London Transportation Tips by Dabs
London Transportation: 1,793 reviews and 1,597 photos
I'm guessing that the #1 question about London is "should I get an Oyster Card or a travelcard?" I've given it a lot of thought on my many visits to London and I almost always get a travelcard although I do have an Oyster Card that I've kept from a previous trip.
Reasons to get a travelcard:
-if you are going for more than 4 days, it may be cheaper to buy a 7 day travelcard which currently costs £30.40 (as of 1/1/13). The daily price cap on an Oyster is £7 off peak or £8.40 peak. At day 5 it becomes cheaper to have a travelcard with off peak travel (5x7=35)and at day 4 (8.40 x 4= 33.60) it becomes cheaper if using peak travel.
Peak Oyster time is from 06:30-09:30 and from 16.00-19-00 Monday to Friday (except public holidays). The travelcard has different peak and off peak than an Oyster, off Peak time for the travelcard is after 9:30am and on the weekends/holidays.
-if you plan on taking trains outside of London, you can show your travelcard and get a discounted train ticket
-2 for 1 offers on places like the Tower of London and Kensington Palace, only available if you have a train ticket OR travelcard with the Crow's Foot logo on it. Purchase the travelcard at a rail station, there is a new requirement to have a photocard with the 7 day travelcard.
-no need to worry about your balance as you do with an Oyster
-no deposit to get back at the end of your trip
Reasons to get an Oyster:
-if you are planning on going outside of London's central zone 1-2 often, examples of tourist sights outside of zone 1-2 are Wimbledon, Richmond, Kew, and Heathrow. Ultimately it should be cheaper with the Oyster although not necessarily so
-you don't plan on hitting the daily cap (somewhere between 4-5 tube rides) and are only in London for a couple of days
February 2013update, Oyster fares are significantly cheaper than cash fares, you may have to put up a deposit but you get it back when you turn it in. The Oyster cap is .30off peak/.40 peak less than the 1 day travelcard.
The Oyster Card is the newest addition to the headache of trying to figure out the cheapest way to get around London, I'm pretty sure your head would explode before making it through the pages and pages of fares offered on TFL's website. If you purchase a 7 day at an underground/tube station they will automatically load it onto an Oyster Card. If you want to use the 2 for 1 offers you have to get a paper travelcard and you can only purchase those at rail stations. Heathrow is not a rail station so if you purchase it there it will be loaded onto an Oyster Card.
The Oyster Card is a rechargeable plastic fare card that you can add onto and keep forever. The TFL website says a £5 refundable deposit is required to get one but it was waived when I purchased a zone 1-2 7 day travelcard many many years ago. If you get the 7 day zone 1-2 travelcard on the Oyster, you can always add on if you need to go outside zone 1-2.
You can also use the Oyster card to PAYG (pay as you go), the Oyster card is a smart card and the daily price capping should calculate the cheapest fare for the journeys you make in a single day and should be the same or less per day as a travelcard depending on the number of journeys and much less than cash fares. You can top off the Oyster Card at the machines at the tube stations or with an agent in any amount that you'd like.
Updated March 2013
If you are staying near Paddington Station then you may want to try the Heathrow Connect, a train that runs from Heathrow to Paddington Station. The current fare (March, 2013) is £9.50/£19 return (no saving for buying a return) and the journey takes about 25-30 minutes, trains run every 1/2 hour. I used the service most recently in May 2011 and it was very easy to use, if you come in at Terminal 4 or 5 you need to use the Heathrow Express to get to Terminal 1,2,3. Heathrow Connect is on the side of the train and it is also listed on the overhead boards.
In Terminal 5, there are machines that say express trains to London just outside the customs area, you can buy both Connect and Express tickets from it. I used a US non chip card to purchase my ticket.
Another option convenient to Paddington Station is the Heathrow Express, the current fare is £20/ £34 return (£25/£39 if purchased on board), and the journey takes roughly 15 minutes, trains run every 15 minutes. If you are not traveling to Paddington, you also need to factor in the time and expense of getting to your hotel, either on the tube, bus or taxi.
By bus-National Express prices vary depending on bus chosen and advance purchase, 45-85 minutes
The most expensive option is probably a taxi which costs about £45-50, journey around 45-60 minutes, if you book a car service in advance you will probably spend less money. There are shared van services as well but I don't have any personal experience with any of them.
Updated March 2013
With the exception of one trip when the tube wasn't running and another where I was staying close to Paddington, I have always used the tube to get from Heathrow to central London. It is the cheapest form of public transportation and usually quicker than the bus. The Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect are quite a bit faster to Paddington Station but depending on how far away from Paddington you are staying, you may not be saving that much time if you have to connect to the tube or catch a taxi.
You can buy a ticket just for the journey, £5.50 cash fare, £3 off peak or £5 peak with an Oyster, before 9:30am during the week pay the cash fare and get a zone 1-2 travelcard when you get to London or get an Oyster. After 9:30am or on the weekends, it may make more sense to get a zone 1-6 day travelcard for £8.90. On average the journey is about an hour, less if you are on the west end of London, so budget at least 2 hours to get into London between customs, luggage retrieval and tube ride.
There is a change booth at the underground station at Heathrow, get change and use the automatic machines, it's much quicker than waiting in the long queue. In Terminal 5, there were a bunch of machines where you can purchase your transport ticket and also a transport desk where you could buy one with little wait.
You can take luggage on the tube, just make sure that you can handle it on your own and that you can manage it up a flight of stairs if you have to.
Ifyou need to transfer from the Piccadilly Line to the District Line, a good place to do this is at Hammersmith where the trains leave from the same platform and you don't have to negotiate stairs with your luggage. You can also do this at Baron's Court and at Acton Town with a same platform change of train. Make sure the train is going to Upminster, Barking or Tower Hill
One note of caution-if you have an early flight, you may not be able to use the tube and on Sunday mornings, the tube starts running later than other days so check the schedule
Double decker bus
I'm a fan of using the subway when I visit foreign cities, it always seems more straightforward than using buses, especially in a place you are not familiar in. Now that I'm more familiar with London, I enjoy riding the bus. The London bus stops are very well marked with the routes, pointing out which tube stations that route passes as well as major landmarks. If you are from a country that drives on the right side of the road, remember to stand on the opposite side of the road than you are used to!
The main advantage to using the bus in London is that you obviously get to see more above ground than you do below ground. The best spot is upstairs on the double decker buses in the front seat if you can get it.
Check out the excellent London toolkit website that maps out routes for the key attractions in London and also the TFL Visitor Guide, especially the map for key bus routes in Central London. Much cheaper than taking the pricey Big Bus Tour
Another advantage to using the bus is that it is cheaper, for example a 7 day bus pass that covers ALL of London as of 1/1/13 is only £19.60, a 7 day zone 1-2 (central London) tube/DLR pass as of 1/1/13 is £30.40 (although it also covers bus travel in all of London in addition to the tube and DLR). Single fares are £2.40 (£1.40 with an Oyster), tube fares are higher and depend on the zone.
The downside? It's likely to take longer on the bus than the tube and during rush hour you will almost always have to stand but that's also true of the tube. And I wouldn't even attempt to take luggage on the bus if it was rush hour!
Oxford Circus tube station
Updated July 2011
Although London residents may not rave about the tube, as a visitor I find this an excellent way to get around the city. Yes, there are occasionally strikes and delays and shutdowns for maintenance but on my two recent trips to London, I only experienced minor delays which are marked at the entrance gates so you have the chance to rethink your journey. There's almost always more than one way to get somewhere via tube, if not then certainly by bus. A lot of the planned maintenance is done on the weekends, you can check on the website below for your travel dates. In the case of planned maintenance, there are replacement buses that travel between the stations.
In terms of how extensive the system is, how close it gets you to all of the major attractions and how straightforward the map is, I think London is one of the best subway systems in the world, if not the best.
What is complicated is the fare structure, the map is broken down into zones-most tourists will not go outside zones 1-2. The only time I went outside on my trips was Kew Gardens and Wimbledon, both in zone 3, and Heathrow which is in zone 6. If you buy a zone 1-2 PAPER travelcard for most of your travel, you can pay the cash fare or get an Oyster or a 1 day travelcard for the different zones. The last time I tried to get an extension on my zone 1-2 PAPER travelcard, they wouldn't let me do it although I'm sure I did on previous trips. If you get an Oyster or a travelcard loaded onto an Oyster, you can add onto the Oyster for the journey.
Single cash fares are more than what is charged to your Oyster for the same ride to encourage it's use. There are also 1 and 7 day travelcards, monthly passes, etc., the attached website lists the many options. If you are traveling between 4:30am and 9:30am during the week, this is considered peak and you will be charged more for a 1 day travelcard; 7 day travelcards include peak travel.
For planning purposes, give yourself an estimated 3 minutes per tube stop. If you are planning a late night out, be advised that the tube stops running around midnight and you will need to figure out where to catch a night bus. Check Transport for London's website for the last tube from the station you will be near.
Updated February 2013
If you are planning on taking the Eurostar to Paris, there are tickets in different price brackets for each train, once the lower fare tickets are sold, a higher rate kicks in. In February 2013, the lowest current fare, without regard for any special promotions, is £69 round trip and you can book the tickets 120 days before travel on the UK site and the European site, I found that you could buy tickets farther out if you booked on the US site so it's worth looking there if you are traveling during a busy time. You don't have to be a UK resident to book on eurostar.co.uk but I'm not sure if the converse applies to UK residents trying to book on the US site (eurostar.com).
It also appears that once the lowest price tickets are gone, they are gone as the tickets at that level are non refundable and only so many issued at each price point. In July 2011, we traveled in 2nd class, my niece who was 17 qualified for a youth ticket, the lowest fare there is £59 (February 2013 increased to £66). In 2nd class, you can visit the dining car but otherwise no food or beverages are served. The seats are comfortable enough, I don't think I looked at our seating assignment because I would have changed it, we were in a 4 seater facing another couple.
The 1st time I traveled I found a cheaper 1st class fare on www.raileurope.com than the 2nd class fare on Eurostar's website so I booked the 1st class tickets on raileurope.com, it's worth a look if you miss out on the cheapest level of fares. In 1st class the seats were a bit wider and they served a meal, for a 2 1/4 hour train ride, I thought it wasn't necessary to sit in 1st class.
If you choose flexible date on eurostar.co.uk you should be able to see what dates if any have the £69 fare left. One more hint, check both eurostar.co.uk and eurostar.com, the 1st time I booked the US site was much higher than the UK site. Clean out your cookies before checking otherwise it will direct you back to the one you started on.
The Eurostar leaves from St. Pancras station in London and arrives at the Gare du Nord in Paris. You clear immigration before boarding the train so you don't have to do it once you've gotten off the train. You must check in 30 minutes before departure, there is security and immigration to go through and a waiting room on the other side with a couple of places to get a snack.
There are several ways to get to Southampton for a cruise, depends on how fast you need to get there, how much you want to spend and if you want to go directly from the ship
a) most people seem to recommend the train although it is not cheap, it offers more frequent service from London's Waterloo Station to Southampton. There are currently trains every 1/2 hour with a travel time of 1:20, £34.10 one way per person. You have to take a taxi from the train station to the cruise docks
b) another option is the National Express bus, the journey time averages about 2 hours and the buses leave less frequently than the train. It was £7.50 per person one way if reserved in advance
c) Greyhound is another bus option
d) cruise ships all offer transfers, ours was $49 per person
e) Megatrain, if you are willing to stay in Southampton until 12:55pm on your day of return, Megatrain has £6 fares. Going to Southampton, there were quite a few trains that would get you there by the time the ship sails for only £6-8. I understand they are regularly scheduled trains that the Mega company reserves a car in, quite a bargain if you can work with their schedule
We opted to take a transfer to the ship from Heathrow, you don't want to risk missing the ship because you didn't want to spend a few more £. It ended up being a good decision, our minivan only had three of us and when I mentioned I'd never been to Winchester, our bus driver stopped and let us wander about for 20 minutes.
Going back we decided to take the train, mainly because of it's flexibility. We opted for the self help disembarkation, we kept all of our luggage and took it off the ship at around 7:30am, got a taxi which cost under £6, bought our tickets and got on the 8am train to Waterloo which got us there at 9:20. If I had gone for the bus, I would have picked the 9:30 bus and would have arrived in London around 11:30.
Last time using it July 2011
We used the Eurostar to get from London to Paris and then back to London, the train was on time both directions and the journey takes about 2 1/4 hours which is much quicker than flying considering the travel time to the airport and having to be at the airport well before your flight. And certainly better than the hellish overnight bus we took the last time we traveled between London and Paris!
Trains leave from St. Pancras station in London, arriving at Gare du Nord in Paris, allow yourself enough time to check in and go through security, 1/2 hour should be enough. If you find yourself with more time, there is a waiting area after you go through security and immigration.
We've traveled in both 1st class (Leisure Select) and 2nd class (Standard Class), the 1st class was booked because they were cheaper than 2nd class at the time (see tip above), a served meal and beverages is included with 1st class but I could have certainly lived for 2 hours without eating and the food wasn't that great. There is food available at a buffet in 2nd class at an extra cost. The seat are larger in Leisure Select than Standard, an extra 7 1/2 inches, and there's more legroom, about 4 inches. 2nd class is comfortable enough and you can bring your own drinks and snacks if necessary.
When you walk off the train in Paris, it's just like walking off a normal train, no additional security.
Updated July 2011
I don't know how people keep all the transport information for London straight, there are so many different options and the options are continually changing. During the week, it's usually much cheaper to travel after 9:30am or 10am in some cases as this is considered off peak.
If you are traveling outside of London by train to places like Oxford or Bath, the cheapest option is to usually book your tickets in advance but if you don't have the opportunity to do that or don't want to be locked into a specific time, you can purchase a cheap day return ticket (hardly cheap, but cheaper than 2 singles) to save a little cash. You can pay with cash or credit card. But if you are traveling with several people it may still be cheaper to go for the Group Saver option where 4 people travel for the price of two AND you can bring along up to 4 more kids for £1 each.
On my September 2010 trip, I found a daysaver ticket on Southern's website, you had to purchase a week in advance and it was £10 for an all day ticket on Southern's lines, you had to wait until after 10am on weekdays.
Some places are just as cheap to buy on the day of travel, cheap day returns are available for Windsor Castle, if you leave from Waterloo and go into Windsor & Eton, you can even get a small discount on the Windsor Castle tickets. Hampton Court is also cheapest when purchased on the day of travel and so was the journey to Eltham.
Another thing I found on my recent trip is that you can get a discount by having a London travelcard for some closer journeys, for example Eltham Palace was £3.80 return because I had a zone 1-2 travelcard, fares to Windsor and Hampton Court were also discounted. Using a PAYG Oyster does not appear to get you any discount but always ask to see if having a travelcard or Oyster saves you any money.
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