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Getting Around London – A Brief Primer on Public Transport in London

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In a city as large as London, public transport is a must for getting from place to place. Starting in the 19th Century, public transport became a necessity as more people began moving to the suburbs. The first horse-drawn omnibuses began in 1829, the North London Railway in 1850, and the Metropolitan Railway in 1853 (the predecessor for the Underground), though the first hackney carriages came about as early as 1654.

Each of these has a modern equivalent to help Londoners and tourists get around. These services as managed by Transport for London, the local governmental body responsible for public transportation across London. However, the first thing you need to know is that most forms of public transport require an Oyster Card.

Oyster Cards are an electronic form of ticketing issued by TfL that covers the London Underground, trams, certain river boat services, London buses, light rail, and some National Railway services operating within London. There are some limitations, however, since some National Railway services are not under the control of TfL and private companies can refuse to honor the card.

Perhaps the best and most well-known public transport system in London is the London Underground. With 270 stations and 11 lines servicing the city, it’s one of the easiest and most convenient ways to get around, especially if you’re already familiar with other subways systems. One drawback to the Underground is six of London’s thirty-two boroughs are not serviced by the Underground, including: Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Kingston, Lewisham, and Sutton. Peak service times can also slow down your wait to get from station to station, making it so that walking the distance ends up being faster. Still, it’s a classic way to move through London.

Like most cities large and small, the city operates its own bus service. London Buses even operate in boroughs where you can’t find a London Underground station. Besides just the Oyster Card, the buses accept Travelcards, debit, and credit cards. Since July of this year, however, they don’t accept cash anymore. Additionally, another great reason to ride London Buses is their iconic status. London Buses represented some of the first double-decker buses in the world and the Routemaster is the most recognised. If you’re lucky, you might even get to ride its newest incarnation, the New Routemaster, also known as Borisbuses or the Borismaster after Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

Another option for boroughs without the London Underground is Tramlink, an overground light rail system that serves South London. The Docklands Light Railway operates in East and Southeast London. Local trains are also an option, including the London Overground, Silverlink, SouthEastern Railway, Southern Railway, and East Anglia lines.

One form of transport being embraced by cities, including London, is bike-share program. The London Cycle Hire Scheme isn’t a scam, but a chance to rent a bicycle from several stations around the city. What’s best is that you never have to worry about service delays or mechanical breakdowns. Just check out a bike at one station (first half-hour is free) and return it at another. Also called “Borisbikes”, it’s a great transport system and form of exercise.

Feel like a nice day on the River Thames? Thames River Buses are a commuter service with routes up and down the river, plus some of the River Buses even come with Wi-Fi and refreshments. All in all, there are about six different routes and stops that include the London Bridge, the Tower of London, the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and the O2. Several river cruises are also available for those that want more of a touristy trip on the Thames.

Last, but certainly not least, are the famous London Black Cabs. A Black Cab is one of the quickest, most direct ways to get where you’re going. To even drive one of these coveted transports, cabbies have to pass a test of London streets called “The Knowledge”. Minicabs are also an option, but run the risk of being unlicensed, unsafe, and illegal. Black Cabs are the safest taxi service around the city, and London even offers the Cabwise app to book licensed and regulated minicabs. Additionally, texting CAB to the number 60835 will give you the number for two licensed minicabs and one Black Cab.

John Rabon
Author: John Rabon

John is a regular writer for Anglotopia and its sister websites. He is currently engaged in finding a way to move books slightly to the left without the embarrassment of being walked in on by Eddie Izzard. For any comments, questions, or complaints, please contact the Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's haircut.

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  1. I know it’s not always practical to do so but I love to walk, walk, walk all over central London. The South Bank from the Eye to the Borough Market; the Embankment; From The Palace of Westminster to Hammersmith Bridge; Trafalgar to St. Pauls. It’s a wonderful city to walk in , exploring little side streets and mews and in The City , secret hidden courtyards and tiny alleys.

  2. Maureen is absolutely right- walking is a wonderful way to get around London. And every few yards there is something else to see. I have walked all the walks Maureen suggests, my favourite is the walk from the City (and St Pauls0 along Holborn, Strand to Trafalgar Square. You can even do it starting at the Tower

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