I have to admit that I am one of the least oriented person you will ever meet. Many friends who had the chance to ride with me can testify that I can get lost with a GPS and my phone giving me directions at the same time. I was relieved to find out that London’s transportation system was simple and foolproof. It is COLOR-CODED!! It doesn’t get easier than that. In this post I will explain the transportation systems that I have used the most.
But first, the Oyster Travel Card and What is a Travelcard?
I would like to start off by clarifying something that took me so long, basically until I arrived, to understand. WHAT IS AN OYSTER CARD?!?!? I Googled that ish for months and, yes, I understood that it was the card that allowed me to pay for my travel, but I was still trying to make sense of the name! Why Oyster? Well, some research made in the right location and I found out the name choice is kind of arbitrary. It does have some reasoning behind it for marketing purposes and stuff but… how do oysters travel? why are they relevant? Anyways, the Oyster travel card holds your travel credit and allows you to use most transportation systems in London like the underground/subway and the famous double-deck red buses. As a student you are eligible for a special 18+ Student Oyster Card and it gives you a 30% discount! You will see the difference when you don’t have it, believe me. If you happen to have a contactless debit card (I’ve never seen those before coming to London, but they are amazingly useful, so get one when you get here if you can) you could also use it to pay for your fare, although you wouldn’t have the student discount, off course. If you are only visiting the city for a couples days or weeks and you want the cheapest fare you have the option of purchasing a simple Oyster card (the Oyster card price is £5 as of 2015, which are refundable when you return the card), and top up as you go or purchase a Travelcard based on the amount of days and Zones you will be travelling to. If you know you will be in London for more than 3 days, I highly recommend you get a week Travelcard (cheaper than paying each trip).
London is divided in Zones, from 1 to 9 (or that’s what you can see in the map), and Zone 1 and 2 are mainly what’s called Central London, where you find the Big Ben, London Bridge and all the touristic places. As you could imagine, the fare for these Zones is the most expensive, so plan accordingly. If you are just visiting and only want to see those famous attractions, getting a Travelcard for Zones 1 and 2 would be your best option. I lived in Zone 3 but my job and university were in Zone 1, so I had to get a monthly Travelcard for those 3 zones. It is quite cost-effective because you can use the underground and busses as much as you’d like and pay a set fare.
The London Underground or “Tube”
The underground or so-called ‘tube’ has 11 lines and they always interconnect. So, even if you miss your station because you fell sleep (yes, that has happened) you can always find your way back without having to leave the system. This is the TFL (Transport for London) website where you can download an updated version of the Tube’s map and also plan your journey (in this website you are able to find bus times, bus routes and bus fares as well). The website will show you routes that include tube, busses and national rail services. Like I mentioned before, the system is color-coded so it’s easy (at least for the less oriented humans) to find the routes and remember them. This map includes the DLR and the Overground.
London Underground Map
The busses are the best way to see the city, so unless you are in a rush for an event or want to get som
ewhere quicker, take a bus! I can’t continue the post without giving you my life saver during my time in
London. It is called CITYMAPPER. I do not work for them, nor I earn commission from advertising, it is ju
st an amazing app where you can input the post code of your destination or the name and it
will give you live times of the trains and busses you can take. Amazing, really.
Get a Bike!
My favourite transportation method in London: my bike, mi cleta! My initial idea before coming to London was to buy a bike as soon as I arrived. Once here, many people told me I would die riding a bike in London. Compared to cities like Amsterdam or Berlin where riding a bike is more the norm than something special, London does present higher risks for cyclists. However, they are over exaggerated, in my opinion. After consulting with many Londoners, I got scared and decided not to buy it. London has a bike-hire program that allows you to rent a bike for £2 for 24
hours. As long as you change bikes in different stations every 30 minutes you won’t be charged anything extra. You must have a debit or credit card with PIN to use it, though. When my dad came to visit in May we decided to give these bikes a go. Citymapper also lets you know where the nearest docking station is and how many bikes or spaces there are and shows you the route to your destination based on the amount of spaces available nearby. Like I said, amazing. After that day, I was hooked! Having my bike has been the highlight of my experience in London. I pimped my ride and got some nice folding baskets for it and I can go grocery shopping, take my backpack to uni, and it gives me freedom. I get to see beautiful hidden gardens that you will never be able to see even if you take the bus. And let’s not forget about getting my exercise in and saving the planet. Contrary to what people think, I have found that London is pretty cycle-friendly. After the death stories that everybody told me, I had to make sure I knew everything there is to know about cycling in London. I went to the TFL Youtube page and watched ALL the videos and got all the appropriate equipment. I have to say that many cyclist tend to be very reckless. You will rarely see a car passing a red light, but cyclist do this all the time! You have nothing but a helmet, my friend, value your life a little bit more! Also, make sure you don’t let being in a rush make you pass the GIGANTIC busses and loris because they won’t be able to see you.
Getting from the Airport to Your Destination
There are six airports in London: Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southend and City. I arrived to Gatwick airport from Tampa and since I had so much luggage I had to rent a car in order to reach my student accommodation. Fun and scary experience driving for the first time on “the other side,” let me tell ya’. Anyways, I had to return the car the next day and it was really simple to go back home once I returned the car in the airport. I also picked up my dad from Heathrow and it was equally easy. Additionally, I travelled to/from Luton and I had to get a coach to reach London because there is not public transportation to that airport, so plan accordingly. Here are some useful tips to reach your destination based on the airport you are landing in. Please remember that the underground is open until midnight and opens again at 5:30. If you have a late flight departing/arriving it can be better to hire a car or pre pay a shuttle.
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
London Heathrow is the largest airport in London and is known as the international getaway of the United Kingdom. This airport runs at 99% capacity! It has 5 terminals and 2 runways. Getting to any Zone from this airport is quite easy. Many hotels and hostels offer shuttles (most of the time for free) and you can also reach the airport using the Undergound. The line that connects with this airport is the navy blue line in the map called Piccadilly line. Once you are in the underground system, you can connect with any of the other 10 lines including overground and DLR.
London Gatwick Airport (LGW)
This airport can be reached using the Gatwick Express, which is a train that connects London Gatwick airport with the underground station Victoria. Victoria Station connects with the blue (Victoria line), yellow (Circle line) and green (District line) lines of the underground system, as well as with the National Rail Service.
Luton Airport (LTN)
I had a 6am flight to Berlin a couple of months ago and I had to pre pay an airport shuttle leaving from central London. This airport doesn’t connect to the underground but you can easily find a private bus service. The round trip bus ticket was £15 and it drops you off at the entrance of Luton, and you have the opportunity to chose from many pick up points in London. In addition to this, you can take the National Rail Service to Luton Airport Parkway and then take the Thameslink.
Stansted Airport (STN)
This airport can be reached easily using the National Rail Services which is connected to the underground in many stations. Try the TFL website to plan you trip based on your destination.
London City Airport (LCY)
This is the closest airport to the City of London. There is a DLR service that takes you directly to the airport and you can connect to the DLR in many stations.
I hope you found this useful. If you have any questions, shoot me an email or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you out 🙂
I wish I knew…
- In case of an emergency, Uber is cheaper than taking the famous cabs, by a lot!!
- If you don’t have enough money for your fare while using your Oyster card, the bus or tube will “lend” you the money and you can pay it the next time you top it up
Thanks for stopping by!