The capital is a fascinating place, jam-packed with cool, exciting and unusual things to do and see. So what's the cheapest way to get around London, and the best, and what are your choices? Here's what you need to know about getting around London without breaking the bank!
The cheapest way to get around London
Spend all your time underground on tube trains and it's easy to believe London is vast, huge, an enormous place where everything is far apart. But we're going to let you into one of London's best-kept secrets. The central part, where all the best tourist attractions are, is actually quite small and neat. And that means the very cheapest way to get around London is on foot. It's a brilliant way to see the capital up close and personal, get to know it intimately, discover how things join up, and see far more than you ever will from a tube train.
Here's an example. You could take the tube. But it only takes 10 minutes to walk from Harrods in Knightsbridge to Sloane Square, rather than messing about changing lines at South Kensington tube. And it makes much more sense to walk between Covent Garden and Leicester Square than take the Piccadilly Line and have to navigate the incredibly deep and steep stairs or queue to get a lift.
The London Underground
London offers eleven tube lines which, together, give you access to an enormous area of the capital. The tube map is a classic piece of design, famously easy-to-read. It's all pretty simple – except for the fare structure, which divides the Underground into nine areas, central London being Zone 1. The cost depends on how far you go, at what time of day and the payment method you use. Both Oyster cards and contactless payment cards keep things nice and simple. And they're the cheapest ways to pay. An Oyster card costs a fiver, and it's fully refundable. Buy yours in any manned tube station, then top it up as needed via a ticket machine or online.
Getting around London on London buses
Just like the tube, London's cheerful red buses provide access to every corner of the city, far and wide. Best of all there's a flat fare of £1.50 per journey, no matter how long it is. Buses don't take cash, so you'll need a contactless payment card or an Oyster card. You can enjoy unlimited bus journeys for free within an hour of touching in – but remember to ring the bell to get the driver to let you off at your stop!
South London, from Wimbledon through to Croydon and Beckenham, offers a tram service called London Tramlink, with four routes and 17 miles of track. Part of the Hopper fare system, it charges a fixed fee for each journey and you pay with an Oyster card or contactless travel card when you board. There's no need to touch out with your card when you get off.
How to get around London on London riverboats
Your first stop for thrilling river transport are the MBNA Thames Clippers, offering five frequent services to destinations between Putney and Royal Woolwich Arsenal. You can only pay by Oyster card or Visitor Oyster card, and the fares depend on the river zone and any discounts available at the time. Children under five travel for free, which is excellent, and it costs a maximum of £19 for an Adult River Roamer ticket. Catch a boat from every River Thames pier except Cadogan Pier and London Bridge City Pier.
The view from the river boats is extraordinary, a treat in itself and a fantastic way to see the capital's many attractions from the water, with no traffic or buildings getting in the way. There's even a free visitor app to download called in:flow, which lets you turn your phone into a cool little audio-guide.
London hire bikes
Santander cycles, also known as Boris Bikes, are available at docking stations all around London, and the congestion charge means there's less traffic than ever, making cycling a real pleasure. You pay a £2 access fee, which gives you access to the bikes for a full 24 hours, where you can make as many 30 minute or less journeys as you wish. Longer rides cost £2 for each extra 30 minutes, which means the bikes are the most cost-effective for short journeys.
London train stations
You might be arriving in the city from the northeast, Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, the south-east or the west... and there's always a train for you.
- Paddington station links to destinations across the South West of England and Wales and is also the best rail route in from Heathrow Airport. Our Paddington hotels are great for exploring the city on foot. The exotic and very beautiful canals around Little Venice are a prime destination, as is Hyde Park, perfect for a picnic. There’s also an easyHotel nearby the station.
- Victoria station sees an awesome 81 million of us passing through every year, within easy walking distance of Buckingham Palace and Green Park, then onwards to Westminster, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. The official gateway to the south, it's home to the fast Gatwick Express service as well as trains to Kent, Surrey and Sussex. It also has excellent bus and tube links, which makes a hotel near Victoria something special.
- East Croydon station offers fast travel times to and from Gatwick Airport via a limited stop service from London Victoria. Because the train station at Gatwick is in the middle of the South Terminal it's a top choice for visits to central London.
How to pay for travel
The Oyster card is simply an electronic ticket used on public transport, a credit card sized contactless smartcard that lets you buy single tickets, returns and period returns, and travel permits. You add your journey to the card before you leave, either online or at a ticket machine in the station.
The contactless travel payment card is a new kid on the block, and the people in charge are hoping it'll ultimately replace the Oyster card. If you are planning a short visit to London, this is your best choice as you only pay for the journeys you make, but if you don't have a contactless debit or credit card that works in UK pounds, the Oyster card remains the best choice.
Hopper fares have recently been improved, which means you can make unlimited bus and tram journeys within an hour and only pay one fare of just £1.50.
How to get around London - Nearby airports
London is served by five international airports, and we offer smart, friendly local hotels at the top three:
- London Heathrow
- London Luton
- London Gatwick
- London Stansted
- London City Airport
Heathrow Airport lies just 14 miles west of London, this is the capital's biggest airport, used by 75 million of us every year. Heathrow is very well connected to London and beyond by bus, train and road, and we have a convenient easyHotel nearby for you to enjoy.
Gatwick Airport is 30 miles south of London, the UK's second biggest and just half an hour away. It has just two terminals and has its own railway station, plus the Gatwick Express fast train service running to and from Victoria. We have a comfortable easyHotel for you to enjoy, convenient for Gatwick.
Stansted Airport is the capital's third busiest, and the most recent. Out in Essex, you take the Stansted Express train to and from Liverpool Street rail station in the city, a journey of 50 minutes. Our Old Street hotel is a short journey from Liverpool Street station so it makes a perfect choice if you are travelling to or from Stansted Airport.
London City Airport is small yet perfectly formed, comfortable and convenient. Just six miles from the city, it makes an excellent base for East London destinations.
Luton Airport lies 25 miles north of London, and while it might not be quite so easy to get to, there's a regular, reliable shuttle bus from the main station plus great transport links, such as the thames link, with the capital. There’s also nearby easyHotel Luton for you to enjoy.