How to Get Around London like a Local
London can be a confusing city. Everyone seems to know exactly where they want to go, and they walk there fast. To make sure you do not get trampled in the crowd, you will want a form of communication and an understanding of London’s transportation system. Here is everything you will need to know in order to get around the city like a Londoner:
1. Getting a Cellphone plan
2. Getting an Oyster Card
3. Using the London Underground and Buses
1. Getting a Cellphone Plan
The first thing to do after arriving in London is getting a cellphone plan. Fortunately, in today’s modern society this is extraordinarily easy. If you are flying in to Heathrow, there will be multiple cellphone stores available as soon as you step through immigration. I imagine London’s other international airports (Gatwick, City, Luton, Stansted, and Southend) will also have cellphone stores. I use EE limited as my carrier. They have an international pay as you go plan that is extremely helpful if you are traveling to more than just London. Even if you are going to London alone, EE has plenty of easy to use and relatively inexpensive plans for your trip. For reference, a one month international 10GB data plan cost $37.5, much less if you are staying for a shorter time or in the U.K alone. If you are staying for over a month, each additional month is $18.75. The worker at the store will be helpful in getting you the plan you need.
What if I use Verizon or another locked carrier?
Don’t worry! This is not a problem at all. The cellphone store employee has a small key that will allow you to exchange your current SIM even if your phone is not unlocked. Just make sure you hang on to your current SIM card for when you get home.
Is the data plan slow?
No, I was very surprised to find that EE’s data is as fast as any U.S data plan I have used. This is a big win for those moments when google maps is essential to finding your next destination.
2. GETTING AN OYSTER CARD
Now that you have gotten your cellphone plan sorted, you will want to get an Oyster Card. An Oyster Card is London’s pay as you go provider for public transportation. It is a small blue card with a chip in it that will allow you access to all of London’s transportation (The Underground, Buses, Overground Trains, etc.). Basically with an Oyster Card you can get anywhere in London in under and hour. The best way to get an Oyster Card is to follow signs to the London Underground. Signs will have a big red circle with a blue line through it. Once you get to The Underground, you will notice two things: people walking very fast and swiping a card to get past a gate and people standing in line at what looks like an ATM. Go to the line. That is not an ATM but an Oyster Card ticket issuing machine. Once you get to the front of the line you will be given multiple options: you can purchase a travelcard up to 7 days, a bus and tram pass, or an Oyster Card. Save yourself the hassle and get the Oyster Card, it is the easiest way to get around and you can choose how much money you would like to load on to it. For longer stays put more money in, for shorter stays, less. The nice thing is, the Oyster Card has a max cost per day. If you exceed that cost, you do not have to pay extra per day. If you run out of money you simply add more at a ticket issuing machine, which are located inside most London Underground Stations.
How do I use my Oyster Card?
Once you have your Oyster Card you are free to explore the city on the London Underground, Overground, and Bus Transportation services. Simply tap your Oyster Card on the sensor (which will be in front of the driver on a bus or at the small entry gates to The Underground) to pay your fair and gain access to whatever London transportation you need.
Oyster Card fairs
It can be incredibly confusing to understand Oyster Card fairs. They change fairly frequently and will be higher or lower depending on what time you are traveling. The bottom line is, a single trip will cost you between 1.5-3 Pounds about $1.90-$3.75. The nice thing is, London’s transportation uses a fair capping system. For Adults this caps at 12.5 Pounds ( $15.60) in a 24 hour period. This means that once you reach your cap, you will not be charged extra for additional travel. For more information and exact prices see London Transportation’s website.
How to check your balance
The best way to find out how much you have been spending is to simply check your balance. You can do this online, by talking with someone at a ticket booth, or at a ticket machine. I’ve found the easiest way to check your balance is to go to a ticket machine, where all you need to do is tap your Oyster Card to the machine to see your balance.
3. Using the London Underground and Buses
With the London Underground and Bus services you will be able to get anywhere you want to be in London. However great this is, sometimes the different routes can be quite confusing. Not to mention, if you stand to long staring at a map inside a London Underground station you will get run over by some Londoner who is late for work. Here is a look at London’s Transportation map:
How to plan your route
The above map can be pretty intimidating but there are some easy ways to make your route planning easier. First off, before you leave know what line you are going to be on (Northern, Victoria, Central, etc), this is located in the bottom left of the map. Second, know what station(s) you need to get off at. Sometimes you will have a direct line, and sometimes you will have to change tubes to get to your destination. I recommend using google maps before you leave to plan exactly what line and what stops you need to get to. Remember that the underground does not have WIFI or cell service because it is underground so you should always take a screenshot of your route before you leave. For example, if I am going to the British Museum I might take this screenshot:
Each tube will have its own route displayed inside as well as a voice and electronic screen showing what the next stop will be, so if you can simply remember what route you need to be on and the station to get off, you should be all set. Buses work in the same way. Just know your route before you leave and you should not have a problem.
I get it. Sometimes you need to get somewhere far, or you have been walking around all day and you just need to sit down. However, I would warn against getting too attached to the public transportation. After all, you are in London! Explore a little, get lost. Stop into small shops that interest you. Often times just walking around the city can be just as enjoyable as a planned event. If you are walking to a specific destination and decide you need google maps as a guidance, use it sparingly. Do not be that person that looks down at their phone for a half hour tracking a little dot as the beauty of London passes on your left and right. I’ve found that the best way to get around using google maps is to put in my route and see where my destination is. Then put your phone away and walk towards it. Check every 10 minutes or so to make sure your on the right path but don’t get too attached to your phone. You will thank me later! Also, one last tip. Remember that in the U.K you drive on the left hand side of the road. this translates to walking. Always walk on the left-hand side of the sidewalk or pathway in The Underground. If you walk on the right you are sure to run into people coming the other way.
That’s it! Now you are ready to get around London like a Londoner! If you are looking for more information about London, click here.