It’s a given that a main reason one might choose to go on tours is for the convenience of transport. They easily take us to popular sights in a comfortable van or bus so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost. The down side of it is perhaps the lack of freedom that comes with a strict schedule and itinerary, which is just not my type of travel.
I am one who cherishes my freedom and wallet, but also lack the skill of driving any vehicle. Hence, besides my own two feet, public transport is the only way to get around. I have had my fair share of horror stories and not-as-bad stories regarding public transport in my lifetime, so I can confidently say that public transport in London is as safe as it gets.
To make the trip even easier, I use Citymapper, a transport app built in the UK covering every transportation mode including rental bicycles or ferry links. As such, it’s the best app besides Google Map to get around with. As I’m visiting from outside the UK, I got a Visitor Oyster Card. It comes with perks and a daily price cap. If already in London, one can only purchase a normal Oyster card even from the visitor centres, so I had to get it delivered before departing for the UK.
There are several ways to ride the public transport in London, and among them are single trip tickets, contactless cards and the aforementioned transport card fondly called the Oyster card. There is also the convenience of using a contactless card, although it means being subjected to currency conversion and bank fees. I use an Oyster card and my contactless card interchangeably depending on what’s on hand.
Armed with an Oyster card or a contactless card, my first transport experience was the infamous Tube from Heathrow to London centre. In fact, the London railways are probably my most frequented transport. The railway system in London dates back to the mid-1800s, with the London Underground (a.k.a. the Tube) itself today serving 11 lines and over 200 stations.
London’s railway consists of the London Underground (also known as the Tube), the London Overground, DFL, TFL Rail, and the National Railway that goes other parts of the UK. I was mostly on the Tube when hanging around the centre, with the cost of a single trip calculated by the zones I was in. There are also peak fares, I had to check here to know how much I should allocate every day. But my general rule of thumb is, if I expect to get on the train at least 4 times a day, £10 suffices for each day.
Taking the famous red London double decker should be a highlight! It was also a better option when I was looking to save on riding the Tube, or if there was a more convenient route to where I needed to go. Each ride on the bus is a fixed £1.50 with a cap of £4.50 per day. I also only needed to tap my card once on the reader upon boarding. My favourite thing to do is to sit in the top deck and ride through Oxford Street and Regent Street in the evening to see the lights.
There is also the Tramlink, which fare is exactly the same as the bus, but it only serves South London where I barely visited. Also, instead of red, it is bright green in colour.
For a more novel way of exploring London, the Thames Clipper river bus sounds brilliant. The Thames river is iconic for its accessibility to every hotspot in London, so it’s not strange at all to take the river bus. They are covered boats with on-board bars and toilets, and they stop at several piers along the Thames. The cost goes by zone, as with the Tube.
Alternatively, the Emirates Air Line Cable Car runs between North Greenwich by the O2 and the Royal Docks, so one can get a spectacular view of London from the eastern end. Best of all, you only pay £3.50 with your Oyster card! I find this to be a great deal beside the London Eye. That being said, I have yet to take it, so perhaps one day when the timing is right.
If feeling confident about London traffic and in need to get in some fitness, a bicycle is the way to go. The Santander Cycle can be found everywhere in London, ready to be rented or docked. It costs £2 per 30-minute, and it must be returned at any docking station within 24 hours. To hire a bicycle, there is the Santander app, or the terminal to pay on the spot. I’m an avid biker, but the uncertainty of foreign traffic hindered me…
But I opted often to rely on walking anyway, especially when I often visited in the winter months. Citymapper makes the on-foot experience even better in London! It is locally-based, which means they put a lot of effort into making London very accessible. I didn’t even need to worry about losing internet underground – the timing for the GPS and alerts are almost always spot on. So with it, you’re surely on the your way to mastering the city navigation.