Are you planning a trip to London? Trying to gather all the necessary info about how to get around, where to change your money, how to use public transport, what to wear and so on? Here’s a precious guide that will help you get ready for London and avoid the typical touristy gaffes that make you waste precious time and cause unnecessary stress.
START BY DOWNLOADING A FEW APPS
London is a huge city and you could easily feel overwhelmed if you are not prepared for it. Here’s a few useful apps that almost all Londoners have on their phones and would feel completely lost without them. So get a step ahead of the game and download them before arriving in London and familiarize with them.
BEST WAY TO FIND YOUR WAY IN LONDON
- CITYMAPPER is the best app to find your way wherever you are in London. It is very simple. You just need to add your destination (even just the postcode will do) and it will give you the quickest and cheapest options to get there (combining trains, underground, DLR, buses, bicycles or taxis/uber). Another good alternative is Google Maps but we tend to prefer CityMapper, so make sure you download before getting here!
- DON’T FANCY PUBLIC TRANSPORT? It is often much quicker to use the underground in London, but if you need to go by car UBER is definitely the way to go (especially if you need to go back to your hotel in the evening and feel too tired to get on public transport). You can choose between Uber X (service exclusive for you), Uber Pool (cheaper option where you most probably will be sharing the car with other guests), Uber XL (for groups of 5 or 6 people) or Exec (if you like to travel in style). The average waiting time is between 3 and 5 minutes, but might be longer on a Friday or Saturday night. Everything is paid through the app. Alternatively you can get a Black Cab, which for short distances might have a similar price but becomes more expensive if you travel for more than 10-15 minutes.
HOW TO GET TO CENTRAL LONDON FROM THE MAJOR AIRPORTS
London has 5 airports: Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, London City and Luton. Before arriving it is always best to check the best way to get to your hotel or destination so that you don’t waste time and get stressed upon arrival. Here’s our recommendations on the best ways to get to Central London from its 3 main airports.
You have two options to travel to Central London from Gatwick: Gatwick Express or normal train (Southern or Thameslink). The Gatwick Express takes usually 5 minutes less but is more expensive, so if you are not in a rush we would recommend getting a normal train. Any normal train can be paid with your Oyster or contactless debit/credit card, whereas you need to purchase a ticket for the Gatwick Express.
COST OF TRAINS:
Gatwick Express: £19.20 one way (special offers if you book in advance) – no Oyster Card or contactless cards
Standard train: £8.50 to £14.70 according to your destination and time of the day – Oyster Card or contactless cards are accepted
You can check train times on www.thetrainline.com
Last train departing from Gatwick is at 11:55 pm.
To get to Central London from Stansted you have mainly two options:
1. Stansted Express – Quickest option
There are trains to Liverpool Street (47 mins) or Tottenham Hale (36 mins) every 15 minutes. We’d recommend buying an open return ticket to save some money and the sooner you book it the more offers you will find. Full price for a return ticket is £29.90 and for one way it is £18.90. The last train of the day is at 00:30.
BEWARE: the Oyster Card is not valid to travel to or from Stansted. You need to purchase a paper ticket at the station or an e-ticket online.
2. National Express (coach): Cheapest option
There are 4 different lines that leave Stansted 24 hours a day to Liverpool Street Station, Paddington, King’s Cross, Victoria and many other areas. You can purchase your ticket directly at the bus station/airport or online
To Central London: Heathrow is very well connected to Central London through the underground. The Piccadilly Line takes you directly to London from Terminals 4 and 5. A single ticket is £3.10 off-peak and £5.10 in peak hours. Alternatively if you plan to use other means of transport during the day you’d better buy a day ticket that costs £12.80 and you can travel as much as you want on the underground, buses and DLR.
To Paddington or North-West London: the quickest solutio to go to Paddington is the Heathrow Express. Price vary from £22 to £25, based on the time of the day (and offers can be found online if purchased in advance).
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN LONDON
Although very efficient and well organized travelling in London can be quite overwhelming and you can risk wasting a lot of time on buses or trains if you don’t plan your day properly. This is why apps like CityMapper and Google Maps are a precious support in planning your days in advance.
HOW DO I PAY FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORT?
Oyster or non oyster, this is the question! How to pay for your transport in London does actually depend on a few factors: how long you are staying for and whether you have a contactless debit or credit card. So here’s a simple guide for you:
If you are staying for 1 to 5 days
- AND YOU HAVE A CONTACTLESS CREDIT OR DEBIT CARD:
You already are one step ahead of the game! As you don’t need to buy any tickets or Oyster Cards as your contactless card will do. Whether you are using the underground, trains (zone 1-6), DLR or buses you just need to tap your card on the reader at the station gates and you will be automatically charged your fare up to a maximum daily amount of £7.00 (zone 1-2-) or £8.20 (zone 1-4). Please note that the same card can’t be used for more than 1 person at a time.
AND YOU DON’T HAVE A CONTACTLESS CARD
In this case your best solution is to buy aOyster Card. An Oyster Card is a pay as you go card that you can get at any station by paying a deposit of £5, that you can then get back at the end of your stay. Daily fares vary from £7 (zone 1-2) to £8.20 (zone 1-4). As you can see there is no difference in price between using an Oyster Card or a contactless credit/debit card.
- 6-7 days: If you plan to stay in London more than 5 days it is more convenient to buy a weekly Travelcard, either through your Oyster Card or with a paper ticket. Cost is of £35,10 (zone 1-2), £41,20 (zone 1-3) and £50,50 (zone 1-4).
- Families: children under 11 travel for free (as long as they are accompnied by an adult) and instead need a Child Travelcard if they are over 11.
ADVICE: we recommend taking a picture of your Oyster Card number in case you lose it or gets stolen, so you can receive a refund of the money.
With 11 underground lines this the quickest way to get around London and avoid traffic. The trains run on average every 1 and a half minute. CityMapper will easily guide you on which line to take.
- Direction: Make sure you always check the direction of the train (West/East or North/South) to avoid heading the opposite side of town
- Last trains of the day: Sun-Thu: around 00:00 am, Fri & Sat: Victoria, Central, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly run 24 hours a day
- Rush hour: Please try and avoid the underground in rush hour as it can get pretty packed and sweaty! Rush hou is between 7:30 am to 9:00 am and between 5:00 pm and 6:30 pm.
Keep to the right: Please make sure you always stand on the right when you are on an escalator in London as you might risk of being run over by a busy Londoner!