Getting Around London – How to Get Around London for Tourists

July 7, 2017 4:23 pm

Navigate the city like a pro with our easy-to-follow guide to getting around London

London is a wonderfully diverse and cosmopolitan city – and it’s also quite large, with various distinct neighborhoods that each possesses its own delightful character. Fortunately for travelers, many of the most popular attractions are all located in central London, making getting around London a little bit easier on tourists who may be new to the area.

London is, however, a notoriously difficult city to drive in – parking and traffic are challenging, not to mention adjusting to the whole “driving on the other side of the road” for American tourists. That said, there are plenty of other simpler ways to get around London that don’t require getting behind the wheel of a rental. Opt for public transit as your first choice, with multiple options such as the subway and modern double-decker buses.

For general and specific resources on how to get around London, a great starting point is the Transport for London webpage.

If you plan to visit a lot of attractions while you’re jaunting around London, consider picking up a flexible London Explorer Pass®, which includes admission to your choice of 3, 5 or 7 of the top attractions. The Explorer Pass allows you to save up to 35% off vs paying for these attractions separately at the gate.

Getting Around London

Public Transit in London

Far and away the best way to get around London – besides walking, of course! – is via public transit. You have two basic options, the Tube (also called “the Underground”) and buses.

The London Underground

Known as the Tube to locals, the London Underground is the city’s subway system. It’s a fairly extensive transit system, going from downtown London out to several suburbs.

Downloadable maps of the system are available via Transport for London, as is useful overlay of the tube system on a city map.

Paper maps of the system are available for free at any Tube station or you can use their helpful online Journey Planner tool.

Using the Oyster Card to Get Around

Our biggest piece of advice for how to easily get around is to snag a Visitor Oyster Card (or Oyster Travelcard if you’d prefer to pay a flat fee for the length of your stay) upon arrival.

Flat rate fares on the Oyster Travelcard are quite pricey, so it’s much more cost-effective to buy the Visitor Oyster Card.  You can easily purchase, store, and refill fare on a Visitor Oyster Card and you can even receive a refund for unused fare above £10 after 48-hours of using the card for the first time (learn how to receive a refund here).

Tourist Travel Tip: you will need to swipe your Oyster Card as you exit the Underground to determine your fare based on the length of your trip, so keep your ticket handy or you will be charged the maximum amount by default.

These cards are usable on all London public transit – trains and buses, so it’s a great investment.

Signage: there are a series of helpful public transportation signs around the city with maps, information about the nearest Underground stop, and arrows that direct pedestrians to the nearest points of interest.

Getting Around London

Double-Decker Buses

Although the historic double-decker buses are no longer in operation (with the exception of the heritage Routemaster lines, of which there are only two) modern double-decker buses provide just as much sightseeing potential and equally convenient transit.

Buses are a good option for those who are interested in seeing the city as they travel. Be fair warned, buses are probably not the best option if you’re in a hurry.

All buses are tracked via the iBus system, so it couldn’t be easier to find out when the next bus is arriving at a given stop by using a smartphone or going online. There’s also an app you can download for iPhones that will give you real time transit info.

Big Bus London

A great option for getting around London is the Big Bus Hop On Hop Off London bus tour, which is available on the London Explorer Pass.

With the Big Bus London tour you will have the flexibility to hop-on or off at any of the 50+ included stops to explore and visit popular attractions. The buses run on 5 to 15 minute intervals, so you likely won’t have to wait too long at any stops.

Simply show your London Explorer Pass as you board a bus at any of the included Hop-On Hop-Off stops on any of the included routes.

A few of the popular stops along the route include Hyde Park CornerHaymarketTrafalgar Square, and more.

Getting Around London

Walking around London

For those of you with more time or perhaps a bit more energy, London is an extraordinarily walkable city and it’s one of the best ways to get to know the city.

Many of the major attractions are close to one another, like the Coca-Cola London Eye and Big Ben, so it’s easy to rely on public transportation to get you to popular areas and then get around to a significant amount of sights from there by foot.

Popular neighborhoods like Trafalgar SquarePiccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square are all within easy distance of one another, too.

Just be certain to obey traffic laws and follow crosswalks when crossing streets!

Biking around London

Another great option for how to get around is to travel via bike. Whether you’re renting a bike to pedal around on your own or traveling as part of a guided tour group, it’s easy and convenient to explore on two wheels.

There are bike lanes all over the city, and drivers are very accustomed to bikes on the roads. Check out the maps of their Cycle Superhighways for super bike-friendly ways into and around the city.

Getting Around London

Taxis & Rideshares

London’s famous black taxis are ubiquitous, but can be very hard to flag down. Use one of the many cab-booking apps to easily reserve one or use a popular rideshare service, like Uber.

Fares are priced via distance/time and tariff (which is a system that essentially just means different times of the day and week). The biggest difference you’ll notice is that fares are more expensive (although not by much) late at night.

For up-to-date taxi fares, visit the fare website on Transport for London.

Tipping: tipping in London is accepted and you can tip as much as you’d like, but standard etiquette is to round up to the nearest pound.

Getting Around London

Getting to London

By Plane

By far, most international visitors arrive to London via plane.

There are six different airports that service the London area: HeathrowLondon CityGatwickStanstedLuton, and Southend.

Technically speaking, only Heathrow and London City are within the bounds of London itself, although Gatwick is actually the second busiest after Heathrow in terms of international traffic.

In all likelihood, if you are traveling from the United States, you will come into Heathrow or Gatwick.

Travelers may find Heathrow the more convenient of the two, as it is connected to central London via the Tube, as well as overground rail, buses, and of course, taxis or shuttles. Be aware that taxis will be quite pricey from Heathrow, with fares potentially reaching 80£ or more.

We recommend taking the Tube (the Piccadilly Line goes downtown from Heathrow), although you should know that many Tube stations are accessed via stairs or escalators only, which may be a challenge with luggage.

Gatwick is only accessible via bus, rail, or taxi-style services. Again, rail is the most budget-friendly option, and should definitely be favored over taxis. You’re coming from near Brighton, so you’re not actually that close to the city center and taxi fares will be pricey (we’re talking 100£ or more). To access the overground rail system, just hop on the South Terminal via the free airport shuttle and you have several options.

By Train

Travelers from other parts of England or the United Kingdom often come into the city via train.

So, if you are exploring London as part of a larger UK vacation, you may be in a situation where a train ride to London is your most convenient and budget-friendly option.

There are several different train lines that run from other major cities to London, including Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, and more. Then, there are several major destination stations within London itself, including Waterloo, King’s Cross, Victoria, London Bridge, and more (many of which are also Tube stops).

For complete information about visiting and how to get around London via commuter rail, explore the Visit London train guide.

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