Like all great cities, London is vibrant, exciting, hectic and heaving with traffic and people. There is always something going on, from perilous unicycle juggling in Covent Garden to Tai-chi in Regent’s Park, from lively street theatre on the Southbank to kite-flying on Primrose Hill. And there is so much that is free – parks, gardens, galleries, museums, architecture… You could fill a whole day just strolling around, window-shopping and people-watching. The Time Out London website lists everything and anything you could possibly want to do.
If you live in London, you will already know how best to get around in the capital but if you live elsewhere and want to visit, here is the Agnes guide.
Costs and how to pay
- Underground (tube): 11 to 17-year-olds pay half the adult fare. 18-year-olds pay full adult fare.
- Buses and trams: are free for 11 to 15-year-olds; 16 and 17-year-olds pay half an adult fare. 18-year-olds pay full adult fare.
- Santander Cycle: hire for as little as £2 (14 and over only).
- River boat: 15 and under pay half the adult fare. Other discounts are available (see here).
There are a few different ways to pay for public transport in London – a contactless debit card, a travelcard (which you can buy as part of a train ticket) or a Zip Oyster photocard. The Transport for London (tfl) website gives clear, up-to-date information about fares and how to order a Zip Oyster photocard (and how to use one). If you decide to get one, you’ll need to order it online at least a week in advance of your visit (if you live outside London), so plan ahead.
Finding your way around
- Use google.maps or download the A–Z app onto your phone to find your way around. You can even buy an old-fashioned book copy of the A–Z from newsagents or bookshops.
- Download a tube map to your phone or pick up a paper copy from any London station (there are large maps displayed in all stations).
- The tfl website also helps you work out how to get to where you want to go.
The tube network might appear complicated but it’s actually very easy to navigate. The map is easy to follow, different tube lines are colour-coded, and each tube carriage displays the stations it stops at and announces the direction it’s going in. All stations have clear direction signposts and clear maps.
London is split into zones 1 to 9: zone 1 is central London and zone 9 is outside London. The further out from the centre you travel, the more it costs. The zones are clearly marked on tube maps.
Underground stations are clearly marked on maps, so you can find the nearest one to your destination and work out which line you need. The stations have the ‘Underground’ sign outside and there are stairs, escalators or lifts down to the trains. Trains run very frequently throughout the day (from to ) and there are night trains (running throughout the night) on the most popular lines on Fridays and Saturdays. Find out more here.
Travelling on the top of a double-decker, red London bus is a must for any visitor – you’ll see so much more of the city. Many bus stops have digital displays showing when the next bus is coming along. Check out the tfl website for up-to-date information about buses.
If you are over 14, you can hire a Santander Cycle from one of the many docking stations around the capital. These are inexpensive and ideal for short journeys – you don’t need to book them, simply turn up and pay as you go. There may, of course, be no bikes available in busy periods so you may wish to hire a bike from one of the many bike rental companies. You may need an adult to cycle with you.
Of course, you must take your safety seriously – London roads are busy and there are frequent accidents. Follow these golden rules. Stick to cycle lanes and routes in parts, etc. There are a few suggested cycle routes here.
There is a tram route from east to west (Beckenham Junction to Wimbledon) so it’s unlikely you will use this if you are visiting the centre of the city. Find out more here.
Walking has to be the best option if you have time on your hands, and sometimes it can actually be quicker than using public transport. London is a very pedestrian-friendly city. Plan your own route, follow a tourist route or join an organised walking tour. Visitlondon.com has plenty of suggestions.
Travelling by River Bus on the Thames is another fabulous way to see London. River buses operate between Putney and the O2, with the most frequent services between Westminster and Canary Wharf. You can hop on and off or buy return or one-way tickets. Find out more on the Thames Clippers website.
Getting around if you are disabled
Visitlondon.com has helpful information on accessible travel, accessible tours and accessible attractions. The tfl website also has helpful information on travel accessibility.
However you choose to travel around the capital, make sure you follow the Metropolitan Police’s golden safety rules.