Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Getting around in London

When you first arrive in London, finding your way around the city can be a tough task.  Also another problem is HOW to get around the city.  You can be like me, who took a card from a man with a van service and get super ripped off before finding better options, or you can just read my guide below.

If you've got 48 hours...
The famous black cabs of London
If you're only in London for the weekend, or a short period of time, getting a Taxi (or black cab) will be your safest bet.  You're only in for a short time, and you don't really want to waste your time finding another way, or worse- getting lost a long the way.  (Tipping is not necessary but appreciated- most people just round up to the nearest pound)  Obviously if you're backpacking feel free to take the subway...

*Airport Tip:  If you are coming from Heathrow, take the Heathrow Express from Heathrow Airport and Paddington if you want the fastest way into the city.  It's about 16-20 pounds (depending if you buy it online or at the station, or even on the train (yes you can just get on and pay at a higher price when a guy comes around to check your ticket), takes 15 min each way, and leaves every 15 minutes.  So extremely convenient.  Do note that this is different that Heathrow Connect (which sometimes gets sold as a package), which is essentially just another train but makes multiple stops along the way and takes much longer.  Sort of like the New York Airtrain to the E line, which is convenient but really isn't that fast as you're slowed down by the regular trains.  Hong Kong's Airport Express would be something like the Heathrow Express.

As for Taxis, do note that there are different tariffs for different times of travel. Tariff 1 is Monday - Friday, 6AM to 8PM.  Tariff 2 is between 8PM-10PM on weekdays, and from 6AM to 10PM on weekends.  Tariff 3 (the MOST expensive) occurs all the other times, and on public holidays.  So knowing when to travel can save you quite a bit.

If you've got a week:

Signs outside the London Tube
At this point you can learn to use the subway, or London Tube or "tube" as it is known.  NYC calls it the subway/metro, Hong Kong calls it the MTR, but in all places its generally the best way for going long distances.  Tube fares are broken down into Zones, so if you travel within Zone 1 its all the same prices, but increases as you move across zones.  It's different to Hong Kong in that each fare is calculated for how far you are from the initial station, and very different to New York's flat rate to travel anywhere.  Still, it is an effective way for travelling given that London cab fares are among the most expensive in the world.  Hong Kong cabs are pretty cheap for its value (you can practically go to the airport from your home in the same price it is to from one area of London to another), and getting around in New York is pretty reasonable on cabs that it isn't that big of an issue.  However, taking cabs everywhere in London is an easy way to waste a lot of money!

If you're here for awhile:
Quick and reliable
Look into buses.  Most people don't really know how to take them, and they are cheaper and much more comfortable than the tube.  It takes awhile to get use to them (you need to read the map at each station), but once you do it can be quite a nice way to travel.  You can also get an app on your iphone/android that tracks buses, and how long it will take for them to arrive (in real time!), thus easily planning your journey.

Addison Lee App
Addison Lee.  This is probably the most famous car company in the UK for calling a cab.  They are usually bigger than London Taxis (which are tiny but very well designed for the passenger), utilizing normal cars with a big logo at the back.  The way to use them is simple- you call them, or use the addison lee app on your phone to call one, and either pay by cash or by credit card.  You get a text message that says when they are coming and you board it and go home- prices are reasonable too- much better than getting ripped off by those people who keep passing out flyers to unsuspecting tourists.  There are other companies that do this, but AddisonLee is by far the biggest and thus easiest to use.  (Tipping is not expected, and not required when you book with Addison Lee.)

Another app is called "Hailo", which some people are raving about.  Basically it helps put Black Cabs on a level playing field with Addison Lee, by connecting some Black Cabs around London to a similar phone in/app system.  You order a taxi from your location tracked by GPS, get a confirmation signal, and even get to see how near or far the chose cab is, and how its making your way to you.  I've used it once this weeked after being recommended by a friend, and I must say its pretty good too.

So there you have it- a guide to the main transportation methods (other than walking) in London.  Yes I missed out the traveling by boat, which is strictly for tourists), but some are probably wondering about the big one I have ignored: Boris bikes.  These are Barclays Bikes which are stationed around the city, and you can pay a fee to take out one and cycle to another location and leave it at another place.  (Helpful tip- if there'a a red light next to the bike it means its NOT working, pick another bike- this will save you agony and 10 min on the phone to reset your code)  Dubbed Boris Bikes after the mayor (even though Barclays clearly sponsored the initiative), it is an effective way of getting around London as well, but I wouldn't recommend it if you've never ridden a bike in a big city before.  Rather be safe than sorry!

The very famous "Boris Bikes"

No comments:

Post a Comment