Since the capital city is so spread out, the London Tube is the best way to visit most major attractions. While you can walk to many attractions, you can always spot a transit station.
Public transportation in London
London’s transportation system is relatively easy to navigate. The best way for tourists to pay for public transport is as you go, instead of buying single tickets.
Pay with a contactless card, or purchase an Oyster card or Travel card and preload it. Simply tap the card on the yellow card reader when you first get on the bus or train, then tap again when you depart.
You can buy an Oyster card at most stations and some visitor centers. Use it for trips on any of these modes of transportation:
Also known as the London Underground, the Tube is an easy, budget-friendly option to get around London — as well as the most popular way. Fares range from £5.90 to £1.50 per adult ticket, depending on which zones you’re traveling through, whether you’re riding in peak or off-season and whether or not you pay with an Oyster card or Travel card. You’ll pay almost double for the same ticket if you buy a single-journey ticket instead of paying with an Oyster or Travel card.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
The DLR is a driverless metro system serving parts of East and South East London. It connects to the Emirates Air Line cable carand the London City Airport, and you can use your Oyster card to pay for your trip.
Emirates Air Line cable car
Take a scenic trip above the Thames River to get from Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks. The cable car is open every day, with fluctuating hours depending on the time of year. The car makes trips every 30 seconds, and 10 people can fit inside at once.
The trip across the river takes around five minutes between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. during the week, with more leisurely 10-minute trips all other times of day. And after 7 p.m., take an even longer night flight across the river — lasting 12 to 13 minutes — and soak in beautiful city views.
London’s bus system covers the entire city, offering 24-hour service. All buses in London are cashless, so you’ll need a contactless card, Oyster card or Travel card to ride. Fare is £1.50, with a maximum charge per day of £4.50 — no matter how many buses you ride. Just make sure you use the same form of payment to cash in on this perk.
You can also snap up free rides on multiple buses if you transfer between them within one hour.
Trains and trams
Trains can be used to access tourist cities outside of London, such as Bath, Oxford, Cambridge and Windsor. Some of the main train stations that can get you out include Paddington, Kings Cross, St. Pancras, Victoria and Liverpool Street stations. Fare depends on where you’re headed and how far in advance you book your tickets.
Taxis, rideshares and tours
Many group tours are available throughout London and its surrounding cities. While some tours — like the Tower of London and Tower Bridge tour — ask that you meet at the location, others like the seven-hour Harry Potter Studios tour include transportation.
You can also book a vintage double decker bus tour through the city to get a birds-eye view around town.
Although pricey, traditional London “black car” service is available for those who want to get chauffeured in style. Book limos and private cars in advance.
Hailing an iconic black cab in London is fairly easy, but it can be expensive. Hitch a ride with any cab with a lit “taxi” sign. If the light’s off, that means they’ve already got a customer.
Alternatively, you can book a taxi ride in advance online or by contacting the company directly.
Uber is available from all London airports and costs between £8 to £31 from Heathrow Airport to central London, depending on the type of car you select. Note that these prices may increase during peak hours.
Car rentals in London
Renting a car in London isn’t very common, since public transport in London is reliable and easy to use when visiting most major attractions. But if you’re staying in London for an extended period of time and want to travel to the outskirts of town, rental cars are available. Keep in mind before you rent:
You may need to purchase additional insurance to rent a car in London. Check with your insurance company at home to see if international car rentals are covered.
Some cities in the London area are not car-friendly. Bath, for example, is known for having very limited parking, while Westminster is congested and imposes a congestion charge when driving from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week.
London’s train system might be able to get you to all your destinations more easily and efficiently than a car. Check to see if there’s a nearby train station before springing for a rental car.
If you decide renting’s the best choice for you, Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar, Enterprise, National, Alamo and Sixt are available in London.
Driving in London
Don’t forget you’ll be driving on the left side of the road — not the right like here in the US. Plan your trip in advance, making sure to pay applicable congestion charges when driving through Central London, as well as T-charges based on your vehicle’s emissions to avoid a fine.
International visitors with a valid license from their country can drive in the UK for up to one year. If your driver’s license is written in a language other than English, you may need an International Driving Permit to drive in London.
Getting to and from London airports is relatively easy and straightforward using public transportation.
London Heathrow. From Heathrow to the city center, the fastest option is the Heathrow Express, which takes 15 minutes from terminals 2 and 3, and slightly longer from terminals 4 and 5. The most budget-friendly option is the London Tube: The Piccadilly Line runs from all terminals, and the journey takes 50 to 60 minutes. The National Express coach runs to Victoria coach station and takes 40 to 80 minutes. Other options are the Feltham rail link to London Waterloo and Heathrow Connect to Paddington.
London Gatwick. The Gatwick Express train reaches London Victoria in the city center within 30 minutes. Coach buses like easyBus and National Express services, which you can find at the lower south terminal forecourt, run low-cost options to central London.
London City. A DLR station connects to the London Tube for access to the city. Two public bus routes, the 473 and 474, also run from the airport.
Stansted. National Express coach buses have several pickup and drop-off stops in London. The Stansted Express train is the quickest transport, departing every 15 minutes.
Luton. The Luton Airport Parkway train departs to central London every 10 to 20 minutes. You can catch the shuttle from the Luton Airport outside the terminal at Bay T to the train station. National Express and Green Line coaches run to and from Victoria London station.
Thanks to its extensive public transportation system, getting around London is fairly easy — on you and your wallet. But if you plan to drive, you may need to do a little extra planning to make sure you can find parking and avoid fines.
Now that you’ve got your city travels under wraps, make sure you’re getting the best deal on your flight to London.
Frequently asked questions
Use an Oyster card for low-cost travel by bus, Tube, metro or cable car. You’ll pay about half as much per trip as you would for single-journey tickets.
Take advantage of free bus fare when hopping on multiple buses within one hour. Just make sure you use the same form of payment.
Only one person can travel with an Oyster card at any given time. So if you and a friend are traveling together, you’ll need two Oyster cards. But your friend could borrow your Oyster card if you’re not traveling.
Citymapper is one of the best tools for navigating London. TubeMap, UK Bus Checker and the TfL Oyster app are also helpful.
Gabrielle Pastorek is a staff writer at Finder, helping readers to round up the best deals, coupons, retailers, products and services to make sound financial decisions. She's written more than 800 articles on the site and is a quoted expert in Best Company and DealNews. She earned an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, with essays and short stories published in The Collagist, Blue Monday Review, Blotterature and others. When she’s not writing, Gabrielle can be found out in the barn with her horse, Lucy.
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