When you arrive in London, knowing where to even begin finding your way around can be a real challenge … ‘Oyster Cards,’ ‘The Tube,’ ‘Boris Bikes’ – it may all sound like an alien language to anyone who’s not a seasoned Londoner. To help you out, we’ve put together this handy guide to getting around London.
Unlike the name suggests, these are nothing to do with the sea. However, these handy little cards will be your best friend when making your way around London.
You can use them to pay for travel on the tube, bus, tram, London Overground, TfL Rail, DLR and most National Rail services in the city.
Pay-as-you-go fares on Oyster are much better value than single use paper tickets, so it’s definitely worth getting one.
Contactless debit and credit cards can also be used and offer the same good-value pay-as-you-go fares as Oyster Cards.
The Underground (or ‘The Tube’)
The Underground is one of the quickest ways to get around London, but navigating its many lines can be a daunting task for anyone who’s new to the city.
Before you arrive, it’s worth acquainting yourself with the London Tube Map. You can also pick up a pocket-sized version once you arrive. Carry this around with you and it will be your bible!
Each tube line is colour-coded and runs either northbound, southbound, eastbound or westbound. All stops on a line are listed and will fall either under a left-hand column (northbound / eastbound) or a right-hand column (southbound / westbound). Find your stop on the list and then you’ll know which signs to follow to find the right platform – ie. Picadilly Line, Westbound, Platform 4. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get the hang of it!
The Underground doesn’t run to a strict timetable, but the trains usually come every few minutes so you shouldn’t have to wait long.
You can jump on the first tube between 5.00 and 05.30am. The last tube on regular service usually leaves central London at around 12.30am. You’ll find posters at each tube station detailing exact times of first and last trains.
The Night Tube has also finally arrived in London, meaning there’s a 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays! The Central, Jubilee, Victoria, Northern and Piccadilly lines all run throughout the night, so you’ll be able to find your way across London without getting an expensive taxi.
If you want to pass as a real Londoner, there are a few unsaid rules when it comes to navigating the underground. Keep them in mind as you travel and you’ll soon look like a seasoned city-slicker.
- Stand on the right, walk on the left. This is the number 1 rule of the underground network. Remember it when you’re going up / down escalators especially (or risk disapproving looks from veteran commuters!)
- Swiping your oyster/contactless. No need to wait for the barriers to close after the person ahead of you has gone through. Just swipe and go!
- Let passengers off the train first. When the doors to your train open, don’t barge on through. Wait for people to get off before sidling in to find your spot.
- Don’t obstruct the doors. You guessed it, no one likes that person who’s bag/hair/scarf gets caught in the door. If this happens, the train can’t leave the station. So make sure you (and your possessions) are fully on board.
- Give up your seat. Pregnant or just carrying a little extra weight? Old or just on the wrinkly side? To be fair, it’s hard to judge who needs a perch, but if you’re pretty sure someone needs it, be a darling and offer yours up.
Ah, the iconic London bus. Not quite as speedy as the tube, but it’s a cheaper and arguably less stressful option. You’ll also get a great view of the city as you roll along the streets. Most buses are double-decker, so be sure to grab a seat on the upper level if you’re in the market for a spot of sightseeing.
Figuring out which bus gets you where can be a challenge – but if you do a bit of homework in advance, it’ll make it easier. The Transport for London website is the best place to start. You’ll find all the bus timetables and the routes that run in each borough. Download the bus route maps and you’ll see where each line runs and where it stops.
If you’re out and about and looking to get a bus, head to any shelter where you can find more information. The ‘destination finder’ is usually on the back window of the bus shelter. Here, you’ll find the list of stops you can reach from where you are along with the bus numbers.
- Stick your hand out. There are certain bus stops where you’ll need to flag down the bus if you want it to stop.
- Get your Oyster Card / Contactless out in advance. You don’t want to be that person fumbling around looking for it when you board the bus, trust us.
- Be prepared for your stop. When you see the name of your stop appear on the screen, press one of the red buttons to alert the driver that you want to get off. Gather your things in good time so you’re not in a mad rush when the doors open to let passengers off.
- Move down the bus. It might seem obvious, but there are plenty who don’t take heed … When you board the bus, move along inside (or head upstairs!) to make room for others getting on.
- Aisle seat code. If there are two seats empty next to each other, don’t plonk yourself in the aisle seat. Move up to the window so someone else can sit down, hassle free.
‘Boris’ Bikes (Or Santander Cycles)
The London Cycle Hire Scheme was strongly championed by former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Hence why Londoners refer to the sturdy hire bikes you see whizzing round the city as ‘Boris Bikes.’ Now sponsored by Santander bank, you’ll spot the red beauties at various bike bays around London.
The bikes are intended for short trips. It’s just a few pounds for 24 hour bike access. Bear in mind that you should keep each journey under 30 mins, or extra charges will apply. That said, you only have to wait five minutes between docking a bike and taking another one out.
TFL have put together a handy guide on how to access and return your bike.
Boris Biking Tips
- Check your bike. Make sure that your wheel spins smoothly by lifting the bike and spinning the back wheel. Take another bike if it looks sticky. It’s also worth checking that your saddle lock is secure, or you could find yourself with a sinking saddle!
- Plan your route in advance. Although hefty, the bikes travel at a fair speed, so you’ll have less time to consider your route than if you were walking. Check a map before and be sure of where you’re heading.
- Be safe. London can be a scary place to cycle. It almost goes without saying, but make sure you’re paying attention to other road users and signal to indicate your own movements.
- Time your journey. To make sure you’re not incurring extra charges, it’s worth setting an alarm on your phone to alert you when you’re coming up to 30 mins.
- Check where you’re going to dock. f you’re heading to a specific location, make sure you check out where there are docking stations nearby. You can using the TFL website or the Santander Cycles App.
There are loads of apps out there that will help you navigate your way around the city. Here are just a few of our favourite ones.
TFL’s Journey Planner: Whilst this isn’t actually an app, it’s the best place to head online to suss out door to door instructions for your journey in the city.
Citymapper: If you’re on the go in the city, this app is a life-saver. It’ll give you various route options and their estimated times for walking, cycling, driving or via public transport. The app takes account of up-to-date travel disruptions and makes sure to factor them into it’s suggestions. If you’re on a bus, you can even ask the app to alert you when you’re almost at your stop. Nifty!
Santander Cycles: (iPhone/Android) Find up to date info about which docking spaces have bikes available and plan your journey. You can also access bike release codes through the app, so you can get riding more quickly!
YPlan: (iPhone/Android) Not technically a travel app, but if you’re looking for an overview of the best events happening across the city, then download this pronto. You can even grab last minute discounted tickets.
Remember, head to the Transport for London website for loads more info on the other ways you can get around London.
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