Getting around London on public transport

Depending on where you’re from in the USA, a reliable and expansive public transport system might be something you’ve never experienced. On your trip to London, here’s some hints and tips for becoming a pro using the London public transport system.

Book your hotel or Airbnb close to a tube station

The London Underground is the high frequency metro train system servicing the Greater London area. The closest comparison is the New York subway. It’s nicknamed “the Tube” because of the design of the train carriages and tunnels. It was opened in 1867 and carries 1.34 billion passengers each year, with a total track length of 250 miles.

Photograph of a London tube train emerging from a tunnel

There are 11 Tube lines criss-crossing London, with each color coded and named. This makes navigation easy and simple. For example, the “Piccadilly Line” which allows travelers and tourists to travel from Heathrow Airport in the West, into central London and beyond, is colored purple. All Tube lines run at high frequency (trains leaving every few minutes) and it is by far the most efficient way to get around London. For this reason try to book your hotel or Airbnb flat close to a Tube station.

Get an Oyster card to use the Tube, or use contactless chip payments or Apple Pay/Android Pay

The “Oyster Card” is the refillable transport pass to use the Tube. You can buy an Oyster Card at most Tube stations. Load it with some money and you’re good to go. At the ticket gate you “tap on” (which starts your fare), and then when you leave at your destination you “tap off” (which ends your fare). The Oyster system then automatically deducts the fare from the funds on your card. Best of all, it will always give you the best fare possible, and you’ll benefit from daily capped fares if you use it a lot (after a certain number of journeys, it’s free travel for the rest of the day).

Rather than lining up to buy an Oyster Card, you can also just use your American contactless chip Visa, Mastercard or American Express, or you can use Apple Pay or Android Pay. Again all you need to do is “tap on” and “tap off”. For more information, check out the Transport for London website.

Rent a bicycle

As an alternative to short Tube Trips, why not hire a bicycle from one of the many vending racks located across the city and suburbs. It costs just a few dollars to hire a bicycle for a few hours, and then you can explore some of the many parks in Central London. You can search for the nearest bicycle rack on the Transport for London website or download the official app to your Smartphone.

Photograph of a rack of Santander bicycles in London

Download travel apps to your Smartphone

Being in a new city can feel a bit daunting at first, but once again your Smartphone can come to the rescue and make you feel like a local. There’s a whole host of apps that you can use in London, from Google Maps, Zomato (for cafes and restaurants), Timeout (for London events and things to do) and Tripadvisor (for tourist attractions). We highly recommend downloading the Citymapper App which is your one stop shop for navigating the London public transport system. Punch in your destination, and the App will give you the fastest route, including the Tube, buses and walking.

Free Wi-Fi on the Tube

Thanks to a partnership with a number of telco companies, there’s free high speed Wi-Fi on most Tube stations (even the ones underground!). This comes in handy for finding which Tube station to get off at, or navigating through Google Maps. When you buy a UK SIM Card from My UK SIM Card, you’ll get free unlimited Wi-Fi on the Tube. And when you’re away from Wi-Fi, you’ll enjoy 12GB of high speed 4G LTE data, as well as minutes and texts. And if your onward travel includes Europe, your my UK SIM Card works in 34 European countries.