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London Transportation On a Budget

Updated on February 10, 2011

Getting Around London On a Budget

A big money-pit in London is transportation. New visitors are always eager to ride in a Black Cab and experience the Tube. However, walking is often the best way to see the city, and the buses are a seldom-used alternative by most tourists.

BLACK CABS

Although they are expensive, you will probably want to take at least one ride in a Black Cab. The drivers are normally very helpful and entertaining, although I have had a few who weren't interested in talking or were downright grumpy. But it's an experience you really should have. When my teen-age niece and nephew visited me in London, I traveled by train to the airport to meet them, rode the train back to Victoria Station, and then caught a Black Cab to take us for a short private tour of London. I made sure to find a friendly cabby, and he took us on a ride from Victoria Station past Buckingham Palace, along St. James's Park to Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall past Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament, across the river on Westminster Bridge, back across on Vauxhall Bridge, past the Tate Britain, and then to my flat in Pimlico. For 20 pounds, it was a great introduction to the city.

THE TUBE AND BUSES

For traveling around the city, get a one-week Oyster card at any tube station and many other locations. For 25.80 pounds, an adult can travel for seven days all over Zones 1 and 2 in London, where almost all of the tourist sites are located. Children under 11 years old travel free on the tube and buses, and an adult can purchase a one-day travel card for those 11 to 15 for only a pound. The children must be traveling with an adult to get these free and reduced fares. The passes are good on both the tube and on the buses, and are an incredible bargain and convenience. Since a normal tube fare is 4 pounds one way, you will save tons of money with a travel card.

Also, ride the buses. The system is easy to learn, and there are maps available at the tube stations and posted at many bus stops. It's great to climb upstairs on the double-decker buses and see London from above ground instead of traveling through a dark tunnel. Most locals prefer the buses, and only ride the tube when absolutely necessary.

TRANSPORT ETIQUETTE

But remember, no matter which form of transport you're taking, that the locals use the tube and buses as their day-to-day transportation. There is a great deal of unspoken etiquette that most tourists don't abide by, and your trip will be much more enjoyable for you and everyone else if you try to respect the people around you.

I only mention these things because I have seen some really unbelievable behavior by tourists on public transportation. I'm sure you would NEVER do any of these things, but just in case --

First, no loud talking. If you look around the tube car or bus, you'll see that almost everyone is either reading, texting on their phones, aimlessly looking out the window, etc. Don't try to take up more than your own space. Sit next to your companions, rather than spreading out. Put your bags in your lap, don't clog up the area next to the doors, and don't try to strike up conversations with those around you. Most Londoners are friendly, but the city is bombarded by tourists from all over the world, and they do become weary of being forced to engage in conversations with people when all they want to do is relax, read their book or newspaper, or just chill out after work

One major rule in the tube stations is to stand to the right on the escalators. Keep your bags either in front of you or on your right. If you do not leave enough room for people to run up or down the escalators on the left, they will quite forcefully teach you a lesson by running into you, elbowing you painfully, or shouting very unpleasant ephithets at you. And if you carry a bag on your left, you run the risk of someone trying to steal it, which may result in you being dragged down the escalator and being injured if you try to hold on to it. Remember -- London is a big city, and petty crime is always a risk, particularly in areas frequented by tourists. Keep your bags and other belongings secure, and try to travel as lightly as possible.

Stay far away from the tube and buses during rush hour. It's very crowded and uncomfortable and can be dangerous if you have young children with you. Travel between 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and after 7:00 p.m., if at all possible. And walk as much as you can. Often, if you look at a street map, you'll find that your destination is not as far away as you think, and walking around London is always interesting and fun. The tube map and bus maps are not geographicaly correct, and you should always double-check your street map to see if you're missing something interesting by taking public transport or if a walk would be faster.

DAY TRIPS BY TRAIN

If you travel to Hampton Court Palace, Oxford, Bath, or other areas outside of central London, you will be able to travel cheaply and comfortably by train. Buying your tickets in advance can save you money, so check online before your trip to see what to expect.

Some helpful websites:

Transport For London -- Everything you need to know about the tube, buses and trains within the Greater London area.

National Rail -- Information for traveling throughout the UK.

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