Our Top Tips for Getting Around in London

posted in: Blog, London | 32

It’s half-term across much of England, and spring holidays elsewhere too, so Jess decided that she would write a useful post for any visitors to London…

Jess, aged 13, writes: As I have lived in London for my whole life, I would say that I’m fairly proficient at using public transport. London has some of the best public transport in the world, including a massive underground system, hundreds of bus routes, and thousands of bikes. However, last month, our family was shocked by the exorbitant prices that you have to pay to travel – when I didn’t have my Oyster Card with me, a one-stop return journey for a child was over £4! This lead me to think about all the tips for travelling in London that tourists don’t necessarily know. I hope they help you in your travels…

All Underground Stations have a sign outside, which tells you which one it is
All Underground Stations have a sign outside

Oyster Cards

To travel in London, you can either buy tickets for single journeys (although these are very expensive) or you can get an Oyster card. To get onto a bus or tube train, you simply touch the Oyster card onto the yellow part of the ticket barrier, and walk through. You have to buy a ticket or a regular Oyster at the station, or you can order a Travel Oyster in advance. To find out which card is best for you, click here.

Visitor Oyster cards cost £3 each (plus postage), and you need to top them up with credit to use them. The minimum for this is £5. When your holiday is over and you no longer need your Oyster card, you can get a refund of your pay-as-you-go credit and your deposit.

With my Oyster Card at a bus stop
With my Oyster Card at a bus stop

Everyone aged 11 and over must have an Oyster card, although child fares are considerably cheaper than adult ones. You can no longer use cash on buses, so you must be aware of this! Lots of newsagents sell Oyster cards, and you can always ask at the nearest tube station. You can also pay by putting your credit card on the reader, although only specific cards are allowed. If you use a contactless credit card, you will be charged the same as an Oyster card.

Bus Stops

There are two types of bus stops: compulsory stops and request stops. These are shown by the sign at the top of the stop – if it is a red logo on a white background, it is a compulsory stop, and the bus must stop there. If it is a white logo on a red background it is a request stop. The bus will only stop there if someone is getting off (press one of the bells), or if you indicate to the driver that you want to get on. Do this by sticking your arm out into the road when a bus is approaching.


Sometimes it’s better to walk around the city, especially in central London. Transport for London (TfL) recently published a map of the different tube stations in the centre of town, showing how long it takes the average person to walk between each one.

Map copyright to Transport for London
Map copyright to Transport for London

The shortest journey in the entire underground network is between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, and yet it is one of the most expensive. It costs £4 to travel 275m in 45 seconds – it is much easier to walk instead!

Boris Bikes

Officially called “Santander Cycles”, Boris Bike (named for the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson) docking stations are all around central London, and for £2, you can get access to them for 24 hours. The first half an hour of every journey is free, and they are very useful for seeing places of London that buses can’t get to.

To take a bike out of a docking station, you use a credit or debit card. Select ‘Hire a cycle’, follow the on-screen instructions and take the printed release code. You can hire up to four bikes at a time. Boris Bikes are for short trips so, once you have paid the £2 bike access fee for the day, the first 30 minutes of each journey is free. Longer journeys cost £2 for each extra 30 minutes. Full instructions can be found here, and you can download this app that allows you to pay faster and easier without a machine.

Planning Journeys

Something that saves me on a daily basis when getting around is the TfL Journey Planner. You type in your start and end destinations, your desired methods of transport, and the time of your journey, and it creates the perfect route for you. It is so ridiculously useful, and helps me whenever I don’t know where I’m going.

Downloading bus and tube apps are also helpful, as they tell you when the next bus is coming. I use “London Bus Times Live” for my daily journey to school, but all of the apps work equally well. There are also apps to tell you when the trains are coming, but these aren’t as important as they generally come every two minutes.

I hope that these tips help when travelling around London. It’s a big city, but it’s not that bad when you know where you’re going!

Great things to do in London:

The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London

An unforgettable speedboat experience

The Monument to the Great Fire of London


Wander Mum

32 Responses

  1. The Mummy Diary

    My husband is a pro at getting round London, he knows all the tube routes, I am a complete novice though and always have to have my route mapped out when I am there. This is a great list of ways of getting round London though, some probably more overlooked than they should be.

  2. Kara

    I keep saying we need to invest in Oyster cards. It always surprises me how close things are together if you go by foot though

    • Jess

      It can be really easy to walk in central London, but the Tube is a godsend whenever you need to get to somewhere far away.

  3. Globalmouse

    Great post! I can’t wait for my three to get a bit older and a bit better at cycling so we can pick up some Boris Bikes….a great way to get around!

  4. Mums do travel

    This is a really helpful post for visitors, thanks Jess. It’s always confusing to navigate the public transport system of an unfamiliar city.

  5. Sonya Cisco

    Great tips – I find it much easier getting around LOndon now we have fancy technology – I have oyster cards and apps on my phone for route planning!

    • Jess

      They make it so much easier – whenever I go anywhere, I always check my app so I don’t have to leave the house prematurely!

  6. Sonia

    Oh this is a great post and one I shall remember for my next London trip, I definitely want to do a Boris bike at some point! £2 ain’t half bad either 😉

  7. Lisa Goodmurphy

    Great tips! I love that walking map – walking is my preferred way to get around London and it’s nice to know approximately how long it will take to get from one point to another.

  8. Nell@PigeonPairandMe.com

    This is such a useful post. I’ve lived in London for 17 years, so I’m used to getting around, but whenever we have visitors from out of town they’re usually baffled! Thanks for sharing the info about the walking tube map though – I didn’t know about that.

  9. Keryn

    I swear by the Oyster Card. We bought ours back in 2009 and they still work every time we go. All we have to do is add money.

  10. Charly Dove

    Gosh I didn’t realise Boris Bikes were so cheap! That said I’d always opt for walking rather than getting the tube if at all possible. It’s a great way to see everything too 🙂

  11. Lillie

    So many useful tips! I love the walking times map. Being from Boston, the giant Tube map can be intimidating, but that makes it more inviting!

  12. Cathy (MummyTravels)

    Really useful tips – I’ve lived in London for most of the last 15 years and I didn’t know that about the bus stops! I think that tube map showing the distances is so helpful, I’d always rather walk if I’m exploring a new city, if I can. #citytripping

  13. Mama Herself

    The great thing about the Boris Bikes is how you can hop on and hop off them all day for the cost of £2. All the teenagers round our way seem to use them as a matter of course, but one of the great places for tourists to have a go on the is round the vast acres of Hyde Park I reckon.

    • Mama Herself

      And (sorry, hit send too soon) great tip about needing to stop the buses. Londonders probably don’t think about it, but when we arrived from a place where buses always stop at every stop, we were continually watching them sail past us or missing our stop! It’s always the little things…

  14. Elizabeth (Wander Mum)

    Great post – I have to admit I wasn’t totally aware of the compulsory and request bus stops! It can be quite surprising how close all the tube stations are…sometimes it is just easier to walk. I love walking around London – so many wonderful sights to see above ground. I love that we can now use our credit cards on buses, tubes and trains now too. #citytripping

  15. James

    Whoa, had no idea you couldn’t use cash on the busses anymore! This is not the case in America, as the majority of people taking busses likely aren’t the ones who use anything BUT cash.

    I’d be a little hesitant to just swipe my card right there on the bus so I’d probably get the Oyster card (I’m sure I still have one lying around from my last trip). Too many cases of fraud these days makes me a bit uneasy!

  16. Roy

    There has been no distinction between compulsory and request stops following a public consultation in 2007, buses have to stop at all stops if passengers are waiting. You do not have to put your hand out. However, to alight you have to ring the bell. Transport for London decided not to tell the public of the change because they wanted them to treat every stop as a request stop. That is why buses ignore compulsory stops if you don’t put your hand out or ring the bell. This is a deliberate deception by Transport for London.

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