I’ve traveled to London many times and it will always hold a special place in my heart as my very first international destination. After extensive travel throughout most US states, Canada and Mexico as a kid, teenager and during college, I had never been to Europe until after graduating from UCLA, while working at my first job. Myself and two other friends planned and took a trip to London, Paris and Amsterdam that was life changing.
I remember the excitement building as the trip approached and then the surreal feeling of walking off the plane in London and actually being there. After all those years of studying about English history, and watching British television, it was hard to believe I was actually there. That feeling is one of the reasons I love to travel and I’ve experienced it often, the first time I climbed the Eiffel Tower, walking along the Great Wall of China, visiting the ruins at Machu Picchu and other experiences.
I’ve returned to London many times since that trip and even lived there for a summer. With all the wonderful things to experience in the big city, getting around London can be a challenge for visitors. Here are some key ways to travel around London:
This is the best option. Plan a few destinations and then walk between them, leaving time to stop and check out little things you discover on the way. Do some homework before you get to London. When you check in to your hotel, ask for a city map and a briefing of sites you plan to visit on foot and how to get there from the hotel. Many are within walking distance of each other. For example, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square are short strolls apart. The majority of the tourist sites you will want to see are all in central London. London is so crowded, London Transport even has their own webpage on walking the city, with some great suggested routes.
The London Pass
If you plan to visit London sites and travel around, the best deal is the London Pass, which offers free entry to all the big ones you need so see: The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, Hampton Court Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, even Windsor Castle, which is about 30 minutes outside London.
The London Pass allows you to bypass lines, and also includes a London guidebook. While you can buy the pass alone, the best bargain is to add the transport option, which offers free, unlimited travel on all London buses, trains, trams and the underground system and Docklands Light Rail system. You can even use the pass to get into the city from Heathrow Airport, if you order online, before your trip, so you have the physical pass in hand when you arrive.
A one day adult pass is £43 ($71), with travel it’s £51 ($84). A kid’s pass is £28 ($46), with travel it’s £31 ($51). You save more, the more days you add, up to a six day adult pass for £144 ($236), which includes a bonus 7th travel card day. The six day London museum and attraction pass with travel for kids is £91 ($149). Since a single Tube ride fare is £4 ($6.50), a bus ticket is £2 ($3.25) so you start to save money after only a few trips.
We recommend a visit to the London Zoo and the Chelsea FC Stadium, which is a great destination for US sports fans to see what British sports fanaticism is all about. It’s like a British sports fan visiting Yankee Stadium. Both can be visited with your London Pass and make nice alternative to museums and castles, especially for kids.
We love to ride those bright red, double-decker London buses. They’re great for short runs. However, using the Tube/Underground subway system is necessary to get around many areas of the big, traffic-jammed city. Route 11 and Route 14 in central London are particularly good for tourists.
The Tube is London’s subway system. It’s a great option for going long distances across the city. The Oyster Card is used to pay for fares, you can order online before your trip and then top-up as needed during your trip. The system is extensive and services most parts of the city.
The roomy black cabs are the most comfortable way to get around London. They provide door-to-door service, often with wonderful history and conversation. These guy know their stuff, London cabbies are required to take extensive exams and have a detailed, intricate knowledge of London streets and neighborhoods. It’s the only way to travel when you’ve celebrated into the wee hours, and public transportation schedules are reduced. For a typical 20-minute ride, the cost is about $50.