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Travelling Around London

Airports

Heathrow

Heathrow airport has four terminals, with a fifth planned. Be sure you know which terminal your flight will land at or depart from.

Getting into/from London

The Paddington station serves Heathrow with the Heathrow Express, and the trip takes only 15 minutes, but it is not a cheap way to go, at £12 one way for adults. Several airlines now offer you the option of checking in for your outbound flight at Paddington station before boarding the train to the airport. The Express serves all four Heathrow terminals.

Piccadilly Line Tube serves all 4 terminals, and at £3.40 for adults it is the way to go if you are budget-minded. The trip takes an hour, and tickets are available at the luggage area. You'll need the all-zone ticket (or the all-zone Travelcard).

The Heathrow Airbus Shuttle goes every half-hour and costs £6 adult one way.

Hotel shuttle - several large hotel chains have a "presence" at Heathrow. You can get to these hotels by using the Hotel Hoppa Bus (cost £2).

If budget isn't even a word you recognise, the simplest option for transportation into the city from Heathrow is one of the traditional black London taxis. Prices to the city centre run about £35. If you're only mildly aquainted with financial constraints, consider a minicab, which should cost about £20 for the same trip.

Gatwick

Gatwick is smaller and better organised than Heathrow. There are two terminals, connected by a monorail service.

Getting into/from London

Gatwick Express runs very frequent shuttle trains to/from Victoria Station. 5am to midnight trains run every 15 minutes. The trip takes about 30 minutes, and costs £9.50 one way for adults and £4.75 for children under 15. There are also Thameslink trains from London Bridge, Farringdon, and King's Cross for £9.50.

Connex South Central trains to/from Victoria are £8.20 one way. A better deal is the Flightline bus, with a ticket good for 3 months costing £7.50 single/£11 return.

If you have money to burn, a black taxi costs £50 to/from Central London, with a minicab kicking in at about £35 for the same trip.

London Underground

Probably the most useful transportation method for the visitor to London is the Tube, or Underground. There are 12 lines plus the Docklands Light Railway serving millions of travelers around London every day. Although the tube will usually be the quickest and most inexpensive way of getting about London (that is, if you take advantage of the various discount passes available), be aware that the British Rail "above-ground" trains serve some areas of London better than the tube. Regular underground service runs from 5.30am to just after midnight. The gap in service during the night is bridged by a new night bus service.

You can buy tickets either from automated machines or at a ticket window. You will need to keep your ticket until you have passed through the gates at your destination station. Be aware that ticket inspectors randomly police the Underground and can (and will) levy £10 fines for invalid tickets. Avoid the weekday rush hours if at all possible. Underground traffic is heaviest between 8am and 9.30am, and between 4pm and 6.30pm. Be aware that most discount passes, such as the London Visitorcard, are not valid for morning rush-hour travel.

The colour-coded London Underground map is a familiar site to travelers. It really is quite simple to follow, but when planning a journey please be aware of the number of transfers your journey will take. Many stations contain miles of corridors and numerous staircases, which can make traveling with heavy suitcases a real chore. A longer journey with fewer transfers between lines will be less troublesome if you are carrying luggage.

The London Travelcard is good for unlimited travel on both the Underground and the buses. Travelcards can be purchased for 7 days or more at a time, but they require a passport sized photo. Visitorcards are another option. They do not require a photo, and can only be purchased outside the UK. In addition to unlimited bus and Underground travel they include discount vouchers for many popular tourist attractions. Note that the Visitorcard is NOT valid for the Heathrow Express. If you live in the US, London Visitorcards are available for AAA members from AAA offices. Save yourself time by getting yours before you go.

Greater London is divided into 6 transit zones. Anytime you travel beyond one zone the fare rises. You can save money by only buying as far-ranging a Travelcard as you'll need, but do not try to use a pass to go to a zone you are not authorized for! Take a good look at the zones on a transport map (available free at any tube station or at the London Transport Web site). Most of the major tourist attractions are located in Zone 1, so you're fairly safe with a Zone 1 or a Zone 1-2 card. However, be sure to check the location of your hotel against the fare zone map. If your hotel is out in Zone 6 and you will be traveling to Inner London, you'll need an All-Zone Travelcard.

London by Bus

Double-decker red buses seem to be synonomous with London, but there are "single-deckers" carrying travelers around the city too. Single or double, there are a few basic tips to get the most out of bus travel in the London area.

Bus stop signs list the route numbers of the buses that stop there. If a bus is listed as "Request Only", then you must flag down the bus by raising your arm. If you don't, they won't stop. Nowadays the old Routemaster double-deckers are being phased out in favour of modern replacements. On the old buses you could simply hop on, find a seat, and wait for the conductor to come around to pay your fare. On the modern buses you pay the driver as you board, and you must have the exact change. Unless, of course, you have a Bus Pass.

There are weekly and monthly passes good for unlimited travel on all London buses, but a better deal is the London Travelcard, good for unlimited travel on both the Underground and the buses. Travelcards can be purchased for 7 days or more at a time, but they require a passport sized photo. Visitorcards are another option. They do not require a photo, and can only be purchased outside the UK. In addition to unlimited bus and Underground travel they include discount vouchers for many popular tourist attractions. Note that the Visitorcard is NOT valid for the Heathrow Express. If you live in the US, London Visitorcards are available for AAA members from AAA offices. Save yourself time by getting yours before you go.

London Transport has wisely introduced night buses (marked with an 'N' on bus signs), which cover the late night time period when there is no underground service. Night buses begin service about 11.30pm and run until about 6am.

Greater London is divided into 6 transit zones. See London Underground section above for details.

Main Line Trains

This section refers to travel by regular "above ground trains" which link London to its suburbs and the rest of England.

Docklands Light Railway (DLR)

The DLR runs an independant driverless service to the newly developed Isle of Dogs. A recent extension to the DLR runs under the Thames to Greenwich and beyond to Lewisham. The DLR links to the London Underground at Tower Bridge, Tower Gateway, Canary Wharf, and Bank stations, and zone fares are the same as on the Tube. However, there are a series of passes good only on the DLR. For example, the "Docklander" costs just £2.50 and allows unlimited travel on the DLR, but is only valid after 9:30am.

Suburban Trains

Some areas of London are better served by Britrail trains than the Tube, notably the norther suburbs. The North London Link stretches from Richmond across northern London to North Woolwich. Another useful Britrail service travels from Hampstead Heath to Kew. Often these suburban trains are cheaper than similar tube trains and leave the traveler closer to popular tourist destinations. The Thameslink must be mentioned here. This overcrowded line runs from London Bridge in the south, through the City, as far north as Luton. Traveling to London from the south-eastern suburbs may be cheaper by train than by Tube.

British Rail Trains

The former British Rail was broken up by government mandate several years ago to create 25 smaller, regional companies, each serving a different area of the country. In theory this was done to encourage competition, but in practice it makes it difficult to predict fares and calculate timetables. Note that companies serving the same stations may have radically different fare structures, so it pays to compare. One of the best tools for planning a trip is the online service at www.rail.co.uk/ukrail. Here you can enter your arrival and departure stations into a form and the best timetable and departure times are calculated for you. There are 10 mainline rail stations in London, and each serves a different area of the country.

London by Taxi

Black Cabs

The legendary black taxis of London seem to have been around forever, though nowadays not all the 23,000 black cabs in Greater London are black, and a modernised streamlined version has been added to the "lumpy" old beasts. The bulging roofline of these taxis was originally designed to accommodate the height of bowler hats.

Taxis are a good option for groups of people sharing the fare, which can be steep - the meter starts ticking at £1.40, and rises by 20p with every 219 metres traveled. You can hail a taxi by raising your arm when you see the yellow sign above the windscreen illuminated. Be aware that evening rates are more expensive, with a 60p surcharge kicking in at 8pm, up to 90p after midnight. Tipping at about 10% is expected.

Minicabs

Minicabs are a relatively new option to the black taxis of London. They are, as the name suggests, smaller vehicles. The minicabs do not have meters, so you will need to settle on a price with your driver before starting your journey. Its OK to bargain, and you can usually induce the driver to drop his first offer by 10-25%. You cannot hail a minicab on the street as you can a black taxi, instead you must phone for a cab.

Destination guides by kind permission of Britain Express

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