How to Get Around (Without A Car)
It is very possible to get around London without a car. I’ve been car-less in London for four + years!
The Underground (also referred to as “the tube”) is by far one of the best transit networks in the world. Aside from occasional delays and closures due to maintenance repairs (or the occasional strike threat), the tube is what most car-less people in London rely on to get around. I use it everyday to commute to work and supplement my tube journeys with occasional bus or train rides, depending.
Following are some practical ways to get around London, in order of how I tend to use them:
- The Underground (tube)
- Bus (red, double-deckers)
- Taxi (either the classic black cabs that are hailed from the street, or from a taxi service like Addison Lee)
- The Overground trains
I rely on the tube because it’s fast. There are a lot of Londoners that would complain about it, and rightly so, as it is not a perfect system. It can get hot, crowded and there are delays and closures on the weekends. But I’m coming from a country that is no where near as organised when it comes to public transit. The car traffic in California alone is enough to make me love any subway system! And have you ridden a bus in San Francisco? A London bus is like having a private driver in comparison.
Friends and family back home are often a little perplexed about how we get around in London without a car, but it’s only because many Americans don’t have an understanding of how well public transit can actually work.
- The TFL website is the best source for information on the entire transport system including tickets, Oyster cards, maps and journey planners.
- If you are going to be in central London a majority of the time (or within any of the zones in the system; see the tube map for a guide of the zones) I would recommend getting an Oyster card. You can either add a cash value to the card if you aren’t going to be riding the tubes or buses everyday, or get a monthly/3 month/12 month pre-paid unlimited rides pass added to the card. I typically get the 3 month pass for Zones 1-2 and also add a cash value to the card (about 20 pounds) to cover me in those instances when I travel out into Zones 3 through 6 (Heathrow airport is in Zone 6).
- I often use the Journey Planner on the TFL website (located on the right of their page, just under the Maps) when I need to find the best route to get somewhere. You just enter in your From details, your To details and it will give you options on the best route to get there, including specific transfer instructions.
- A lot of guidebooks recommend people get a London A to Z (Z = zed), which I dutifully did but to be honest I absolutely never use it. It’s difficult to read, takes too long to sort through the index when you’re on a crowded street and is just a pain. If you are going to be central, I would recommend the maps that are in the Moleskine City Guide London. It’s much more practical to use, although I will warn that it does cover only the central area. (It was always in my bag during my first 12 months in London, until I got an iPhone and began using the map app as my main tool.)
- One last thing: post codes. A post code functions differently in the UK than a US zip code. Whereas a zip code is used for a general area (an entire town, or section of town), a post code is specific right down to the location of the house on the street. For example, if you wanted to go to Hatchard’s Bookshop in Picadilly, you could enter in their post code to Google Maps or your iPhone: W1J 9LE and it would show you exactly where the bookshop is.
- You can use post codes in the Journey Planner on the TFL website, looking for directions on Google Maps, and GPS systems (I think) as well as when you book a taxi such as Addison Lee over the phone (the company will ask you “Which post code are you travelling from/pick-up?” and “Which post code are you going to/drop off?” Black cab drivers are required to learn the London streets so they often don’t have GPS, or any use for post codes. You would tell them the street you want to go to in that case.