London is a big city and it’s full of (far too many) people. This includes the millions of tourists that flood to London every year but also the residents of London who live and work in the city day in, day out. When you’re visiting London for the first time it can be quite daunting traveling around on all the different modes of public transport with the different zones and ways to pay so this handy guide should hopefully help you get around London like a local.
1. Know where you’re going.
Most people come to London with heaps of things planned out, attractions they want to visit and things they want to see and do but sometimes they miss out because they spend so much time getting lost on the tube. You should always plan your journey ahead of time, knowing which stop you need to get off at and if you have to make any changes. Take a picture of a tube map in any station if you don’t have one so you have a handy guide of all the stations. There’s ones that show the night tubes too if you’re moving around late at the weekends. This is especially important if you’re traveling in a group as people can get separated if they’re rushing to get on the tube before the doors close. This leads me to my next point:
2. Keep moving.
There’s nothing more annoying for a Londoner late for work or rushing to get somewhere important than a tourist stopping dead in their tracks because they’re not sure which way they’re going. Try and keep your eyes peeled for the signs your looking for on your way around the station or down the escalator so you can keep moving all the time. If you do for whatever need to stop, make sure you’re out of the way of high traffic areas, and especially don’t stop at the bottom of escalators. Keeping things moving is especially important when you reach the ticket gates. Make sure you have your ticket/card at hand for speedy entrance and exit in the stations.
3. Stand on the right.
If you’re not in a hurry, or just don’t like climbing stairs, make sure you keep out of the way of those who are. All escalators in tube stations are split. People stand on the right and walk on the left. Make sure you and your belongings are on the right side so people in a hurry can move past you. This is sort of an unspoken role in all places in London too. It’s best to try and stick to the right side wherever possible, even if you’re just in a shopping centre or museum.
4. Buses are your friend.
Most tourists steer clear of the big red buses trundling along the London streets but they’re actually worth catching. Not only are they much cheaper (£1.50) but you can catch as many buses as you can in an hour for the same price. They’re also not zoned (the zones are shown on the tube maps and at any station ticket counter) so you can catch the tube to zone 2 and get a bus the rest of the way and not have to pay the hefty zone 1 prices. They can be a little slower due to traffic, especially in rush hour but you can also often find yourself a good seat on the top deck and enjoy an almost tour bus for less than 1/10th the price!
5. Walk places.
A lot of tube stations, especially in zone 1, are deceptively close together. It often takes longer to wind your way 15 floors underground and travel 2 stops than it would be to walk to where you’re trying to get. The Underground is also, as the name would suggest, under ground so you can end up missing some of the best sights in London by always traveling underneath it. This is the view I have on my way home from work in the morning (there’s 2 tube stops between my house and my work) which I would miss if I got the underground.
6. Use contactless.
Oyster cards are the famous way to travel in London however it’s actually easier and cheaper to travel using your contactless card. Not only do you not have to top up your card at the kiosks but it will automatically work out the best price for your travel. Both the Oyster card and contactless payment will work out your daily cap but with contactless it will also work out your weeks spend and apply the best travel plan to cover the whole week. And you don’t have to do a thing, just tap in and out using the same card every time you travel somewhere new.
7. Don’t worry about it.
One thing that always marks tourists out on public transport is generally the look of sheer panic and constant map checking to make sure they’re going in the right direction. And, as mentioned above, these are great practices, but it’s also important you relax and enjoy yourself. Just being on the tube is something every visitor to London should experience at least once. Some of the stations are just worth a look at themselves, such as the art installation at Gloucester Road station and the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road. So if you miss your stop maybe you’ll find something you wouldn’t have ever looked for. I fall asleep and miss my stop all the time! Just relax and go with the flow.
I hope these tips help you find your way around London, or what’s something you wish you’d known on your first trip to London?