February 3, 2018 / 2 Comments
Recently, we had a friend ask us for a few tips on London transportation. Thinking that many might have the same question, I decided to make a post about it!
London is incredibly easy to navigate, thanks to many forms of transportation including black cabs, trains, direct shuttles and the famous London Underground (also called the “Tube”). If you’re flying into London, you’ll arrive via one of three airports of varying size, service and direction from the city center:
- Heathrow International Airport– The largest and most famous of the airports in London. Heathrow offers the fastest transportation to the city center, via The Heathrow Shuttle that goes non-stop from the airport to Paddington Station. Shuttles run every 15 minutes, and run at an accelerated speed that gets you to London in about 22 minutes.
You can book tickets ahead of time by visiting their website, however tickets may also be purchased at the Heathrow Shuttle desk in the airport. One-way tickets run £22 per person, but it’s best if you get the round-trip ticket for £37 (unless you lose your passport and plan on staying a bit longer!).
- Gatwick Airport– The second largest airport in London, located roughly 45 minutes south of the city center. The fastest, and cheapest way to get between Gatwick and London is via the The Gatwick Express, which offers non-stop train service to Victoria Station every 15 minutes with a journey time of about 35 minutes. Services to London Bridge, St. Pancras International and Luton Airport also run four times an hour with a journey time of between 30 and 45 minutes. If you are traveling by train you can buy tickets in advance from thetrainline.com, an independent retailer of train tickets online. Train tickets normally run about £18, and you can find scheduling and booking information online.
- Luton Airport– Luton is a smaller airport that flies regionally in the UK and EU countries that is located about an hour’s train ride north of London. It’s a bit trickier than Heathrow and Gatwick, who are both quite straight forward to navigate, as you take the Luton Express and exchange at Thameslink in North London. Via Thameslink Station, you’ll arrive at St. Pancras Station in the city center. KEY: Tickets via the Luton Express will only take you to Thameslink Station, which only cost about £3 per person. From there you will need alternative means of paying for your London Underground access, which we will cover below.
The London Underground
The London Underground (also known simply as the Underground, or by its nickname the Tube) is a public rapid transit system serving Greater London and some parts of the adjacent counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex and Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. It’s affordable, relatively fast, cleaner than New York’s Subway or Paris’ Metro, and has a wide enough reach with enough lines to take you relatively anywhere you would like in the city.
If you’re in London for any amount of time, you have a few options for how you can pay for the Tube. You can purchase a one or two-day pass or pay-as-you-go. However, what we’ve found to be most convenient is to simply purchase an Oyster Card, a prepaid card that you can load and reload as needed. It makes Tube travel incredibly fast, and it’s the perfect answer for anyone who is going to be in the city for more than just a couple of days or plans on returning. Prices for the Oyster Card and prepaid levels can be found here.
London is a congested city in many areas, being a major center of business and tourism, and Tube travel allows one to get to virtually anywhere in the city without the pain of traffic. In some areas, including London’s East End and near Parliament, traffic can be as bad as New York. You’re better off utilizing the cheapness, speed and ease of the Tube.
There will be times, however, when you can’t take the Tube. There are hour restrictions, a general time when the Tube opens for business and closes, and you may find yourself out beyond that timeframe and in need of transportation in London. If that is the case, you can easily take a London Black Cab.
Specifically take the Black Cab, as they are the most well-trained and fair of the London cab systems. They know how to get anywhere, and even know most of the shortcuts on how to get there. The other cab systems have a poor reputation of overcharging, getting lost, and generally providing a poor experience. Take a Black Cab. They can be found virtually all over London at any time of day or night, but if you need to book ahead of time (perhaps an early checkout heading back to the airport) you can find their contact and booking information online.
The Routemaster, or Double-Decker as it’s colloquially called, is synonymous with London. Not only are they traditional, but they’re also efficient, useful and affordable. While not a standard method of transportation in London, the Double-Decker is a bit more strategic as it travels along five different tourist routes that cover virtually all of the more tourist-popular locations of London’s city center. These routes include
- Five Bridges and Thames
- Westminster and The West End
- The City and The Tower
- Windsor and Runnymede
- Christmas Lights (seasonal)
Scheduling and pricing information may be found on their website.
One final method of transportation that is gaining popularity is the London Rickshaw Tour, a coach-by-pedaling method of touring the city that has room for two, and is led by an operator on a bike. For scheduling and pricing, visit here.
No matter how you get around London, you’ll find it relatively easy to transverse for such a large city. Expect to spend a lot of time on the Tube, and using the Black Cabs on occasion. The Double-Decker and Rickshaw tours are more of an “as-you-wish” option, but enjoyable if it’s something that interest you.
Before you go, our recommendation is to get yourself an Oyster Card (one per person), load it up with perhaps £25, and you should be good for four or five days.