Public Transport Reviews: London, England

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling in the past few years and have discovered the wonders of public transport. There’s no real public transport in Nashville, beyond a train that goes in one line with a couple of stops and a terrible bus system, so I never really had experience with learning to read transport maps, figuring out fees and learning how to push my way through heavy crowds until I started traveling.

I might be the only one here, but I enjoy subways and trains and I *really* enjoying talking about the pros and cons of each, so much so I decided to write up a series of posts comparing them all together. Believe me when I say, all public transport is NOT equal.

I’ll be adding a post every time I travel some place new and use one of their systems. While I’ll mostly be talking of trains and subways, I thought I’d throw in a bit of other unconventional ways to travel besides renting a car.

Enjoy!

London

My favorite city in the world is blessed with the best (and very first) public transport I’ve ever taken. There’s no shortage of options in the city, including bicycle rentals (which I didn’t use).

The Underground (aka The Tube)

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London Underground Sign

My absolute favorite way to travel, the Tube turned 150 in 2012 and still remains one of the best subways I’ve ridden. It’s clean for the most part (I mean, you’ll have some dirt with that amount of crowding), but my favorite thing is the design of the Tube. It has it’s own font face, the Underground’s map became the blueprint for almost every other subway map in the world, and the typography and poster designs are famous worldwide. Plus most trains arrive every 2-4 minutes which is still the most frequent of any other city’s transport system so far. Watch out for pick pockets though, and keep your valuables safe.

Best tip: Even if you’re only there for a few days, if you plan to ride ANY London transport (London-based trains, the Underground or Buses), pick up an Oyster card for a refundable (on return) £5 – you get a major discount on all services and there’s a daily max they’ll charge you too.

National Rail

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If you’re traveling outside of London, the National Rail train system is the best way to go. When not overly crowded due to rush hour, the trains are relaxing and comfortable and there are plenty (though not always spotless) bathrooms on board. Many also have wifi, and longer rides usually have a snack car and/or bar, TVs in the seats and charging areas. Find a seat with a table if you need more space and to work – these often go fast.

Best tip #1: Find the quiet car – while there’s not one on every train, and not all people are *kind* enough to follow the quiet car rules, it’s still your best chance for some peace and quiet, and to avoid the drunk kids on long rides.

Best tip #2: Best to book your tickets in advance if you’re going for a ride longer than an hour or two. This will ensure a reserved seat and if done early enough, you can choose the way you’re face (I hate going backwards!) and if you want a table seat or not.

Buses

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My least favorite way to travel (as I hate cars and traffic), but sometimes the quickest, and only way in the country. Buses are also the cheapest, dirtiest, most crowded and loudest way to travel. The bus maps are also super confusing to read, even after living there for a year and a half. If you do need to ride the bus, I suggest downloading a mobile app like the London Bus Buddy, which will tell  you the exact stops (there’s often a couple together), bus number and route to take.

Best tip: The views from the front of the top of the double deckers in London are a spectacular way to view the city.

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Taxis

The most expensive way to travel, but taxis are definitely helpful when you find yourself in a rush or in the middle of nowhere. London is infamous for its gorgeous retro black cabs, which have to pass a rigorous test and memorize much of London’s streets. Be warned though that taking a cab from the airport to anywhere in London is almost $100 and certainly faster and cheaper to take the 15 minute Heathrow Express train. Also, taking a cab can be a bit scary, because you don’t know if it’s legit or not. A lot of cabs in London take credit cards, but best be prepared with cash because not all do, especially the ones in small towns outside of London

Best tip: Download the an app like GetTaxi to ensure you get a legit cab driver, to get an estimated wait time AND to watch your cab arriving to pick you up in real time! You can also pay and tip through this app as well.

Stay tuned for next week’s review: Paris! Vive la France!

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