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5 Ways to get around London (2024)

Updated: May 4


ways of transport in london

Introduction:


You've probably found yourself in a big city before, not knowing where to start or how to get around. Well, London is no different, and doing a bit of prior research before diving straight into this vast urban jungle could positively influence your trip. 


In this guide, I will dive into five different ways of getting around London, so you can choose the one that suits you best and helps you have a smooth trip. 





1. Taking an Open Top Bus Tour


In my experience, on a sunny day, there's no better way to explore London than from the open top of a bus. Public transport gets extremely hot in the summer, especially buses since they don't have A/C. Trust me, you don't want to be crammed into a bus or tube in extreme heat. So, riding on an open-top bus, feeling the breeze, and taking in all that London has to offer is a no-brainer.



Choosing the Right Bus Tour


In London, there are six open top tours, each offering a unique perspective on the city's vibrant attractions. While I won't delve into a lot of details here, you can explore our dedicated blog post about the best hop-on-hop-off experiences in London.


Here are my top recommendations:


  • For those with ample time and budget flexibility, I highly recommend either the Big Bus or City Sightseeing tours.

  • If you're looking for an enchanting evening experience, See London by Night is the perfect choice.

  • For budget-conscious travelers who appreciate live guides, Top View stands out.



Navigating the City


  • Single ride: With a vast route encompassing numerous sights, Big Bus stands out. Their blue route covers both East and West London, ensuring you won't miss much. If you're short on time and prefer a shorter route, options like Toot Bus or Golden Tours are equally convenient.

  • Hop-on Hop-off: These tours offer a fantastic way to explore London, providing great flexibility and convenience. Their routes are well-planned covering most of the major attractions. They have tickets for 1,2 or 3 consecutive days.



Day vs. Night Tours


Choosing between day and night tours in London adds an exciting dimension to your experience:


  • Day tours and night tours are two different experiences, so I guess if you have the opportunity, I would recommend going for both. But if you have to choose one, then the day tours are more in-depth, and you can see everything clearly. Plus, you get a chance to learn a lot about the history. Bear in mind that there is also more traffic during the day. I recommend Big Bus for their exceptional quality and comprehensive routes. Alternatively, if you're a fan of live guides, TopView is an excellent choice.


  • Night tours are quite magical as the city lights up, and a different vibe sets in. It's also important to note that the air is more clear, and there isn't much traffic. Most tours that run during the night have live guides, so you get to find out stuff that you normally wouldn't. They are also cheaper. When it comes to night tours, there's no doubt in my mind , See London By Night is the top pick.



Practical Tips


  1. Opt for tours with live guides for an interactive and personalized touch. 

  2. London is a big city with frequent events and protests. Make sure you review service updates before purchasing your tickets. 

  3. Instead of paying for a Night Tour, just use the hop-on hop-off during the day and make sure you pick the last bus of the the day. This option is not always possible, it's highly dependant on the season and the bus departure times.

  4. One of the best ways to find seats upstairs is to begin your tour at stop number 1. You'll often find that they dispatch empty buses from there.

  5. If you're heading to a top London attraction, consider bundling your ticket with the bus to balance out the higher bus ticket cost.

Ticket Tips and Discounts


Nowadays, securing your bus tour tickets online is the best strategy in my opinion. When you get them online, you can usually save around 10%, and bundling tickets with attractions can give you even more discounts. 


If this available passes align with your plans, they are your best bet for securing the most advantageous deal. 


Prices for open-top bus tours vary considerably, starting from approximately £30 for a basic day ticket and reaching £48 for a comprehensive day ticket that includes a boat ride. I strongly advise against compromising too much on the quality of your chosen tour.



2. Double-Decker Public Buses


No trip to London is complete without jumping on one of the iconic red double-decker buses. Not only are they a great way to travel around London, but they are also very cheap and very frequent. They basically take you everywhere.


Make sure you secure one of the top front row seats, as you get the best views from there.



Practicality and Efficiency


  • The best way to navigate the city with these buses is to use Citymapper or Google Maps. They provide live departure and routes, and they are extremely accurate.

  • Make sure you time your journey well to avoid peak hours, as they tend to get really crowded. So, avoid riding the buses before 10 AM and after 4 PM. From 7 PM onwards, they start to get less busy again. Weekends are also a great time to travel.


  • Remember that during the summer, they're not the best way to travel around, especially at midday because they do not have air conditioning.



Routes and Destinations


Number 11 Bus (Heritage Route):


  • Starting from Liverpool Street, it passes through the City of London, Westminster, and Chelsea.

  • Key sights include Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, Tower Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral. Number 15 Bus:

  • It begins at Tower Hill and passes through the City of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus.

  • The route also takes you past Regent Street, Oxford Street, and ends at Trafalgar Square.


Public transport tips


  1. The upper deck of double-decker buses can become quite hot during warm sunny days, due to the lack of air conditioning. In this situation I would choose an open top bus, where you can actually enjoy the sun.

  2. If you want the bus to stop for you, remember to flag it down. A hand gesture or a wave with your card is usually enough for the bus driver to see you.

  3. Make sure that every person in your group has their own contactless card or Oyster card, as the same card cannot be used for multiple payments.



Costs


The bus fare is £1.75, and the maximum cost for a day of bus-only travel is £5.25. These fares are valid when using both Contactless or Oyster card payments.


The Hopper fare makes bus rides more affordable. If you take another bus or transfer within 60 minutes of starting your journey with the initial £1.75 fare, those additional rides are free. So, you'll only pay £1.75 for each ride within the first hour of your journey.




3. Using the Underground System


Hop on the Tube and dive into the depths of London's underground network! It's one of the best metros out there, in my opinion. Super efficient, with routes that make sense and trains coming often. If you need to get somwhere quick, this is your best bet!



Understanding London's Tube network


The tube map may seem a bit overwhelming at first, especially with its 11 different lines. But trust me, it's not as complicated as it seems. After a few trips, you'll start to get the hang of it. In the worst-case scenario, you might just end up in a new place and discover something that's probably worth seeing.


Pro Tip: At every station, you'll find friendly Tube staff ready to assist and guide you.


While many Tube stations now have network coverage underground, it's still best to plan your journey beforehand using Citymapper or Google Maps.



Must-Visit Stops


  • Covent Garden:  this is where you find the famous theaters, shops, and restaurants. 

  • South Kensington: grants you access to some of the best museums in the city - the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

  • Westminster: this is the heart of London, with the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben a short walk away.


Peak and Off-Peak Hours


During peak hours, typically from 7:30 am to 9:30 am and also from 5 pm to 7 pm, the Tube experiences a surge in commuters. Some routes are ok, while some are true hell, especially during hot summer days.


To avoid the rush, plan your journeys during off-peak hours. 



Oyster Cards and Contactless


Contactless is definitely the way to go. It's the easiest and fastest way to pay for your travel on the bus and the tube. It comes with a built-in cost control system, so once you reach the daily cap, let's say around 8£ if you're traveling between zones 1 and 2, any additional journeys within this area become free.


If you don't have a contactless card, simply purchase an Oyster Card at any station and enjoy the same travel experience. Top it up as needed, and you're ready to go.


Pro Tip: Avoid single journey tickets from the Underground ticket machines. They usually come with a hefty price tag, nearly double the cost of a normal ticket.




4. By Boat


No trip to London is complete without experiencing the famous Thames River. There are plenty of river cruises shuttling people from one part of the city to another, but I recommend City Cruises. They offer plenty of seats upstairs, amazing guides, and a carefully designed route that takes you through all the river's history and past all the famous sites.





City Cruises operates from multiple key piers along the Thames, making it incredibly accessible . You can start your journey from Westminster, Tower, or Greenwich. Personally, I find Westminster Pier a great starting point, with its proximity to  Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


Once onboard, grab a spot on the open deck for unobstructed views – trust me, it's worth it. And don't forget your camera; the photo opportunities are endless.


Top Tip: For the best experience, grab a combo ticket that includes City Cruises with your bus tour. This lets you explore the city's from both land and water, offering diverse perspectives.




Uber Boat by Thames Clippers stops at 24 piers along the Thames from Barking Riverside Pier to Putney Pier. The services operate from early morning until late at night, ensuring accessibility seven days a week. This makes it a perfect way to get around London in an unique way.


  • Schedules and Timings For a detailed schedule head to the Thames Clipper website.


  • River Thames Routes Cruising along the River Thames, passengers can marvel at the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, and the historic Houses of Parliament.

uber b

  • Uber Boat Tickets and Passes Passengers can use contactless or Oyster cards to pay for their Uber Boat journey. Just touch-in and touch-out, the same way you do in the London Underground.


Here are the fares:


uber boat fares

Pro Tip: A sunset river cruise is a must for breathtaking views and a memorable experience.




5. Getting around London on a bike


Opting to cycle around London instead of using other transportation methods is one of the best decisions you can make. The cycling network in London has improved significantly over the years, and now you can reach almost anywhere in Central London on dedicated cycle lanes. This allows for a more personal exploration of the city, and at the same time, you won't get as tired as when you decide to explore London on foot.



Bike tours


Bike tours usually follow cool routes led by guides who know their stuff. These routes are set up to show off all the cool landmarks, hidden spots, and the awesome history of the city. You'll stop by all the big attractions and get some interesting commentary along the way. 


Jumping on a bike tour adds a fun social vibe to your sightseeing. Chat with other folks on the tour, swap stories, and have a blast pedaling around town together. 


With so many tours out there, picking the right one can feel like a mission. My advice is to go for one of the top-rated tours like The London Bicycle Tour Company



Santander Cycles


In London, everyone knows about the Santander bikes, also known as Boris Bikes. They've been around for a while as London's bike share program. They used to be super popular, but they're kind of losing their mojo to the newer bike-sharing systems, even though they're trying to step up their game by adding electric bikes recently.


Ideal for short trips, these bikes are perfect for getting around London. The first 30 minutes of each journey are typically included in the rental fee, with additional charges for longer durations.


Santander Bikes must be returned to designated docking stations. Plan your journey with awareness of station locations, ensuring you can easily return the bike within the specified time to avoid additional fees.


Fares:


Pay-as-you-go: £1.65 for the first 30 minutes

  • Additional 30 minutes: £1.65 each

Monthly membership: £20 per month

  •  Limitless rides within a 60-minute duration for an entire 30 days



Lime E-bikes


You can have a real blast discovering the city this way—no waiting at bus stops, no need to go underground, just easy-to-find bikes offering ultimate flexibility.



  1. Effortless Riding: Lime E-Bikes come with electric motors, giving you a boost as you pedal. They make tackling London's hills a breeze.

  2. User-Friendly App: Lime operates through a user-friendly app that offers real-time information on bike availability and battery levels.

  3. Fares: While Lime E-Bikes offer a fantastic way to explore London, it's wise to keep an eye out for special offers and consider hourly subscriptions for a more cost-effective experience. Riding by the minute can add up, so plan ahead and take advantage of available discounts. Currently the cost is £1 to start and then 27p a minute.




Conclusion:


In the end, it's all up to you which means of transportation you choose, or if you decide to combine them. I think it's important to make your decision based on the weather, time of day, and the day of the week. If you take all this into consideration, it's impossible not to take advantage of the great means of transport that London has to offer.


If you enjoyed our 'Getting around London' guide, head to our Travel Tips page for other great travel advice.


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