slower to take a train from Marylebone to Birmingham instead of a train from London Euston.
- London Euston, serves the Midlands, north-west England and west Scotland: Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Oxenholme Lake District, Carlisle,Glasgow, and Holyhead for connecting ferries to/from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Sleeper trains to Scotland leave from Euston.
- St Pancras International, serves Paris, Brussels, Lille, as well as Luton Airport, Bedford, Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Catford several destinations in Kent and theEast Midlands: Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield.
- London King’s Cross, serves East Anglia, north-east England and east Scotland: Cambridge, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Kingston upon Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books is marked with a special sign, although platform 9 itself is actually in the fairly unpleasant metallic extension used by Cambridge trains.
- London Moorgate, serves some northern suburbs.
- London Liverpool Street, serves East Anglia: Ipswich and Norwich. Also the downtown terminus of the Stansted Airport Express.
- London Fenchurch Street, serves commuter towns north of the Thames estuary to Southend.
- London Bridge, London Cannon Street, London Waterloo East and London Charing Cross, serve south and south east London and England: Brighton,Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ramsgate.
- London Blackfriars, serves Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
- London Waterloo, serves south west London and England: Portsmouth, Winchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Salisbury and Exeter.
- London Victoria, serves south east London and England: Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Hastings, Portsmouth and Ramsgate. Also the downtown terminus of the Gatwick Airport Express.
In South London many areas have only National Rail services (no London Underground services but there are buses). London Bridge, Victoria, Cannon St and Charing Cross serve the South East. London Waterloo serves the South West. Thameslink is a cross London route between Bedford and Brighton via Luton Airport (Parkway), St. Pancras International, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, London Bridge and Gatwick Airport.
Most international and domestic long distance bus (UK English: coach) services arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster, close to London Victoria rail station. All services operated by National Express or Eurolines (see below) serve Victoria Coach Station, which actually has separate arrival and departure buildings. Services by other operators may use this station, or the Green Line Coach Station across Buckingham Palace Road. The following are amongst the main coach operators:
- National Express, ☎ 0870 580 8080, is by far the largest domestic coach operator and operates services to / from London from throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Advance ticketing is usually required and recommended practice in any case. Fares are low – especially when booked in advance via the web. A few journeys are fast but most are notably slower than using the train.
- Eurolines, ☎ 0870 514 3219, is an associate company of National Express, and runs coach services to / from London with various cities in Northern Ireland, Ireland and continental Europe. Advance ticketing is required.
- Megabus, ☎ 0900 160 0900 (premium rate), operates budget coach services from/to London (Victoria Coach Station) to/from several major regional cities in the UK and continental Europe. Fares are demand responsive but can be very cheap (£1.50 if you book far enough in advance). Megabus also offer a Sleeper service to Scotland.
London is the hub of the UK’s road network and is easy to reach by car, even if driving into the centre of the city is definitely not recommended. Greater London is encircled by the M25 orbital motorway, from which nearly all the major trunk routes to Scotland, Wales and the rest of England radiate. The most important are listed below.
- M1: The main route to/from the North, leading from the East Midlands, Yorkshire and terminating at Leeds. Most importantly, Britain’s longest motorway – the M6, branches from the M1 at Rugby, leading to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District and onwards to the Scottish border, and ultimately Glasgow.
- A1/A1(M) The A1 is the original, historic “Great North Road” between England and Scotland’s capital cities and has largely been converted to motorway standard; it runs up the eastern side of Great Britain through Peterborough, York, Newcastle and continues north through Northumberland and the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh.
- M40/A40: Arrives in London from a north westerly direction, linking the city with Oxford and providing an additional link from Birmingham.
- M4: The principal route to/from the West – leading to Bath, Bristol and cities South Wales (Cardiff and Swansea). It is also the main route towards Heathrow Airport.
- M3: The main route to London from the shipping port of Southampton. Additionally, the A303/A30 branches off at Basingstoke, leading to Exeter, Plymouth and through the heart of Devon and Cornwall to finish at Land’s End.
- M2/M20: Together, these motorways are the main link to the coastal ferry (and Channel Tunnel) ports of Dover and Folkestone from Continental Europe.
- M11: The M11 connects Stansted Airport and Cambridge to London, and it terminates on the north eastern periphery of the city.
In addition to the M25, here are two inner ring roads in London which skirt the central area:
- A406/A205 North Circular/South Circular The North Circular is a half circle on the North of the Thames, and is mostly a dual carriageway. It has direct connections with the M4, M40, M1 and M11 motorways and can be useful if you want to quickly get around the northern suburbs of the city. The corresponding South Circular is really a local road which is made up of segments of main suburban thoroughfares. The two roads are connected at the east end of the circle in North Woolwich/Woolwich Arsenal by the Woolwich Free Ferry, which runs approx. every 10-15 min and is free of charge, although it can only carry a limited amount of vehicles so avoid during busy periods as the queues can be very long! The ferry stops running after 10pm, so it’s advisable to travel through the Docklands and use the Blackwall Tunnel instead.
Ridesharing is a cheap, social and green way to travel to and from London. BlaBlaCar connects drivers with empty seats with passengers looking to travel the same way. BlaBlaCar is the UK’s leading app and website with over 20 million members.
Very few people drive into (or anywhere near) the centre of London. The infamous M25 ring road did not earn its irreverent nicknames “The Road To Hell” and “Britain’s biggest car park” for nothing. The road is heavily congested at most times of the day, and is littered with automatically variable speed limits which are enforced with speed cameras. Despite the “congestion charge”, driving a car anywhere near the centre of London remains a nightmare with crowded roads, impatient drivers and expensive parking charges (that’s if you can find a space in the first place, that is!). From Monday through Friday, parking in parts of the City of London is free after 18:30; after 13:30 on Saturday and all day Sunday. There are also a number of Pay as you go car rental companies operating around London including WhizzGo and Car Clubs
London is the home of the famous tube map, and TfL produce some excellent maps to help you get around:
London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world. Despite residents’ constant, and sometimes justified, grumbling about unreliability, public transport is often the best option for getting anywhere for visitors and residents alike.
In central London use a combination of the transport options listed below – and check your map! In many cases you can easily walk from one place to another or use the buses. Don’t be a Londoner and only use the tube as a way of travelling longer distances – you’re here to see London – you can’t see it underground!
Transport for London (TfL) is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. They also offer a 24-hour travel information line, charged at premium rate: ☎ 0843 222 1234 (or text 60835) for suggestions on getting from A to B, and for up to the minute information on how services are running. Fortunately for visitors (and indeed residents) there is a single ticketing system, Oyster, which enables travellers to switch between modes of transport on one ticket.
The main travel options in summary are:
- By tube / underground 11 colour-coded lines cover the central area and suburbs, run by TfL.
- By Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Runs only in the east of the city, providing links with London City Airport, Canary Wharf/Docklands, Stratford (For Westfield Stratford City and the Olympic site) and Greenwich, privately run but part of TfL’s network.
- By boat Commuter boats and pleasure cruises along the River Thames, privately run but part of TfL’s network.
- Airport Express Rail services run to Heathrow, Gatwick, Southend, Stansted and Luton airports. The trains to Heathrow are privately operated and require a premium fare. The trains to the other airports are part of the UK rail network, but are beyond the TfL network, so Oyster is not valid.
- By tram (Tramlink) A tram service that operates only in southern suburbs around Wimbledon and Croydon.
- By Overground Orange-coloured lines circling the northern suburbs; connecting Stratford (For Westfield Stratford City and the Olympic site) with Richmond Upon Thames. At Highbury and Islington it is possible to connect to Croydon and Crystal Palace in South London via the East End. There is also an interchange for Barking in East London at Gospel Oak and a line connecting Euston Station with Watford Junction in Hertfordshire. Another line runs from Willsden Junction in North West London to Clapham Junction in south via Shephard’s Bush (For Westfield). At Clapham you can connect to Brighton,Gatwick Airport, Southampton and other points south. Part of TfL’s network.
- By National Rail A complex network of suburban rail services, mostly running in the southern suburbs, but also connecting to some areas to the north. privately run and not part of the TfL network, although all operators now accept Oyster payments.
Oyster is a contactless electronic smartcard run by Transport for London. In general, Oyster is the more cost effective option than paper tickets if you plan to be in London for any more than a couple of days, or if you intend to make return visits to the city – the savings quickly recover the initial purchase cost. You can buy an Oyster Card from any Tube station for a deposit of £5 and load it with a 7 Day Travelcards. You can “top up” an Oyster card with electronic funds for any amount starting in increments of 10p, though top ups using credit cards start at £5. This cash is then deducted according to where you travel. The cost of a single trip using the Oyster card is considerably less than buying a single paper ticket with cash. Prices vary depending on the number of zones travelled, whether by bus or tube, and on the time of day. You can also add various electronic 1 week, 1 month and longer-period tickets onto the card, and the card is simply validated each time you use it. The deposit is refundable if you hand it in at the end of the trip, though if your stay is short your refund will be reduced by £3. However, there is no expiry date on the Oyster Card or any pay-as-you-go credit on the card. If you have any pay-as-you-go credit left this will also be refunded. You will get refunds in cash only if you paid in cash. Be prepared to give your signature on receipts or even show ID for refunds over a few pounds. If you intend to use only the Bus (and/or the tram), there is a daily capping at £4.40. If you use the Tube as well, the daily capping stands at £6.40. If you are not in a hurry, try to use the Bus because of its panoramic view from the top deck. there is no ‘Zone demarcation’ for Buses as the Bus fares are calculated from start to end (flat fare of £1.50 each journey).
You can charge up/top up your Oyster card with electronic cash at any tube station ticket machine or ticket desk (you can even use a credit card to do this if your credit card has a PIN number) with Oyster pay-as-you-go, also known as PrePay. Top ups can also be done at any National Rail ticket machine found in central London stations. This money is then deducted from your card each time you get on a service. The fare is calculated based on your start and end points. Pay-as-you-go is much cheaper than paying in cash for each journey. For instance, a cash tube one way in Zone 1 is £4.50, while with an Oyster Card it costs £2.30. Furthermore, it is impossible to pay a cash bus fare – the Oyster fare is £1.50.
The amount of PrePay deducted from your Oyster card in one day is capped – for central London this is lower than the appropriate paper day ticket (day Travelcard). For zone 1-2 (central London including everywhere inside the Circle line and some places outside) this is £6.40 (There is no difference in price cap between peak and off peak in central London).
On the tube, be sure to touch in and touch out again at the end of your journey. If you forget to touch your Oyster card at the start and or finish you will be charged extra! This is usually a hefty charge of £8.80, which is not counted towards the daily/weekly fare cap, as are fares charged resulting from failure to tap in or out. This fine can be disputed by calling TFL using the phone number on the back of the card. Just quote your Oyster number and remember where you finished your journey. Touch outs are not required for bus and tram rides so do not touch out when you exit the bus or tram.
Oyster also saves time getting onto buses. Buses operated under contract to London buses (that’s most buses within the M25) do NOT accept cash. If you don’t have an Oyster, you must use a “contactless” bank card, Apple Pay or a paper travelcard.
If you have a National Railcard, such as the 16-25 year old Railcard, you can register this with your Oyster card at a Tube ticket office and then continue to receive special discounts on your TFL travel. So for every journey on the Underground/DLR/Overground you get 34% discount and also qualify for a reduced daily price cap of £4.75. This means a zone 1 Underground ride will only cost £1.50 instead of £2.30. Do note the discount applies only during off-peak times, even within zone 1 (where peak and off-peak fares are normally the same) and does not extend to buses. Travelling during peak hours may forfeit your entitlement to the reduced daily price cap for the day.
Contactless Credit and Debit Cards and Apple Pay on TfL
An alternative to Oyster is a contactless credit or debit card. A contactless credit or debit card can be used anywhere Oyster is accepted (Underground, Overground, bus, and boat). Most European and some American credit cards have an embedded contactless chip; this number will only grow in the coming years. Look for the contactless symbol on your card. The fare charged when using a contactless credit or debit card is the same as when using an Oyster card, and users of the former can also take advantage of the daily/weekly price caps offered to the latter. And you also don’t need to worry about leaving any money on an Oyster card at the end of your trip. This can be a good option for those who need to use public transit infrequently over several days, as it is cheaper than getting a travel card.
If you have ApplePay enabled on your iPhone or Apple Watch (currently only offered by selected US and UK banks), you can also use that to pay for public transport in London. Fares and price caps are the same as Oyster/actual contactless cards. However, be careful if you have more than one device that uses the same debit/credit card account or more than one account registered with ApplePay. Choose only one device and one payment card within it. For example, you have an two payment cards enabled for Apple Pay on your iPhone, they are treated as two separate accounts. Likewise, if you have only one payment card linked to two Apple Pay devices such as an iPhone and Apple Watch, your iPhone and Apple Watch are also treated as two separate accounts. In both scenarios, it means two price caps where you can be spending up to £12.80 for zone 1 & 2 travel if you do not stick to only one device and/or one card within it. This also means that you should avoid using the actual physical payment card and its Apple Pay version in the same day. If you attempt to enter the Tube using an iPhone and exit using an Apple Watch device, even if they are linked to one and the same payment card, you may be charged the maximum fare of up to £8.80 twice (that is £17.60).
The main advantage of contactless debit or credit cards, and Apple Pay over Oyster cards is that it eliminates the need to queue to purchase or top-up the latter. Moreover, you do not need to fork out at least £10 at once when using a debit/credit card to top up Oyster (£5 for the card itself and at least £5 for credit). However, just as with any foreign exchange transaction you need to take note of foreign exchange fees your bank levies, especially if your card isn’t denominated in pound sterling. Another disadvantage of using contactless cards is that you cannot use it to avail of discounted fare schemes, such as those offered in conjunction with railcards.
Travelcards vs Capping
A Travelcard may be loaded onto an Oyster card (not day tickets) or may be purchased as a paper ticket.
- Day Travelcard – Zones 1-6 – Anytime: £12 off-peak (if purchased alone) or variable amount (if purchased in conjunction with National Rail ticket – the amount of the add on charges varies depending on where your rail journey starts from)
- 7 Day Travelcard Zones 1-2 – £30.40 (2014 price)
- Monthly Travelcard Zones 1-2 – £116.08 (2014 price)
- Annual Travelcard Zones 1-2 – £1,216.00 (2014 price)
1- and 7-day Travelcard rates mentioned above apply only to off-peak journeys. The “daily cap” using Oyster is cheaper at £6.40 for travel between zones 1 & 2 for both peak and off-peak journeys. The weekly cap is £32.10 for zones 1 & 2 but the amount counted towards the cap resets to £0 every Mondays at 4.30. For a more comprehensive list of the prices visit the TFL website:
- 1-Day Travelcards
- 7-Day, Monthly & Annual Travelcards
Travelcard season tickets
Weekly, monthly and longer-period Travelcard season tickets can be purchased at all tube station ticket offices. These can be used on any tube, DLR, bus, London Overground, National Rail or tram service. You have to select a range of zones when you buy it, numbered 1-9. If you happen to travel outside the zone, you can use PrePay (see above) to make up the difference. Note that they can not be used on any Airport Express trains (Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express and Stansted Express). However, a Zone 1-6 Travelcard can be used on the London Underground (Piccadilly line) to/from Heathrow Airport. Notice a weekly travelcard may be a better value than a PAYG Oyster card if you are looking to travel extensively within London for more than five days in a week, especially given that the former’s effectivity will last a week after it was purchased, whereas weekly fare cap on the latter will reset at 4.30 every Monday.
- Touch the card against a yellow disc, prominently displayed on the entry and exit gates for the Tube (do not try to insert it into the slot!) and on buses and trams.
- On the Docklands Light Railway, and on the Overground railway stations in the outlying parts of the city there are no entry or exit gates (except at interchanges with the Tube like Bank or Stratford), so you have to be sure to touch your Oyster card on the readers (which are clearly signposted) as you enter and leave. Failure to do this when you begin a journey is regarded as fare dodging (carrying a penalty fare or even a fine if you are caught). Equally, failing to touch out when you leave a station will result in you being overcharged for your journey, as the system will make a default deduction of £6.50 since it doesn’t know which station you left at. Do not be tempted to travel without a ticket, a significant number of people are prosecuted for not having a ticket, giving them a criminal record, as well as a large fine.
- Once you have used the tube once, you will recognise the yellow circle oyster card reader where you touch your card in and out from. You may also notice that on some platforms, this is pink coloured. Most tourists can ignore this as it is no use to them. Due to the fact that tickets are priced in zones, if you travel by avoiding a particular zone you can save money. An example of this is if you travel from a zone two station in South London to a zone by taking an alternative route that doesn’t go through zone one. You can find alternative cheaper routes using the TFL Fare Finder, however this will not be of any use to you if you live or visit places in zone 1 (central London) only.
- Many stations in London are very close together (even next door!) but you cannot transfer between train lines within the ticket barriers. This is because historically the train lines were built by competing companies and there was no traveller need, or commercial reason to create interchanges back then. Now we have OSI (Outside Station Interchange), this means that you can touch your oyster card out of a station, walk the 5 minutes to a nearby station and touch in again, without charging you two tickets – you will be charged as if you made an interchange without leaving the station. This is also the case at some large stations which are integrated, but it might be easier to touch out at one entrance and touch back in again at another entrance when changing lines, such as transferring between the Northern and Circle, H&C or Metropolitan lines at King’s Cross St. Pancras station. Be warned that there is a time limit of how long you can stay out of the network before your touch-in is considered a new journey. You are given plenty of time to transfer and can even stop off to buy a snack at a local supermarket. There is a useful guide online listing the stations where OSI exists and the time limit you have to make the change.
- You can use your Oyster Card to pay for tickets on National Rail services that operate within London, however some routes are charged at a slightly higher rate. A map exists showing which routes are subject to the higher rate. As a general rule, if the journey you are making on a National Rail service either can me made by using the tube, or is within two stations which could be made by taking the tube, you will be charged the local standard TFL fare.
- Theoretically you don’t need to remove your Oyster card from your wallet or bag to do touch in/out – the card reader can work through a bag, but in reality you may need to take the card out to get it to work. Keep other contactless cards such as bank cards separate, as the fare might be deducted from them instead of your Oyster.
- Be careful standing near the readers on some buses, they are often quite sensitive and may read your card from several centimetres away, even if you did not intend this.
- If you keep your Oyster card in your wallet try not to sit on it as sometimes they will crack and stop working.
The following table summarises the validity of the different tickets you can use on Oyster. For most tourists, tubes and buses are the only transport you will use, but be aware that these tickets are not valid on any Rail trains to any of London’s airports.
|Bus||London Underground||London Overground||National Rail||DLR||Tram||Airport Express trains|
- Bus (and Tram) Passes are only available for periods of 7 days and longer.
- Travelcards are valid only within the zones you buy.
- Piccadilly line to Heathrow is a London Underground train, so PrePay and Travelcards are valid.
- Airport Express trains are Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Express.
- Travelcards are valid on Thameslink within London but if you are heading to Luton or Gatwick airports, you will need a ticket between the edge of your travelcard zone and the airport.
London is a surprisingly compact city, making it a walker’s delight and walking is often the quickest method of transport.
The city is incredibly well signposted so it is very easy to find your way round by foot.
Because Britain drives on the left hand side of the road, for most foreign visitors it can be all too easy to forget that traffic will come at you from the opposite direction than you are used to when crossing a street – for this reason remember to look right when you cross the road.
Particularly on Central London’s busiest streets, it is easy to spot native Londoners as they are able to weave in and out of the large crowds at fast speed. Refrain from walking slowly in tight spaces to avoid annoying any fast walking people that may be trying to pass.
By Tube / Underground
|General Tube etiquette
Londoners live with continuous tourism in their city. Many are patient and willing to help you if you’re lost Underground, however the volume of inconsiderate tourists who are ignorant about local customs can become irritating. To avoid confrontations with busy travellers and angry Londoners, you should follow the following ‘unwritten’ rules:
The London Underground – also known popularly as The Tube – has trains that criss-cross London in the largest underground rail network in the world (it was also the first, the first section of the Metropolitan Line dates back to 1863). The Tube is an easy method of transport even for new visitors to London.
Tube maps are freely available from any station, most tourist offices and are prominently displayed in stations and in the back of most diaries. The Tube is made up of 11 lines each bearing a traditional name and a standard colour on the Tube map. To plan your trip on The Tube work out first which station is closest to your starting point and which closest to your destination. You can change between lines at interchange stations (providing you stay within the zones shown on your ticket). Since the Tube Map is well designed it is very easy to work out how to get between any two stations, and since each station is clearly signed it is easy to work out when to exit your train. Visitors should be aware, however, that the Tube map is a diagram and not a scaled map, making it misleading for determining the relative distance between stations as it makes central stations appear further apart and somewhat out of place – the most distant reaches of the Metropolitan Line for example are almost 60km (36 mi) from the centre of the city. In central London, taking The Tube for just one stop can be a waste of time; Londoners joke about the tourists who use the Tube to travel between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations. This is especially true since the walk from a tube station entrance to the platform at some central stations can be extensive. The Tube map also gives no information on London’s extensive overground bus network and its orbital rail network.
Trains run from around 05:30 to about 01:00. They are usually the fastest way to travel in London, the only problem being the relative expense, and that it can get extremely crowded during rush hours (07:30-10:00 and 16:30-19:00). On warm days take a bottle of water with you. Also note that engineering works usually take place during weekends or the evening. Contact TfL or visit their website especially if you plan to travel on a Saturday or a Sunday when entire lines may be shut down. Avoid rush hours if at all possible (08:00 – 09:00 and 17:00 – 18:00) as over 500,000 people crowd onto the tube on their way to and from work.
All lines are identified by name (Circle Line, Central Line, Piccadilly Line) and by colour (on maps). Many lines have multiple branches rather than running point-to-point so always to check the train’s destination (which is shown on the front of the train, the platform indicator screens and will be broadcast on the train’s PA), especially if you plan to travel outside zones 1 and 2. Some branch lines (such as the Chesham branch of the Metropolitan Line or the Kensington Olympia branch of the District Line) run as shuttles and require a transfer onto the ‘main line’. Note that the Northern Line has two separate routes through the city centre which split at Euston and rejoin at Kennington, one (officially called the Charing Cross Branch but known by locals as the West End branch) runs through the West End serving Leicester Square, Charing Cross and Waterloo, while the other route runs via the City of London (officially called the Bank branch but also referred to as the City branch) with major stops at Kings Cross and Bank.
Despite the confusing layout of the line, it is fairly easy to work out which way your train is going; for example a northbound Northern Line train to Edgware along the Charing Cross branch will be displayed on the indicator as ‘Edgware via ChX’ and the on-board PA will announce ‘This train terminates at Edgware via Charing Cross’. Finally, note that direction signs for the platforms indicate the geographical direction of the line, not the last stop of the line. Always always advisable to carry a pocket Tube map (available for free at most stations) to help you with this.
Almost all stations have automatic ticket barriers, though some stations may leave them open during extremely busy hours. If you pay by Oyster card, just tap your card against the yellow pad to open the barriers (both upon entrance and exit). If you have a paper ticket, insert it face-up into the slot on the front of the machine, and remove it from the top to enter the station. If you have a single-ticket it will be retained at the exit gate. If you have luggage or if your ticket is rejected there is normally a staffed gate as well. Paper tickets can be purchased from vending machines in the station lobby. Paper tickets are now no longer good value and are being phased out; it is recommended to use oyster or contactless.
All ticket offices are now closed, and information is instead now available from members of staff in the ticket hall area. At certain tube stations, TfL provides visitor centres offering guidance, the opening times are listed below from TfL’s website:
|Liverpool Street, Liverpool Street Underground station||Monday to Saturday: 08:00-18:00 Sundays and Bank Holidays: 08:30-18:00|
|Piccadilly Circus, Piccadilly Circus Underground station||Monday to Sunday and Bank Holidays: 09:30-16:00|
|Victoria (main), Opposite platform 8, Victoria rail station||Monday to Sunday and Bank Holidays: 08:00 – 18:00|
|Victoria (cube), Opposite platform 8, Victoria rail station||Monday to Saturday: 09:00 – 16:00Sundays and Bank Holidays: 08:30 – 18:00|
|Euston, Opposite platform 8, Euston rail station||Monday to Saturday: 08:00-18:00 Sundays and Bank Holidays: 08:30 – 18:00|
|King’s Cross, King’s Cross Underground station, Western Ticket Hall near St Pancras||Monday to Saturday: 08:00 – 18:00Sundays and Bank Holidays: 08:30 – 18:00|
|Paddington, Opposite Platform 1, Paddington rail station||Monday to Saturday: 08:00 – 18:00Sundays and Bank Holidays: 08:30 – 18:00|
|Gatwick Airport, North Terminal arrivals hall||Monday to Sunday and Bank Holidays: 09:15 – 16:00|
|Gatwick Airport, South Terminal arrivals hall||Monday to Sunday and Bank Holidays: 09:00 – 16:00|
|Heathrow, Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 Underground station||Monday to Sunday and Bank Holidays: 08:00 – 18:00|
To buy a paper ticket or top up an oyster card, it is easiest to use a ticket machine (oyster cards can be automatically topped up online, but this feature is more useful for commuters). There are two types of ticket machine, one type which is wider accepts coins, notes and card payments, while narrower machines which only facilitates card payments. Both types issue Oyster cards and have the same user interface software, which supports more than 17 different languages to use. To top up an Oyster card, begin the process by pressing the card against the yellow pad until it registers on the screen; when purchasing tickets use the display. Note: TfL ticket machines will not accept £50 notes.
London’s iconic red buses are recognized the world over, even if the traditional Routemasterbuses, with an open rear platform and on-board conductor to collect fares, have been phased out. These still run on Heritage Route 15 daily between about 09:30 and 18:30, every 15 minutes. Buses are generally quicker than taking the Tube for short (less than a couple of stops on the Tube) trips, but for longer ones can be much slower especially when traffic is heavy. For sightseeing, buses are a much more pleasant way to travel than the Tube, and cheaper too for a single journey. Out of central London you’re likely to be closer to a bus stop than a tube station.
Over 5 million bus trips are made each weekday; with over 700 different bus routes you are never far from a bus. Each bus stop has a sign listing routes that stop there. Bus routes are identified by numbers and sometimes letters, for example the 73 runs between Victoria and Seven Sisters, and the C1 (C for Central) runs from Victoria to White City. The letter N before a number designates a night bus, but a few services without the letter N run 24-hours – these are uncommon but clearly indicated and can be very useful!
Importantly, since the 6th of July 2014, it is not possible in London to purchase a bus ticket on the bus, nor can you expect a ticket machine at your bus stop! You must either have a Pay-as-you-go Oyster card with sufficient funds, a Travelcard ticket, a bus pass, or a contactless bank payment card (see note below). For the vast majority of tourists, Oyster cards (either pay-as-you-go or with a Travelcard loaded) remain the best option. TfL now allow you to make one more journey on an Oyster card with positive balance, but not enough to pay the full fare. Your card will go into negative balance, and you must top it up as soon as possible. The rest of the fare will be taken then.
London Transport has recently enabled using contactless bank cards (e.g. Visa payWave, MasterCard PayPass) to pay for transport within London. Simply use your credit or debit card as if it were an Oyster card and pay the usual £1.50 for a single fare. Daily and Monday-Sunday capping also work, but you should be wary of bank charges for foreign transactions. If using contactless, there is one charge to your card per day, so you would only pay one foreign transaction fee per day. Contactless bank cards are accepted everywhere where Oyster is and charged the same way.
Youngsters aged 11-15 travel free on buses with an 11-15 Oyster photocard (which are available for visitors, but unlike Oyster cards, these require an online application form and you must be prepared to wait four weeks). Similarly, if aged 16-18, half-price travel is available, but this again requires an application form and a long wait. Student Oysters (only available to students studying in London) are available from age 18 and provide a 35% discount on weekly and monthly travel cards.
Buses display their route number in large digits at the front, side and rear. All bus stops have their location and the direction of travel on them.
The iBus system has now been rolled out the iBus on every bus and garage in London. This system provides bus times and destination information on a audio-visual display.
Unlike The Tube one way tickets do not allow you to transfer to different buses.
Standard bus services run from around 05:30-00:30. Around half past midnight the network changes to the vast night bus network of well over 100 routes stretching all over the city. There are two types of night buses: 24 hour routes and N-prefixed routes.
24-hour services keep the same number as during the day and will run the exact same route, such as the number 88, for example. N-prefixed routes are generally very similar to their day-route, but may take a slightly different route or are extended to serve areas that are further out. For example, the 29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green during the day; however, the N29 bus goes from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green and on to Enfield.
Night buses run at a 30 minute frequency at minimum, with many routes at much higher frequencies up to every 5 minutes.
Prices stay the same, and daily travelcards are valid until 04:00 the day after they were issued, so can be used on night buses. Most bus stops will have night bus maps with all the buses to and from that local area on it, although it is good to check on the TfL website beforehand, which also has all those maps easily available.
London’s night buses are occasionally used by loud drunks who when provoked, can be quite confrontational but rarely violent. Stay polite and on the bottom deck of the bus to best avoid them although there will be just as many if not more friendly drunks who would be up for a chat. Use your instincts.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a dedicated light rail network operating in East London, connecting with the tube network at Bank, Tower Gateway (close to Tower Hill tube station), Canning Town, Heron Quays (close to Canary Wharf tube station) and Stratford. As the trains often operate without a driver, it can be quite exciting – especially for children – to sit in front and look at through the window, whilst feeling as though one is driving the train oneself. The DLR also runs above ground on much of its route, and travels through many picturesque parts of London, including the Docklands area where most of London’s skyscrapers are located. Apart from the trains looking slightly different and running slightly less frequently than the Tube, visitors may as well treat the two systems as the same.
Unlike the tube, the DLR uses the honour-system at all stations apart from Bank and Stratford. Tickets are available from the machines at stations (most stations are unstaffed so make sure you are armed with a handful of coins or low-denomination notes) and are distance-based. Travelcards are also accepted, as are Oyster cards, which must be validated when entering the platform, and then validated again when exiting the station.
The DLR can be a little confusing as the routes are not easily distinguished – generally trains run between Bank – Lewisham, Stratford – Lewisham, Bank – Woolwich Arsenal, Stratford – Woolwich Arsenal and Tower Gateway – Beckton. Displays on the platform will tell you the destination and approximate wait for the next 3 trains, and the destination is also displayed on the front and side of the train.
The British railway system is known as National Rail (although some older signs still refer to it as “British Rail”). London’s suburban rail services are operated by several private companies under tightly-written government contracts, and mostly run in the south of the city, away from the main tourist sights. Only one line (Thameslink) runs through central London – on a north-south axis between London Bridge or Blackfriars stations, and the underground level of St Pancras main line station. There is no one central station – instead, there are twelve mainline stations dotted around the edge of the central area, and most are connected by the Circle line (except Euston, Fenchurch St and those South of the river like London Waterloo and London Bridge). Most visitors will not need to use National Rail services except for a few specific destinations such as Hampton Court, Kew Gardens (Kew Bridge station), Windsor Castle, Greenwich or the airports, or indeed if they are intending to visit other cities in the UK. Since 2 January 2010, pay-as-you-go Oyster cards are accepted on all routes within London travel zones 1-6.
Visitors are well advised to remember that the quickest route between two stations might be a combination of the Tube as well as the National Rail network. (For example: getting to Wimbledon from central London by Tube using the District Line takes significantly longer (around 45 minutes) than taking the National Rail service from Waterloo to Wimbledon (around 15 minutes).)
Trains branded as Express serve Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports. However, trains to Stansted and Luton also have intermediate stops serving commuter stations. Trains to Gatwick are non stop, but the time saving is less than five minutes compared to other services. Tickets for trains branded express are generally sold at a premium. Oyster cards are only valid to Gatwick and not on other mainline routes to airports.
When you make National Rail journeys in London you can do so in the same way as the tube, however some journeys are charged at a slightly more expensive (or sometimes, but not often) cheaper rate. As a rough guide, if a journey between either your two stations or two stations further along the line where you get on and get off, you will be charged the standard fare, otherwise, you will be charged a higher fare. You can find out what fare you will be charged, as well as alternative routes for cheaper fares on using the TFL fare finder. There is also a map which shows National Rail services running in London coloured by the type of fare they charge. If you are following the route for cheaper fares, when you change trains, you will need to tell the system you are taking that route, by touching a pink oyster card reader at the station you interchange at.
In common parlance, Londoners may refer to travelling by “overground” (or “overland”), meaning going by National Rail (as opposed to going by Underground). However, only one service is officially called Overground – London Overground is a Transport for London rail service. It is operated and promoted just like the Underground, with the logo like the Tube (except orange) on stations and full acceptance of Oyster cards. London Overground appears on the Tube map as an orange line, and services run across North London suburbs from east to west. Overground services can be a useful shortcut for crossing the city, bypassing the centre, for example from Kew Gardens to Camden. London Overground services also connect busy Clapham Junction railway station in the Southwest to West London (Shepherds Bush and Kensington) and Willesden Junction in the Northwest.
Tramlink, opened in 2000, is the first modern tram system to operate in London. South London is poorly served by the Tube and lacks east-west National Rail services so the network connects Wimbledon in South West London to Beckenham in South East London and New Addington, a large housing estate in South Croydon. The network is centred on Croydon, where it runs on street-level tracks around the Croydon Loop.
Route 3 (Wimbledon to New Addington – green on the Tramlink map) is the most frequent service, running every 7.5 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 15 minutes at all other times. Beckenham is served by Routes 1 and 2 (yellow and red on the Tramlink map), which terminate at Elmers End and Beckenham Junction respectively. Both services travel around the Loop via West Croydon and run every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 30 minutes at all other times. Between Arena and Sandilands, these two services serve the same stops.
|Cycling in the United Kingdom
The rules for cyclists are available in the British Government publication “The Highway Code”
Due to the expense of other forms of transport and the compactness of central London, cycling is a tempting option. Excellent free cycle maps can be obtained from your local tube stations, bike shop, or ordered on-line.
London now offers a city-wide cycle hire scheme, operated by Transport for London. For an hourly charge, bicycles may be hired from automated hire stations around the city. The bikes, coloured red, can be unlocked and ridden around the city with a credit card, and must be returned to another hire station by locking the bike into the rack.
Despite recent improvements, London remains a relatively hostile environment for cyclists. London motorists seem reluctant to acknowledge the existence of cyclists, especially at busy junctions. The kind of contiguous cycle lane network found in many other European cities does not exist. The safest option is to stick to minor residential roads where traffic can be surprisingly calm outside rush hours.
Most major roads in London will have a red-route (indicated by red-painted tarmac) which is restricted to buses, taxis and bicycles. There are many bus stops on red routes, which can present a problem cycling around buses.
Cycle-lanes exist in London but they are often sporadic at best – usually a 3-foot wide section of tarmac barely wide enough for one cyclist typically indicated by green-painted tarmac. Many improvements have been made for cyclists in the city over the last few years, even if they remain no more than gestures in most places. Noticeably, there are many new signposted cycle routes and some new cycle lanes, not to mention more cyclists since the 2005 public transport attacks. A new network of “Cycle super-highways” has recently been launched: these are indicated by bright blue-painted tarmac. Motor vehicles often park on cycle lanes, rendering them unusable.
The towpaths in North London along the Grand Union Canal and Regent’s Canal are the closest thing to a truly traffic-free cycle path in the capital. The Grand Union canal connects Paddington to Camden and the Regent’s Canal connects Camden to Islington, Mile End and Limehouse in East London. It takes about 30-40min to cycle from Paddington station to Islington along the towpaths. In summer they are crowded with pedestrians and not suitable for cycling, but in winter or late in the evening they offer a very fast and safe way to travel from east to west in North London. Many cyclists enjoy cutting through one of London’s enormous parks. It is more of a peaceful way of cycling than riding on the road.
Care should be taken as to where you choose to park your bike. Many areas, some surprisingly busy, attract cycle thieves, while chaining a bicycle to a railing which appears to be private property can occasionally lead to said bike being removed.
Taking bikes on trains is very limited in London due to overcrowding. Non-folding bikes can be taken only on limited sections of The Tube network, mostly only on the above-ground sections outside peak hours. For this reason, folding bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. There is a map showing this on the Transport for London website. Most National Rail operators allow bicycles outside peak hours also.
Critical Mass London is a cycling advocacy group which meets for regular rides through central London at 6PM on the last Friday of each month. Rides start from the southern end of Waterloo Bridge.
The London Cycling Campaign is an advocacy group for London cyclists. With active local groups in most of the city’s boroughs, it is recognised by local and regional government as the leading voice for cycling in the capital.
London has two types of taxis: the famous black cab, and so-called minicabs. Black cabs are the only ones licensed to ‘ply for hire’ (ie pick people up off the street), while minicabs are more accurately described as ‘private hire vehicles’ and need to be pre-booked.
The famous black cab of London (not always black!) can be hailed from the curb or found at one of the many designated taxi ranks. It is possible to book black cabs by phone, for a fee, but if you are in central London it will usually be quicker to hail one from the street. Their amber TAXI light will be on if they are available. Drivers must pass a rigorous exam of central London’s streets, known as ‘The Knowledge’, in order to be licensed to drive a black cab. This means they can supposedly navigate you to almost any London street without reference to a map. They are a cheap transport option if there are five passengers as they do not charge extras, and many view them as an essential experience for any visitor to London. Black cabs charge by distance and by the minute, are non-smoking, and have a minimum charge of £2.40. Tipping is not mandatory in either taxis or minicabs, despite some drivers’ expectations! Use your discretion: if you like the service you may tip otherwise don’t. Londoners will often just round up to the nearest pound.
Taxis are required by law to take you up to 12 miles or up to one hour duration, if the destination is in Greater London (20 miles if starting at Heathrow Airport) if their TAXI light is on when you hail them, unless they have a good reason. However some, especially older drivers, dislike leaving the centre of town, or going south of the River Thames. A good way to combat being left at the side of the curb is to open the back door, or even get into the cab, before stating your destination.
Minicabs are normal cars which are licensed hire vehicles that you need to book by phone or at a minicab office. They generally charge a fixed fare for a journey, best agreed before you get in the car. Minicabs are sometimes cheaper than black cabs, although this is not necessarily the case for short journeys. Minicabs can be significantly cheaper for airport journeys – for example, a minicab from Heathrow to South-West London will cost around £36, whereas a black cab will cost over £100. Drivers are not tested as rigorously as black cab drivers, so they will typically not speak English very well and rely on a GPS to find their way, but will still get you from A to B. Licensed minicabs display a Transport For London (TFL) License Plate – usually in the front window. One of the features of the license plate is a blue version of the famous London Underground “roundel”. A list of licensed minicab operators can be found at TfL Findaride: Note that some areas in London are poorly serviced by black cabs, particularly late at night. This has led to a large number of illegal minicabs operating – just opportunistic people, with a car, looking to make some fast money. Some of these operators can be fairly aggressive in their attempts to find customers, and it’s now barely possible to walk late at night through any part of London with a modicum of nightlife without being approached. You should avoid mini-cabs touting for business off the street or outside nightclubs, and either take a black cab, book a licensed minicab by telephone, or take a night bus. These illegal drivers are unlicensed and sadly they are often unsafe: a number of women are assaulted every week by illegal minicab operators (11 reported per month).
- Cabwise is a free service provided by TFL which can text you local licensed minicab numbers if you text CAB to 60835. There’s also an app.
- Uber, the global taxi giant. If you have an account from any other country, you can use it in London as well. New clients get a 10 pounds bonus for signing up. App available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
Caution: Do not use Central London’s roads at any time unless you have issues with mobility. Traffic comes to a standstill frequently, and if not, typically averages about 5-10mph. Even with the most advanced traffic control system in the word, it’s quicker by tube, or even by foot!
Londoners who drive normally take public transport in the centre; follow their example. Unless you have a disability, there is no good reason whatsoever to drive a car in central London.
Car drivers should be aware that driving into central London on weekdays during daylight hours incurs a hefty charge, with very few exemptions (note that rental cars also attract the charge). Cameras and mobile units record and identify the number plates and registration details of all vehicles entering the charging zone with high accuracy. The Central London Congestion Charge M-F 07:00-18:00 (excluding public holidays) attracts a fee of £8 if paid the same day, or £10 if paid on the next charging day. Numerous payment options exist: by phone, online, at convenience stores displaying the red ‘C’ logo in the window and by voucher. Failure to pay the charge by midnight the next charging day (take note!) incurs a hefty automatic fine of £80 (£40 if paid within 2 weeks).
Despite the Congestion Charge, London – like most major cities – continues to experience traffic snarls. These are, of course, worse on weekdays during peak commuting hours (i.e. between 07:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00). At these times public transport (and especially the Tube) usually offers the best alternative for speed and reduced hassle. Driving in Central London is a slow, frustrating, expensive and often unnecessary activity. There are many sorts of automatic enforcement cameras and it is difficult (and expensive) to park. A good tip is, that outside advertised restriction hours, parking on a single yellow line is permissible. Parking on a red line or a double yellow line is never permissible and heavily enforced. Find and read the parking restrictions carefully! Parking during weekdays and on Saturday can also mean considerable expense in parking fees – fees and restrictions are ignored at your extreme financial peril – issuing fines, clamping and towing vehicles (without warning!) has become a veritable new industry for borough councils staffed by armies of traffic wardens.
For the disabled, driving can be much more convenient than using public transport. If disabled and a resident of a member state of the EU, then two cars can be permanently registered for free for the congestion charge.
Motorcycles and scooters are common in London as they can pass stationary cars, can usually be parked for free and are exempt from congestion-charging. Scooters and bikes with automatic transmission are much more preferable – a manually-geared racing bike is completely impractical unless you have excellent clutch-control (although it has to be said you will see plenty of them being ridden aggressively by motorcycle couriers and locals as it can be the fastest way to get around!) Likewise to bicycles, car-drivers have a disregard to anyone on two wheels and larger vehicles have an unwritten priority so take care when crossing junctions. Crash helmets are mandatory. Parking for bikes is usually free – there are designated motorcycle-parking areas on some side-streets and some multi-level parking lots will have bike parking on the ground level.
London is now starting to follow the example of cities such as Sydney and Bangkok by promoting a network of river bus and pleasure cruise services along the River Thames. London River Services  (part of Transport for London) manages regular commuter boats and a network of piers all along the river and publishes timetables and river maps similar to the famous tube map. While boat travel may be slower and a little more expensive than tube travel, it offers an extremely pleasant way to cross the city with unrivaled views of the London skyline – Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, etc. Sailing under Tower Bridge is an unforgettable experience.
Boats are operated by private companies and they have a separate ticketing system from the rest of London transport; however if you have a Travelcard you get a 33% discount on most boat tickets. Many boat operators offer their own one-day ticket – ask at the pier kiosks. Generally, tickets from one boat company are not valid on other operators’ services. Oyster cards can be used as payment for the ‘Clipper’-styled commuter services but not for tour boats.
Boats run on the following routes:
- Bankside – Millbank
- Barrier Gardens – Greenwich – St. Katharine’s – Westminster
- Blackfriars – Embankment – Cadogan – Chelsea Harbour – Wandsworth (RQ) – Putney
- Canary Wharf – Hilton Docklands
- Canary Wharf – London Bridge City
- Embankment – Blackfriars – Chelsea Harbour – Cadogan
- Embankment – London Eye – Bankside – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenland – Masthouse Terrace – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment – London Eye – Blackfriars – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenland – Masthouse Terrace – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment – London Eye – Blackfriars – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Embankment – London Eye – London Bridge City – Tower – Canary Wharf – Greenland – Masthouse Terrace – Greenwich – QEII for the O2 – Woolwich Arsenal
- Greenwich – Tilbury – Gravesend
- Greenwich – Tower – Westminster – London Eye
- Hampton Court – Kingston (Town End Pier) – Kingston (Turk’s Pier) – Richmond (St Helena)
- Hampton Court – Richmond – Kew – Westminster
- Hilton Docklands – Canary Wharf
- London Bridge City – Canary Wharf
- Millbank – Bankside
- Putney – Wandsworth (RQ) – Chelsea Harbour – Cadogan – Embankment – Blackfriars
- Richmond (St Helena) – Kingston (Turk’s Pier) – Kingston (Town End Pier) – Hampton Court
- Tilbury – Gravesend – Greenwich
- Westminster – Embankment – Festival – Bankside – London Bridge City – St. Katharine’s – Westminster
- Westminster – Embankment – St. Katharine’s – Westminster
- Westminster – Kew – Richmond – Hampton Court
- Westminster – London Eye – Tower – Greenwich
- Westminster – St. Katharine’s – Greenwich – Barrier Gardens
- Woolwich Arsenal – QEII for the O2 – Greenwich – Masthouse Terrace – Greenland – Canary Wharf – Tower – London Bridge City – Bankside – Embankment – London Eye
- Woolwich Arsenal – QEII for the O2 – Greenwich – Masthouse Terrace – Greenland – Canary Wharf – Tower – London Bridge City – Blackfriars – Embankment – London Eye
- Woolwich Arsenal – QEII for the O2 – Greenwich – Masthouse Terrace – Greenland – Canary Wharf – Tower – London Bridge City – Embankment – London Eye
Some key tourist attractions that are easily accessible by boat include:
plus all the central London sights in Westminster and the South Bank
As well as the Thames, consider a trip along an old Victorian canal through the leafy suburbs of North London. The London Waterbus Company runs scheduled services (more in summer, less in winter) from Little Venice to Camden Lock with a stop at the London Zoo (pick up only). The 45-minute trip along Regent’s Canal is a delightful way to travel.
Inline skating on roads and pavements (sidewalks) is completely legal, except in the City of London (a district). Roads are not the greatest but easily skatable. In the centre, drivers are more used to skaters than in the outskirts.