Getting around London is very easy, once you’ve gotten the hang of how things work. I was travelling on a budget, so I was determined not to set foot in a single cab during my time in the city. Cabs are notoriously expensive, not to mention shady if you inadvertently flag down a non-legit one. So it was buses and the Tube for me.
I used this website to figure out which TravelCard would give me the best value during my time in London. Based on my itinerary and length of stay, I bought the 7-day Zones 1-2 TravelCard, which would allow me unlimited rides on the Tube and buses to cover my entire time in London. I used Google Maps to find my way around. I also bought a prepaid GiffGaff SIM card that let me use data with abandon. If you’re in Singapore, there’s a distributor that will send you the SIM card free. All they ask is that you like and share their Facebook page.
The Tube system is very comprehensive for getting around London. You don’t have to walk very far before you chance upon a Tube station. That also means that the network is rather convoluted, and the underground tunnels that connect lines and platforms can be confusing, as well as tiring to traverse. Ventilation is an issue, which is why Transport for London has signs all over the place reminding people to carry a bottle of water to stay hydrated during their journeys.
Not all Tube stations are disabled-friendly, so if you’re travelling with someone who is wheelchair-bound, you’ll need to check if there is a little wheelchair icon next to the name of the station you would like to use. If there is an icon, that means there is step-free access. Even if you’re able-bodied, the sheer number of stairs that you have to navigate can be very tiring, especially if you’re making your way to or from the airport with luggage.
Buses are really easy to ride – every bus I rode had an electronic destination display that told me the name of the next stop. The only trouble was that sometimes, the stop name didn’t match what was in Google maps, so I found myself missing my stop once or twice. It wasn’t a big deal, though. I simply backtracked, and resumed navigation.
If you’re very confident on a bike, and have good navigation skills, then getting around London on a bike might be for you. There are a few bike-share schemes in London, and they are available at docking stations all over the city. They’re great for short trips within the city. You simply pay £2, which will get you the first 30 minutes of your journey free. Thereafter, you pay another £2 for each extra 30 minutes. I didn’t try this because I don’t like cycling on the road and London traffic isn’t very forgiving – more than once, I saw altercations between motorists and pedestrians. I also didn’t want to be encumbered by a bike while exploring.
Public transport is really your best option for getting around London. Trains and buses run till late, are affordable and convenient, and are generally safe. Before I left home, I read a few TripAdvisor forum posts by travellers who were worried about their backpacks being slashed while on the train. I was naturally slightly concerned, being a worrywart. So I decided to bring a messenger bag instead of a backpack, thinking that it would be safer. Big mistake – the messenger bag wreaked hell on my neck and shoulders, and I ended up buying a £60 Herschel backpack on my second day. As long as you’re alert and sensible, you should be able to carry a backpack anywhere in London with no fear.