With its vast network of trains, trams, the Tube and more, getting around London is much simpler than many travelers think. But with all the must-see attractions and famous nightlife to squeeze into one trip, it’s best to be prepared ahead of time and to do a little research on how to get around this iconic city. To keep safe and sane during your trip to London, keep these tips in mind when using public transportation.
1. Use a map
Forget worrying about looking like a tourist – to conquer London’s public transportation system, a map is necessary. Available for free at many stations around the city, using train tables and maps for the London Tube will help you stay sane while exploring.
If you are wandering around without one, don’t worry – London is great at providing maps throughout the city. Easily find your next destination by checking the large maps hung at many different parts of all Tube stations.
2. Know which way traffic is coming from
If you’re from a country that drives on the right, it can be difficult to get accustomed to the fact that cars drive on the left-hand side of the road in the U.K. When crossing the road, be sure to look the correct way to prevent accidents. For those who still have trouble remembering, many streets in London prompt pedestrians which way to look – just glance at the edge of the crosswalk near your feet for directions to avoid looking like a major tourist!
3. Stand away from curb
For those new to London, the proximity with which city traffic drives near pedestrians may come as a serious shock. Sidewalks in the city can often be quite slim, so when waiting to cross the street, stand a safe distance from the curb: the first time a double-decker bus nearly grazes your body, you’ll realize what I mean.
4. Know proper escalator etiquette
Nothing will make you look more like a tourist than standing on the left side of the escalator when you are entering or exiting the Tube. People in London immediately line up on the right-hand side of escalators to allow traffic to move on the left-hand side. Forget this faux-pas and you will likely earn yourself some rather harsh words from a Londoner in a rush.
5. Mind the gap
An iconic phrase you will hear over the speaker system at every Tube station, “Mind the gap!” directs you to be careful when stepping over the space between the station platform and the train. In addition to this warning, be sure to stand behind the yellow line on the platform until the train approaches.
6. Don’t bother driving
Do yourself a favor and eliminate the option of driving. Not only is central London traffic something you do not want to get yourself stuck in, but driving into the city could cost you. For more information on the Congestion Charge, such as when and where it could affect you, check out London’s official visitor guide.
7. Plan your day
Planning your day in advance – including knowing which methods of transportation you will need and what times they are running – is a smart way to make sure you remain safe while exploring. Particularly if you are traveling alone, be aware of how long it will take you to walk to the train station or bus stop. And of course, remember you will eventually have to retrace your steps to get back, so give yourself enough time to return home safely at the end of your day.
8. Keep an eye out for Help Points
Help Points are clearly labeled alarm systems located throughout the London Underground network. There are three buttons available: a fire alarm, an emergency button and an information button. When traveling around London, keep these in mind in case you need assistance.
How to get to the main attractions
Not sure how to get to some of the main attractions you will want to see while in London? Whether it’s the classic tourist destinations or the little hotspots that only the locals know about, here are some pointers on how to get around:
- For the tourist spots…
Many tourist destinations in London are conveniently located close together, making an afternoon walk the perfect way to cross off some items on your London bucket list. Depending on your starting point, take the Underground to the Westminster Station and take a leisurely stroll along the River Thames, where you can see Westminster Abbey, Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and the London Eye. Don’t forget to cross the Westminster Bridge to check out the other amazing attractions, such as the Sea Life London Aquarium and the London Dungeon.
- For the shopping…
If you’re in London for the shopping (who wouldn’t be?), Oxford Street is calling your name. If traveling on the Underground, take the Bakerloo Line, Central Line or Victoria Line to Oxford Circus. More than 15 bus routes can also get you to Oxford Circus – to see which one best suits you, check out London’s bus website. Make sure to wander off Oxford Street, as there are amazing quarters and side streets (like Carnaby Street!) worth exploring.
- For the museums…
London is home to some of the most amazing museums in the world. If history, art and culture interests you, head to The British Museum. This is easily accessible, with the nearest Underground stations being Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street. If you’re near Trafalgar Square, pop into the National Gallery. This museum features art from mid-13th century to 1900, and is just a short walk from Charing Cross Station (operating at National Rail, Northern, and Bakerloo lines) and Leicester Square Station (operating at Northern and Piccadilly lines). More than 10 bus routes also are also constantly stopping at Trafalgar Square.