The English capital spans close to 1500 square kilometres and 32 distinct boroughs. This metropolis is connected by one of the oldest tube networks in the world and over 700 different bus routes. Furthermore, train termini stationed across the city serve almost all of Great Britain, with direct routes from Edinburgh, Glasgow, the North of England and Wales. Pair that with 6 different airports serving the city with direct rail connections and you have one of the best connected cities in Europe. But it’s all well and good for guests of London hotel packages to know those facts, but it’s another thing entirely learning how to navigate London’s public transport.
As with all major cities, London has its own way of doing things. Whether you’re planning to use London’s public transport network to reach your hotel from an airport or to make it in time to your Finsbury Square restaurant reservation, this blog will outline everything you need to know about using the Underground, bus and rail services of London.
An Overview Of The London Underground
The London Underground was founded in 1863 with the steam train-led Metropolitan Line. As you can imagine, the ventilation wasn’t too great underground during the Victorian era, but times have changed a lot in the last 160 years. The London Underground has developed into a vast network of underground tube stations that connect almost all parts of London, and is often the quickest way to travel around the city. There are 12 lines in total and each is colour coded, so if you can’t read English very well, then fear not.
Oyster Card Or Contactless?
When you reach the gates of a tube station, you’ll be faced with a contactless payment system that can either be paid for with an Oyster Card or your personal debit card. You’ll have to tap out again at the end of your journey, and both cards act in much the same manner and are the same size. The key difference between contactless payment cards and the blue Oyster card is that the Oyster is a top up card used specifically for London transport systems.
The Oyster Card can also be linked up to railcards such as the Under 25 and the senior, providing a third off off-peak tube journeys. Oyster cards can also be topped up with day, week or month long travel cards, meaning that you won’t have to top it up for the period of time you’ve purchased it for. The value of the travel card depends on how often you’ll be using the London Underground. To get your money's-worth, you’ll have to buy at least a week-long travel card, and use the tube 3 times a day for 6 days of the week.
Navigating Peak Hours
Peak hours in London see up to a third higher prices per single fare on London rail transport. This is because between the hours of 6.30 am and 9.30 am and 4 pm and 7 pm, the weekday commutes and school runs are taking place, meaning that the tube services are much busier. Keep this in mind when you’re planning to travel by Underground or rail between peak time hours, and note that there are no peak times on the weekend.
London Night Tube
The night tube was introduced relatively recently, and offers 24 hour tube services (though less frequently) on six different lines over Friday and Saturday nights. The lines which run 24 hours include the Victoria, Piccadilly, Jubilee, Northern and Central Lines. The London Overground, which we’ll talk a little more about later, has a night tube service between Highbury & Islington and New Cross Gate, meaning that night owl guests of the Montcalm hotel London needn’t order a cab or use the night bus on their way back from a night on the town.
London’s Train Network
The London train network runs separately to the London Underground, so if you’re using it as a connection, you’ll have to exit the underground and tap into your platform to reach it. The train network of London runs through the suburbs of Greater London, the surrounding boroughs and even further afield across the country, providing guests of spa hotels in London with a quicker way to explore Great Britain than if you were to drive. Different services have different operators, and you can buy physical or digital train tickets to many different destinations around the country.
Keep in mind that you can also use your Oyster card and your contactless payment card on the rail in much the same way as you would use it for the London Underground, as long as your destination is within one of London’s six rail zones.
Reaching London From Your Airport
The majority of airports in London, bar City Airport, run direct trains from their respective train stations into the city centre, ranging in lengths between 15 minutes and one hour. This means that you could, in theory, make it to your reservation for restaurants near Finsbury Square within an hour of your flight touching down!
Docklands Light Railway
As mentioned above, City Airport doesn’t have a direct train service, in part because of the infrastructure of East London’s transport network, and in part because it runs on the Docklands Light Railway. Launched in 1987, this electrically run light rail system serves much of East London’s dockland area and into Greenwich, Lewisham and Bank, its most central terminus. The DLR Line can be paid for in much the same way as local rail and underground networks, but runs separately from other rail networks in London.
The London Overground blends into the Underground services, in that you don’t have to tap out of the latter to reach the former. The London Overground network has developed over time and runs as far out as Richmond, West Croydon, Watford and Barking.
Buses Of London
London buses can again be paid for via contactless or Oyster cards. With over 700 bus routes across London, many of which run through the night, London buses are cheaper, but slower ways to explore the city. Furthermore, city hopper fares mean that if you catch two buses within an hour of each other, the second will be free to board.