Essential tips for getting around London

Whether you’re heading to the West End or fancy a trip on the London Eye, you may be nervous about getting around London. The good news is it’s not as complicated as you might first think. There are multiple travel routes and forms of transport that’ll help you explore the Big Smoke in style. But, as with any adventure, it’s a good idea to do some planning and know what to expect before you head to this bustling, vibrant and multicultural capital. So, without further ado, here are some top tips for travelling in London.

London skyline

Do I need an Oyster card?

First and foremost, let’s delve into the world of Oyster Cards, a London travel essential. These are smart cards that you add money to, so you can pay as you go. You can pay as you go to travel on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, most TfL Rail (Transport for London), Emirates Air Line (more on that later) and Thames Clippers River Bus Services. You can also travel on most National Rail services in London and some outside London.

Oyster Cards eliminate the need to faff around with paper tickets. And if you lose them, you can claim back your balance. There is another option, however. The Transport for London network also accepts contactless payments. This means you can also tap your bank card when you start and end your Tube journey (it’s just a tap at the start for bus rides) and the prices are more or less what you’d pay when using an Oyster. If you want to embrace the full London experience with an Oyster Card in hand, you can get them (and top up) from any London Underground, Overground or Mainline Rail Station. It’s also wise to register them online as this makes viewing your balance and topping up even easier. 

If you’re looking for money saving tips or, say, the cheapest way to get around London for 3 days, it’s worth noting that there’s a daily fare cap for Oyster card users. This limits the amount you have to pay regardless of the journeys you take. The cap for London zones 1-2, for example, is set at £7.20 per day, meaning you can explore this part of the city without paying any more than that price. Keep this in mind if you want to reduce your travel outgoings.


What are London zones?

London is a large city. So it makes sense for it to be divided into multiple zones to make travelling and travel pricing a whole lot easier for everyone. Zone 1 is central London. The further you go from the centre, the higher the zone number, meaning somewhere like Battersea Park will be in Zone 2 while Greenwich and Bromley would be in Zone 4 and Ruislip is considered Zone 6. The six different zones cover 55-square miles of inner and outer London.

London tube map

Navigating the London Underground 

Now for transport modes. The London Underground is one of the easiest, quickest and most efficient ways to travel around the city. Trains leave most platforms every couple of minutes and will swiftly take you to your destination. The train route is always displayed on the train, so it’s easy to see when and where you need to get off. Take note of the stop before as this will give you time to gather your things and head for the door if the Tube is particularly busy. 

It all sounds simple so far, right? But there’s a high chance you’ve seen a London Underground map and panicked. It looks complicated. And it’s no wonder, considering there are 11 lines covering 402km and serving 272 stations - but try not to worry. Simply look where you are, look where you want to be and use the colour code to help you identify the line/s you need to take. Do this ahead of time to avoid wandering around the station aimlessly. And if you really need help, there’s usually a London Underground employee to ask.

Top tip: Remember, you don’t have to catch the London Underground to every single destination. If you get off at Piccadilly Circus, for example, you can walk to places like Oxford Circus, Green Park, Leicester Square, Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road, depending on your itinerary and energy levels. The more you visit London, the more you’ll get used to where main attractions are located.


People waiting to board tube

Hopping on a London bus 

Head to London and you’re sure to see one of the city’s iconic red, double-decker buses. The number and destination of each bus is presented clearly on the display screen of each bus. So if you’ve planned your journey in advance, it should be easy to catch the bus you need. 

There are certain things to bear in mind when using a London bus, however. 

  • They are cashless, so you’ll need some kind of Oyster Card, Travelcard or contactless option. This makes complete sense. Imagine everyone trying to fumble around with pennies on a crowded bus route. 
  • You only need to tap onto the bus and not off again.
  • One ride is priced at a set fee. This means no matter how far you travel you’ll pay the same. This explains why tapping off isn’t required.

Things to note about bus travel include the traffic. Journeys can be a lot slower than using the underground system. Also, there are 673 routes, 19,000 stops and 8,500+ buses in London, so you really need to think carefully about where you’re going. If you get the right bus number but the wrong stop, you could end up travelling in the wrong direction.


London bus driving along road

Exploring the London Overground

While the London Underground is a great way to travel around Zone 1 quickly, the London Overground is ideal for reaching other zones outside of central London. Trains come less frequently but can be booked in advance and you can reserve a seat. Travelling overground is a comfortable and enjoyable way to explore the city, offering great views along the way.

Other unique forms of transport…

As well as all the regular ways to explore the city, there are also some unique options, such as:

The Thames Clipper 

Thames Clipper next to Tower Bridge

The Thames Clipper ferry network connects Putney in the west to Woolwich in the east. The boat glides along the River Thames and passes some of London’s most iconic landmarks.

The Emirates Air Line

Emirates air line

The Emirates Air Line offers a fun-filled cable car ride across the Thames from Emirates Greenwich Peninsula on the south of the river to Emirates Royal Docks on the north. 

Regents Canal Boat Ride

Regents canal boat ride

Arriving at Paddington Station? Then how about taking a short stroll to Little Venice and enjoying a relaxing trip down Regents Canal towards Camden, where you’ll find the bustling Camden Market complete with plenty of international food stalls.

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