If you’ve ever been to London before you don’t need me to tell you that it’s a sprawling and expensive city. But that shouldn’t put you off coming. There are many ways to hack London, in particular the labyrinthine transport system, and come out the end with a smug grin and a wallet that isn’t completely drained. It has been this writer’s life quest to discover the city’s travel hacks, which have been written down for your benefit.
- Skip the tour busses – Hop-on, hop-off bus companies operate throughout the day in London and give an overview of the city from the comfort of a bus. But, at £20 and over for a day’s ticket, there is a cheaper way. On arrival in the capital pick up an Oyster Card (essential for much of the city’s transport), load on a tenner and hop on one of the city’s iconic red buses. At £1.20 a single journey and capping at £4,40 a day if the only travel has been by bus, you can look to save a tidy sum. The bus routes 11 and 453 are particularly well known for passing by some of London’s most iconic sites. The 11 route passes close by our Victoria Hotel and South Kensington one. It also has the advantage of being one of London’s flagship new Routemaster buses.
- Clip at a pace along the Thames – City cruises are available from a variety of private companies in London. However, again it would be worth turning your mind to the city’s famed public transport network. The Thames Clipper is a regular boat service that travels from Putney in the west via many of the city’s prime locations all the way to historic Greenwich in the east. And, at as little as £4 for a single ride, you could be saving yourself a pretty penny in the meantime.
- Orient yourself with landmarks– If you choose to forego four wheels or even a boat and rely on those old friends of yours, your feet, then London can be a maze of a city. It is down to the age of the city that you rarely see any of the sensible grid-like layouts you can expect from relatively modern American cities, such as New York. Regardless of how charming this is, winding one way then the other can leave you unsure which way is left, right, north or south. Where our forebears looked to the stars, the true Londoner looks to their towers. Centre Point can be seen from all around central London and will draw you, moth to light style to Tottenham Court Road Station.
20 Fenchurch Street, locally known as the walkie talkie, isn’t hard to spot. It’s the building opposite the Shard that looks like, well, a walkie talkie. Like the north star this building can point you towards north. Look for its flat side. This points north.
- Walk the tube – Looking at the tube map it can often seem like worlds exist between those two points that mark one station from the next. And when you go down into the wormholes that are the tube lines surfacing in a different part of town it seems the chasm between the two stations is vast. But, in fact, many tube stations are extremely close to each other. Walking from one to the other orientates you better in the city and you spend more time in the city itself rather than in its dark underbelly. The below map highlights walks that are less than 500m apart.
And if you don’t believe me, check out this guy who raced a tube. How do you think he did?
- Travel outside of peak – Peak hours are between the hours of 06.30 and 09.30 and 16.00 and 19.00 Monday to Friday. Why anyone visiting the capital would choose to travel between these times is beyond this writer. But if the crush of the tube isn’t enough to put you off, bear in mind that fares go up at this time. By avoiding peak times, especially the morning, you can save yourself a good £5 on a day’s travel card.
- Avoid the stairs – Most Underground stations come equipped with long escalators that slowly propel you back to the surface or down into the depths of the tube. But at particularly busy times these can get very crowded. Creating a bottle neck and huddle of people with better things to do than wait to get on an escalator. You may be one of them, and then it will catch your eye. The ‘stairs to exit’ sign, you’ll see a clear path between you and the outside. You’ll slip off hoping no one else notices and jumps on your great idea. You’ll start climbing. Step 1, Step 2… Step 113… Step 193. You’re flustered and out of breath, you’ve just climbed the equivalent of a 15-storey building, but at least you’re there. The other commuters sliding smugly by, knowing that you made the wrong choice. This is particularly a problem with Covent Garden Station and Russell Square Station. Avoid the stairs, take the lifts. You have been warned.
Bonus tip: Always stand on the left on escalators. There is nothing that winds a Londoner up more than tourists stood on the right-hand side.
- Know your exits – The bottle necks found at escalators are avoidable if you’re a bit canny with your planning. Every tube ride taken should be looked at in terms of a swift exit. Positioning yourself correctly before even getting on the train is the biggest challenge. Over years of commuting many Londoners know the prime spot to stand so they can get off the train right by an exit and avoid the crowd. But this is a life’s undertaking. If you’re just visiting, then watch the Londoner in his native habitat and mimic his behaviour. Or, if that all sounds a bit too Bear Grylls, download the Tube Exits App which tells you exactly which doors to stand at to make as swift a getaway as possible and is a steal at just 79p.
- Avoid the theme parks – Just outside of London there are some amazing theme parks, namely Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures. But if you don’t fancy making the trek all the way out to these two theme parks then you needn’t worry. London has its own theme park attractions, and the best part of it? You can use your Oyster Card. Head to Bank Station and get on the DLR. Ensure you get a front seat for best views and you can pretend to be the driver - they’re automated so no driver will necessarily be on board. The route rises and falls as the tracks take you past the City and into the trendy Docklands area. Get off at Royal Victoria where you can change and take the Air Line over the river to North Greenwich. Again, all covered with your Oyster Card. From the gondola you will get some stunning views over the old East End and the City. The line drops you at North Greenwich where you can take a walk over one of the city’s most iconic buildings, The Dome. Book tickets here.
- Skip the Express trains – Most London airports have one of these, Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow for sure. As a visitor you are corralled into buying a ticket on one of these. But one of the few benefits of a privatised train network is that you have choice. For example, the Heathrow Express will knock you back £34 to get into Central London. If you’re staying in the West End you can almost certainly get a cab to your hotel (such as our Earls Court hotel) for cheaper. In fact, if you’re flying into Heathrow you have the Piccadilly Line which, for under a fiver, can get you straight into the centre of town in less than an hour.
- Avoid Heathrow Altogether – Heathrow is undoubtedly London’s flagship airport, but it is also the priciest to fly into. Look at Gatwick, Stansted or Luton for a cheaper way to get into the city. While a bit further out, the budget airlines call these airports home and as such you’re likely to get a far better deal. There are plenty of coach services that can be booked in advance or on the day that are inexpensive and take you straight into the city via some of its iconic landmarks
Bonus Trivia – There is only one station on the whole underground network that doesn’t share a letter with the word mackerel. Any ideas?
St Johns Wood.
September 2016 | City in the spotlight
Tourism is nothing new to Liverpool. People have been heading to the city for centuries. In 2008 it was the European Capital of Culture, this bought people flocking into the city.
Manchester is in rude health these days. It is one of the best party cities in the UK, and heck even Europe, but offers so much more to the refined tourist than just sweaty clubs and shopping.
We all know the Eye, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but we feel it is the more underground, lesser-known activities and attraction that make London great, tucked away in the city's old, labyrinthine streets. Here are some of our favourites.