December 6, 2022

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For splendid leisure

55 Tips for Getting around London (Tube, Bus, Cab, Ferry)

27 min read

It is easy to feel intimidated by a city the size of London. Not just for its 607 sq. miles (double NYC) and population of 9 million people, but for the intensity of the experiences and attractions that lie within its sprawling streets and neighborhoods.

How do you fit it all in? What are the options for public transport for London and getting from A to B?

Westminster Abbey, London, England
Outside Westminster Abbey

Don’t be concerned. The fantastic London transportation system makes it easy to get around London combined with its walkable streets.

London (and Europe) stand out as a tourist destination (and for living) because of their public transport. The USA is such a big car culture that most of its cities lack in decent public transport. It means a bitter fight with traffic and plenty of parking hassles (and expense).

We rarely write an individual post on how to get around cities we visit. But, with London transport it’s a little complicated (before you get to know it), yet fun and easy (once you start) and deserves an entire post.

It’s a big reason I love visiting London so much!

The London Eye on the River Thames
London Eye on the River Thames

In this post, I’ll share tips for getting around London on the train, buses, cabs, ferries and then explain in detail how to use the London Transport network (Tube), which spans six different zones, covering fifty-five square miles of inner and outer London.

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Understanding London Zones

Houses of Parliament, London
London is a BIG city

Before jumping in with our getting around London tips, it’s helpful to understand the London Zones.

For public transport speak, or simply to aid in orientation in London, the city is divided into zones, starting from Zone 1 in the city center and expanding out to Zone 9 on its very far edges.

When you visit London, most people will only need to worry about Zones 1 & 2 as this is the area where most of the top London tourist attractions are!

Visiting Buckingham Palace, London
Visiting Buckingham Palace

If you are visiting for longer than a few days, you may have time to journey across some of the other zones.

And, if you’re coming in and out of Heathrow on the tube, it’s handy to know you’ll be coming in from Zone 6.

All of this is necessary to know how much to pay for your Tube tickets as prices are determined by the zones you travel through.

TIP: Explore One Region a Day

Trafalgar Square, London
Trafalgar Square is a popular London attraction

The best way to explore London (saving time and money) is to focus on one area of London each day.

This is easier if you are visiting London for several days. If you are on a shorter trip to London, you may have to travel between areas. It depends on what you want to see and do.

Again, most of your experiences will be in Zone 1, but having said that, Zone 1 in London is quite big.

getting around london map
Our London Map for planning

Use Google Maps to plot out your London Bucket List from attractions to food, drink, and accommodation. Connect those dots to see what you can see and do in one day in areas that are easy to either walk to or involve a quick tube ride. You can make a copy our map here and change to suit your trip.

The BEST way to get around London is to WALK!

Walking around Kensington, London
Exploring Kensington on foot

Our number one tip for getting around London is to walk as much as you can – it can be easier to walk from one attraction or neighborhood to the next.

It’s also the cheapest way to get around London!

We walked from 8-12 miles a day and loved it. Not only was it fantastic for our health, but it also really helped us to see so much of London as we moved from A to B.

OUR RULE: if the journey is 20 minutes walk or less, we’d walk. (sometimes I’d push that to 40 minutes).

By the time you get down to the London underground (Tube station), change trains if needed, and then get back out, it can take 20 minutes.

St James's Park, London, England
Walking through St James’s Park

You’re sure to find a park, garden, or pub along the way if you need to stop and rest. This was a wonderful way to spend quality time with our kids, chatting as we walked, enjoying the views, and even dancing a little in front of the London Eye.

There is always something to look at in London when you walk. You’ll be walking past fairly modern skyscrapers and buildings and suddenly you’ll see a 300-year-old tower, a sprawling palace, or the crumbling remains of a medieval building!

And instead of a grid system, you’ll find this ancient city is a hodgepodge of winding streets, and cute cobblestone alleyways filled with hidden gems and stories.

The Millennium Bridge, London, England
Walking across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral

Even the traffic lights can be something to look at. At Trafalgar Square you’ll find LGBTQ traffic lights that include two men and two women holding hands and forming a heart, and various gender symbols including a transgender sign.

And you know what is so great about walking around London? There are very helpful maps (and street signs) everywhere that let you know where you are and what London attractions and landmarks are nearby. They even break it down into 5 minute and 15 minute radiuses. I LOVE London!

London walking maps
Maps around London make it easy

So, when you travel to London, England don’t forget comfortable walking shoes!

Caveat: Be careful of bike lanes. They can be difficult to see and Savannah was collected by a bike near Embankment. Thankfully no body was hurt.

The London Underground (Tube) (the easiest way to get around London)

London Tube Station
Entrance to a London Tube Station

The Underground, or Tube, as it’s affectionately known, makes it easy to get around London. It’s a series of 11 underground rail lines that move you quickly and easily around the city. Think of it as the London subway like NYC, but way better!

I just love traveling on the Tube. It brings back great memories of me living in London and being able to access so much life so easily. I love how in 20-minutes I could be in an entirely new area of the city exploring and creating more memories.

I love seeing London life go by on the tube and people seemed more friendly this time around than when I lived in London. I think COVID has changed that and people are happy to be out and about again!

London Underground
London underground train

There are multiple lines running in various directions in the city. Any of them will take you to wherever you want to go, but it may involve changing tube lines along the way.

They run very frequently – the most we waited for was 5 minutes.

It’s important to always check in case of any disruptions to service as it can happen often, especially on weekends. We had to reroute ourselves a couple of time – easy to do on the tubes.

A few things to note about the tubes:

  • The Tube Map: will become your best friend and help you plan your trip and determine which zones you will need to visit. You’ll find tube maps at every station and on the tubes helping you to plan your best route around the city. You can also use the
  • London Map app to grab a small pocket map or simply use Google Maps for directions from A to B – it will tell you the best way to get there using the Tube (or even combining it with walking or the bus).
  • The Tube Face: now not as common, but typically it’s a person’s face that shows no emotion and stares vacantly into the air rather than focusing on anyone’s face – most people now stare at their phones!
London Underground
Tube faces on, lol
  • Mind the Gap: you’ll hear it announced a hundred times for a reason.
  • The London Underground gets WARM: you will suffocate with heat all year round. It’s particularly worse in the winter, simply because you hop on the tube wrapped in layers of coats and pretty soon you have to start stripping. If the crowds are thick, you won’t be able to and so will feel like you’re going to pass out. (Take off your coat before you alight).
  • Avoid peak hours on the tube: so that you avoid peak prices, plus tube travel gets crowded. You may even sometimes have to let tubes go by as there is simply no room to get on.
  • Stairs + Escalators: No, you don’t always have to climb stairs to get in and out of the Tube platforms. Most will have escalators, and some will have elevators (lifts). Very handy if you are traveling with luggage. We somehow missed the escalators at Shepherds Bush Station and dragged our heavy suitcases up about five flights of stairs. We only saw the escalators when hitting ground level.
London Underground
Riding the escalator down
  • Tubes go very far underground: it can be an unnerving thought when you’re riding really long escalators up to get to ground level from the underground in London!
  • But climb the stairs: I actually love walking up and down the stairs and escalators, it’s one way I get my steps in and keep my body fit and walk off all those pints of beer and fish and chips.
  • Digital Display Boards on the tube platforms will let you know when the next train is and where it’s end stop is. This is important for some tube lines that may have different final destinations as the line will split somewhere on the journey. The newer tubes will have digital displays inside telling you the next stop and some may even announce.
London Tube Station
Craig ready to explore on the tube
  • Keep an eye on the stops: It’s easy to get caught up in talking, or playing wordle, and miss your stop, so always pay attention (a couple of stops ahead).
  • Look for signs when you get off the tube pointing you to the exit stairs or to the next line you need to get on. It’s a maze of tunnels and levels down there.
  • The London Underground closes from around midnight until around 5am, starting a little later on Sundays.
  • Attendants are helpful. If in doubt, ask an attendant as you enter the station. They were always very helpful to us!

London Overground + Rail

London Overground Train
Riding the London Overground train to the Harry Potter Studios

Another part of the London public transport system is the London Overground rail network which opened in 2007 to provide better connections between areas outside of central London.

There are six lines marked orange on the Tube map. It operates the same way as the tube system, but as its name suggests, it runs above ground!

It connects to some of London’s largest and busiest train stations, including Clapham Junction, Liverpool Street and Euston.

You’ll also have other rail lines running around London (and to other parts of Britain). We caught the Great Western Railroad to Bath and Oxford.

Hogwarts Express at the Harry Potter Studio Tour
Hogwarts Express at the Harry Potter Studio Tour

And we caught the TFL Rail out to the Harry Potter Studios from Shepard’s Bush Station. So you may use a rail line to get around London. You can use your oyster card/contactless card if traveling through London zones 1-9. 

Docklands Light Rail (DLR)

Want to experience how fun and innovative transport for London is?

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a driverless network of trains that serve parts of east and south-east London. It was created to serve the revitalized London Docklands, a commercial and residential district on the Port of London.

It’s considered only one line but has several sections with forty-five stations in all.

Caveat: The DLR doesn’t have entry/exit barriers, so if you have a card be sure to find the yellow card reader and scan in.

TIP: Choose Accommodation near a Tube Station

Millenium Hotel, Kensington, London
Our Millenium Hotel was right near Kensington Tube Station

We recommend booking your London accommodation near a Tube Station. It will save you so much time, cost, and hassle.

The three hotels we stayed in during our London trip were all just minutes’ walk to tube stations and it was heaven. Staying in Zone 1 or 2 is also your best option as a tourist to London.

We stayed at:

What are the best tube lines in London for tourists?

The best tube lines to get you around to the major London tourist attractions will be the:

  • Piccadilly Line (dark blue) (will also take you to Heathrow)
  • Circle Line (yellow)
  • Central Line (red)

How to Pay for your Tube Tickets

Inside Westminster Abbey, London
Inside of Westminster Abbey is amazing!

The London Underground system now makes it pretty easy to pay for your tube rides. But there are things to know before you go. Here are your options for tube tickets:

  1. Single Tickets
  2. Oyster Card
  3. Contactless Credit Card / Mobile Payments
  4. Travel Card

But first, tapping on and off

No matter your ticket option, it will involve you tapping the card as you walk through the tube barrier gates.

That opens the ticket. You must tap off when you exit, which closes the ticket. It then knows what zones you have traveled through to take the applicable price off your card balance.

If you don’t tap off, it will charge you the highest fare!

How much does riding the London Tube cost?

The famous Tower Bridge of London
The famous Tower Bridge of London

You’ll need to know and understand the various tube fares so can choose the right ticket type (see below for more information on each).

Prices depend on what zone(s) you’re traveling through (and when – peak/off-peak).

Peak fares are Monday to Friday (not on public holidays) between 06:30 and 09:30, and between 16:00 and 19:00.

IMPORTANT:

Prices change. Do NOT rely on these prices below as they may have updated without us knowing. This is a guide for prices in May 2022. As a traveler, it’s your responsibility to always do your due diligence in researching current prices and opening hours for anything we suggest. Check current London transport prices here.

These prices are for oyster or contactless. If you use cash your fares almost double. We don’ recommend you use cash.

  • Single Rides: Prices are different depending on what zone you are traveling through. For Zone 1 & 2, it’s £2.50 per ride. That means tapping on at Departure Tube A then tapping off at Destination Tube B. You could ride multiple lines during that one journey and will be charged the one travel ticket price.
  • Daily Caps (Zone 1 & 2). You can travel as much as you like in one day and your fare will be capped at £7.70. So, basically after 3 rides you won’t have to pay any more fares. If you walk a lot, you’ll rarely make this cap. It’s nice to know if you’re tired of walking you have this to fall back on. Because of this cap, you do not need to purchase a one-day Tube card. They offer that but ignore it.
  • Weekly Caps (Zone 1 & 2): Similarly, there is also a cap on how much you spend each week. For Zone 1 & 2 it’s £38.50. NOTE: this weekly cap runs Monday to Sunday. If you buy it on Wednesday, you’ll only get from Weds to Sun fares covered by the cap. That’s when a travel card may come in handy as it runs 7 days from purchase.
  • Travel Cards (Zone 1 & 2): 7-day travel cards are £38.40

Now let’s look at the different ticket types so you can work out what is best for you.

Single Tickets

Incredible views from the London Eye
Incredible views from the London Eye

You can buy individual tickets when riding the tube instead of buying an Oyster Card or using your credit card.

I’m not going to say anything else about this, except don’t bother. You’ll pay a much higher fare (around £5.50), almost double what you’ll pay using contactless, or an oyster card.

If you’re only ever taking one tube ride during your entire stay, n single ticket will be better than buying an Oyster Card, as you have to pay £5 to issue an oyster card. However, just use your contactless credit card/app instead (if it has a tap feature) so you get the cheaper rate.

Even with the international transaction fees it will be cheaper than the full-priced, individual tickets.

The Oyster Card

Oyster Card, London Tube
Oyster Card

An Oyster Card is a plastic smart card you use for rides on the London Underground and throughout the London public transport system.

This also includes buses, tram, DLR, London Overground, TFL Rail, most National Rail services in London, Emirates Air Line cable car and River Bus services (MBNA Thames Clippers).

The Oyster Card used to be the main way to pay for your London underground fares. Contactless payments are becoming the easier and more efficient choice. (Read that section below to see which is better for you.)

You purchase an Oyster Card from the ticket machines at the tube station. You pay a non-refundable £5 fee for the oyster card, which you then top up with money from the machines found at every tube station.

How much money should you put on your oyster card?

Kings Cross Station, London
Kings Cross Station

When calculating transport for London underground, estimate how often you’ll be using the tube to determine how much you’ll need to add to your card, remembering its £2.50 per ride, or £7.70 per daily cap.

If you don’t have enough money on your Oyster Card when you go to tap onto the tube, the gates won’t open. Simply go to the machine and top it up, no big drama.

If you’re riding the tube a lot, plan to add the cap amount per day onto your card. If taking 1-2 trips a day, then aim for £5 per day and top up with that amount.

Inside Westminster Abbey
Inside the famous Westminster Abbey

WARNING:

Do not put too much money on your oyster card, because once it’s on there it stays on there. The last thing you want to do is return home with 10+ pounds on your card. Transport for Rail (TFR) has earned more than £200 million with unused pay as you go balances! (They earn another £200 million from the oyster card issue fee). No wonder people are using contactless payments instead.

Remember, it’s very easy to top up the card if you run out. Since trains run so frequently, you are rarely in danger of missing your tube because you have to stop and top up.

You can, however, take your oyster card home with you and use it when you return to London. They remain valid as long as you use them once every 24 months.

Registering your card

We did not do this, but I had every intention to and just forgot. It’s worth registering your oyster card in case it’s lost or stolen you can reclaim what’s on there. Do that here.

Feeling stressed about organizing all of this once you arrive in London? Try this instead:

The Visitor Oyster Card

Winston Churchill Statue overlooking Big Ben
Winston Churchill Statue overlooking Big Ben

The Visitor Oyster Card can be purchased in advance and mailed to you anywhere in the world. You will have to pay postage on top of the card. And you won’t be able to register these cards either, which means if it’s lost, it’s lost.

I think it’s better to either get a card upon arrival or use the contactless method below. If you’re worried just see an attendant for help!

Apparently, you can get some discounts on it for restaurants and attractions on the card, but I’ve heard it’s not that great and a Go City London Pass is a better deal.

BEST OPTION: Contactless Credit Card / Mobile Payments

Visiting the Tower of London was cool
Visiting the Tower of London was fascinating!

For ease and convenience of getting around London on the tube, you can’t go past using your contactless card to pay for your rides and tap on and off.

You do need to have the contactless function on your card that allows for tapping. This also works for Mobile payment apps like Google/ Samsung /Apple Pay.

Fares are the same price as using the Oyster Card, but with the Oyster card you have to pay the issuance fee.

In hindsight, I wish we used our credit cards. I was confused when it came to traveling with kids. I thought I needed an oyster card in order to get child discounts. But it was only our 14-year old that needed the oyster card (see that section below).

St Paul's Cathedral, London, England
Visiting St Paul’s Cathedral was a highlight

We also opted for the 7-day travel card (see below), which you need an oyster card for. I now realize that was probably not the right decision. (We make the mistakes to save you making them!)

With a credit card, you’re saving yourself the £5 upfront payment for the oyster card, plus there is no worry about you leaving the country with money left on your oyster card.

Similarly, you don’t have to worry about having enough money to cover your fares.

NOTE: if you take several tube rides, it will automatically cap you out on your credit card, just like they do on the Oyster Card.

You can only use one credit card per person. If you’re traveling with an adult partner, you want to be sure you each have a tapping credit card to use.

London Eye
View of the London Eye

The only thing that may stop you from using the contactless payment are the international transaction fees you may get on your card. We don’t get any on our Chase credit cards.

IMPORTANT:

To avoid card clash, make sure to only touch one card on the yellow reader and keep your other contactless cards separate. You do not want to get charged (twice) on two separate cards. I messed this up by tapping what I thought was my blue oyster card, but in fact it was my blue contactless bank card!

Travel Card

Relaxing in Hyde Park, London
Relaxing in Hyde Park, London

To throw a spanner in the works, there is also the option of getting a 7-day travel card to travel around London. You can choose it for whatever zones you intend traveling to, which will mostly be Zones 1 & 2.

If you are traveling from Heathrow, you are better buying a single ticket from Heathrow rather than a zone 1-6 travel card which will be a lot more. You will probably only travel to zone 6 when going in and out of Heathrow!

The 7-day travel card costs £38.40 and gives you unlimited rides.

RULE OF THUMB: if you are in the city for 5 days or more and intend to use the tube more than three times each day, the travel card is your cheaper option.

The 7 days start from when you buy it, rather than the Monday – Sunday format of the weekly cap.

At the gates of Kensington Palace, London
At the gates of Kensington Palace

You can get a paper ticket for the travel card or put it on your oyster card – remembering that’s an extra £5 issue fee – but you could lose the paper ticket.

You cannot add a travel card to your contactless method as that is pay-as-you-go.

As we were in London for 7 days, Craig and I got the 7-day travel card (kids can’t get it) as we thought we’d use the Tube more than we actually did.

We were happy to buy it knowing we could just jump on and off transport without tallying up how many rides we did and the daily cap. It worked out to be only a difference of five pounds, so it wasn’t too much of a bad mistake.

But if you combine that with us having to pay the five-pound Oyster fee, that was another extra five each. So altogether we spent twenty pounds more than we should have. That’s four pints of Good English ale!

Traveling the tube with Kids? Important NEED to Know

Lunch at the Edinboro Castle Pub in Camden
Lunch at the Edinboro Castle Pub in Camden

There is even more to know for those using the London Underground with kids.

Children Under 12

Time to celebrate if your child is under twelve. Kids under twelve travel for FREE on the London transport system (not the ferry though – under five is free).

There is no actual child ticket they use. You will have to do the awkward Double Shuffle through the gates with them.

What is the Double Shuffle?

Put your child in front of you, tap the card and when the gates open, both of you shuffle on through as quick as you can before the gates close.

It’s best to double shuffle through the wider gates that accommodate people with wheelchairs and luggage as they are slower.

Is your child aged 12-16?

Great views from Tower Bridge, London
Great views from Tower Bridge

They can travel for half price. There is NO child ticket for this – crazy I know. And you cannot get this discount if you use your credit card either.

The only way to access it is via oyster card. Steps to do this:

  1. Purchase an oyster card for your child and top it up with money to cover your tube fares (estimate what that will be for your trip duration.)
  2. Ask a Tube attendant to add the child discount to the Oyster Card.
  3. They will then take it to the machine and add the discount to the card. Be ready to tell them for how many days you need it.
  4. Your kids then just tap on and off as normal and receive half-price fares.

Getting to Heathrow Airport (and from)

Beautiful St James Park, London
Beautiful St James Park

The Piccadilly Line runs from Heathrow Airport into London and is so easy and cheap.

  • £5.50 peak
  • £3.50 off-peak
  • £6.30 anytime using single rides (noon card version)

Depending on where you are staying in Central London, it will take around 40-60 minutes from Heathrow Airport.

The Heathrow Express is a train that takes you directly to Paddington Station in Central London in only 15 minutes. (If you then need a tube ride to get to your correct station, you’ll have to pay extra for that.)

You will get comfier seats, more luggage space and free Wi-Fi. It is expensive though at £25 single / £37 return. Children aged 15 years and under travel free.

Exploring Mayfair, London
Exploring Mayfair after arriving in London

I loved how my girl’s first introduction to London was on the tube. What a cultural experience for them watching London life unfold. We were traveling during morning peak time so saw all kinds of workers and school children getting around.

We purchased our Oyster Cards from Heathrow and added on ten pounds to cover our fare into the city.

NOTE for families:

We could not get the child discount at Heathrow. The attendant told us he couldn’t do it as he actually didn’t work for the tube. He said to wait until we got into the city and buy one there.

He let Kalyra go through and onto the train without paying for a ticket as he didn’t want us to waste our money by paying an adult fare for her – so lovely!

We just double shuffled through with her when we arrived at our destination. We organized the Oyster Card with a child discount for her once at Kensington Station. (See above for those steps).

What if you need to go to/from the airport outside of Tube hours?

Trafalgar Square, London
Taking it all in at Trafalgar Square

Our flight home to Raleigh, North Carolina left at 9am and with Heathrow being a very busy airport and having to be there 3-hours before departure meant we had to get to Heathrow outside of Tube hours – they start up at 5am but that’s starting at the top of the line.

Depending on where you are staying in London that may get to your Tube station at a later time.

For us, that meant cutting it too close to checking in on time!

Our option was catching a bus to Piccadilly Station and then getting on the Heathrow Express. That was going to cost us £60 for our entire family.

Afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington was fantastic!
Afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington was fantastic!

We checked Uber when we woke up at 4:30am which was quoting £100. I stumbled upon an app Called FREE NOW, which quoted £60 for a black cab . (See below in cab section for more).

That was a no brainer for us to get the black cab direct (40-minutes) to Heathrow in comfort at a cheaper price and the kids could sleep on the way.

Useful FYI: He did have the meter on and that airport trip cost about £75 – still cheaper than Uber.

He did not charge us the meter price though. It was the £60 as paid via the app. Be sure to inform that you’re paying via the app not the meter.

Getting to London Gatwick Airport

Yes, we got the classic phone booth shot in London, England
Yes, we got the classic phone booth shot

Most international travelers will come through Heathrow Airport, London’s biggest and busiest (and in the United Kingdom). But London also has several other airports.

Located 45km (28 miles) south of London, London Gatwick is the second busiest airport in London. I flew in and out of here often when living in London.

Oyster cards and contactless payment cards are accepted on trains between Gatwick Airport and London. You can buy an Oyster card at Gatwick.

The Gatwick Express is a nonstop train service to central London. Trains run every 30-minutes between Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal and London Victoria station daily from 5.41am to 11.05pm. The journey time is 34 minutes and will cost around £20, give, or take.

Thameslink and Southern railways run trains to various places in London several times an hour. Fares vary depending on where and off-peak vs peak times. Expect around £18

The River Bus (Uber Boat by Thames Clipper)

The River Bus (Uber Boat by Thames Clipper)
The River Bus (Uber Boat by Thames Clipper)

Another option for getting around London is by ferry along the River Thames. This mode of transport adds an element of sightseeing.

It is more expensive though so choose wisely. The River Bus is operated by Uber Boat by Thames Clipper. They operate in three zones: West, Central and East.

The fare depends on which zones you travel. Using a contactless or oyster card will save you 22% off standard fare.

Touch in at the start of your journey and touch out at the end on the yellow card readers. You can’t top up your Oyster card at River Bus piers and your journeys aren’t part of the daily or weekly cap.

Tower Bridge, London
Great views of Tower Bridge from the River Bus

Fares typically start at £4.80 for a single ride. Children 5-15 are half price.

We almost did not get on our ferry to Greenwich, as we did not have enough money on our card, and we had to buy one for our 10-year old (we thought she was free – under 5 is free).

We had to buy our tickets directly from the attendant and quickly. They almost didn’t let us on, as these boats move in and out of stops very quickly. It’s not a slow-paced river tourist boat.

River Tours

Great view of the Houses of Parliament from our River Cruise
Great view of the Houses of Parliament from our River Cruise

A fantastic way to incorporate getting around London with a tour is to take a guided river cruise. Craig and I have always enjoyed doing this as a way to get to Greenwich. (see that tour here)

We were short on time for this trip (and had done a river tour with the London Eye already) so we caught the Thames Clipper.

Whether you use it as a mode of transport, or as a tourist attraction to see London from the river, we highly recommend a Thames River cruise – with commentary included.

We also took a canal boat ride from Little Venice to Camden Markets, which was such a unique and enjoyable way to get to these popular London markets. Check out that tour here.

London River Cruises

Click on the links below to learn more about these river cruises on the Thames and to book your trip.

London’s Red Double-Decker Buses

London double decker bus
London double decker bus in Kensington

London’s iconic red double-decker buses are a convenient and cheap way to travel around the city and there is an extensive network of bus routes.

But remember, you will be navigating traffic, which thanks to the excellent alternative modes of London transport, is not as bad as other cities, but can still be bad. I don’t know why you’d ever drive in London.

I hardly ever use the red buses in London. The only time was when I lived in the outer zones of London, where the underground spots are more spaced out and you sometimes needed to get a bus from the station to your home.

The other time was the night buses, which was the only option once the tube stopped running. We did not ride a bus on this London trip.

London double decker bus
Bus stop outside our Hilton Hotel in Shephard’s Bush

Many people like to ride them for the novelty and the sightseeing views offered. Suggested scenic bus rides include:

  • Route 9: Kensington to Covent Garden. It goes past Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park, along Piccadilly, past St. James’s Palace and Trafalgar Square.
  • Route 11: It goes through the City of London and past such must-sees as St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey
  • Route RV1: The route links the Tower of London to London Bridge and Borough Market, via Tower Bridge, and Waterloo and the South Bank to Covent Garden Piazza.

The oyster card/credit card will cover London buses. For this mode of transport, tap on only. You don’t need to tap off with your card as a journey is just one fixed price!

London bus in Camden
London bus in Camden

Bust fares are £1.65 for a single journey, no matter how far you travel. You can transfer to other buses or trams for free an unlimited number of times within one hour of touching in for your first journey. (Called the Hopper Fare and available only with oyster/contactless).

And a day of bus-only travel will max out at £4.95.

You really have to pay attention to know where to get off the bus. Keep a map handy to follow. You can always ask the driver for help. Press the red bus button to signal you want the next stop!

Consider: Hop on and off Bus tour

If you do want to get around London on a bus to take advantage of the London sightseeing opportunities, consider taking a hop on, hop off sightseeing bus instead. That way you get commentary as you go and someone to let you know where to get on and off.

These bus tours operate over two different routes, with stops near all the best London landmarks and attractions.

Emirates Air Line

It’s worth mentioning this unique way of getting around London. It’s short, easy and offers magnificent views! We planned to ride the Emirates Air Line cable car back from Greenwich, but it was raining, and we didn’t realize we had to get to North Greenwich which was about a 40-minute walk from the downtown Greenwich area.

The Emirates Air Line is the only urban cable car in the UK. It crosses the River Thames taking you from Greenwich to the Royal Victoria Dock. You can pay with your oyster/contactless card.

You can also combine the Emirates Air Line with a Thames Clipper cruise via this tour.

Black Cabs & Shared Taxis

Black cab in London
One of the famous black cabs in Camden

Of course, you can always get around London in an Uber or a traditional black cab. They tend to call them cabs rather than taxis, as Americans may be used to.

Craig caught an Uber after a night out with some of his friends in Chelsea as it was raining and the nearest tube a 15-minute walk away. Other than that, there was no need for us to catch a cab.

You’re also battling against traffic, which wastes your time. It’s much cheaper and easier to get around London the ways mentioned above. We even dragged our luggage around the tubes with us (and with kids) and it was fine.

As mentioned, catching a taxi may be your best option if traveling outside of Tube hours and you don’t want to get the night bus.

Many people like to catch a black cab as it’s such an iconic London thing. They are expensive though!

If so, consider the following app (especially since UBER is now expensive and a pain).

FREE Now App

Don't miss fish & chips in a London Pub
Don’t miss fish & chips in a London Pub

Free Now is the app we mentioned above, which was £40 less than what Uber wanted to charge.

FREE NOW is Europe’s “most popular taxi app”, with over 17,000 black cabs in London registered.

Paying with FREE NOW allows you to hop in a taxi at the airport, a taxi rank, or on the street and pay your fare with the card on your FREE NOW account. You can also book it directly through the app from your hotel.

When you hail a cab, make sure the driver is on FREE NOW before the journey starts.

Let him or her know you’d like to use Pay with FREE NOW. They’ll search for you on their app, and then put the payment through as normal at the end of the journey – similar to Uber.

Exploring Southbank in London
Exploring Southbank in London

I know that cab drivers suffered because of ride sharing, so I’m happy to see an app that helps them benefit with the new way of doing things.

Plus, FREE NOW care about sustainability. It’s the only ride-hailing app where you can choose an electric Black Cab or Ride every trip, for no extra cost. They have pledged that all vehicles on FREE NOW in the UK will be zero-emission capable by 2025, including all taxis by 2024. 

And they have a cool loyalty program!

Ok, that is pretty much all you need to know about getting around London on the extensive London transport system. Phew!

In Summary:

  • The tube is awesome!
  • Walk around as much as you can.
  • The best option is a contactless card/app (especially if you don’t get charged international transaction fees).
  • Kids under 12 travel free.
  • Kids 12-16 travel half price.

More London Travel Tips

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