London tip: bus (and walking) often beats Tube

We marveled at how quiet and compact London is for the tourist. Then we tried the Tube for a short journey with a connection and walked, and walked, and walked, only to find the line was closed for the weekend and then walked some more. Nearly every metro system I encounter in the world makes me appreciate Hong Kong’s brilliant connections all the more.

The Tube worked great coming in from Heathrow on the Picadilly line, luckily no transfer needed to reach our hotel. Once based in the city it should have only taken one trip to swear off the Tube for short trips but it took two for us to learn our lesson. Transfers among  simple 2-line stations in London dwarf even some of Paris’ epic multi-line station transfers. If we are going to walk that much it might as well be outside enjoying the view than in narrow passages.

London bus stops have various line maps and references that make getting about a breeze, easily the best transport signage I have countered anywhere. And there are so many lines passing through the center that even on a Sunday night there were choices every few minutes. Several locals noticed me taking a picture of the arrivals board and I said it is unimaginable that New York on a Sunday would have frequent buses, and even more so to think there could be displays with accurate arrival times. One started telling of the time she visited friends in the Bronx…

London Buses

Buses are cheaper than the Tube. Unfortunately there are no free transfers among buses or between Tube and bus, each time you get on a new conveyance you pay again, though there are daily caps on Oyster cards to contain the financial hit.

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  • The buses normally offer great views of london also, for a fraction of the price of those hideously expensive sight seeing bus tours. Especially if you are getting a bus west on the south bank.

    It may be worth doing a post on the oyster card itself. Using an oyster card can really reduce transport expenditure in London and paying for individual paper tickets can leave you feeling ripped off

    Also worth mentioning that you can now use contactless payments on the buses, DLR, Overground and Trams (Croydon area) also: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/19976.aspx and http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets/26416.aspx

    This saves you the initial cost of the oyster card as well 🙂

  • Ben E

    tfl.gov.uk has a very handy little travel planner that takes into account public transport and also the time taken to walk between transfers. It normally gives excellent results, even when there is weekend maintainance work happening. The site also loads quickly and easily on mobiles (or download an app if you prefer), for on the move usage.

  • Sam

    As someone who goes to London a few times a year, do you think it better to get an Oyster card and just keep it for when I do go over? Not sure the cost of one but seems like a better way to go if a freq traveler.

    Sam

  • I actually really like the London tube system and haven’t had the issues you mention. I guess I tend to avoid connections and use the tube to get me close enough to walk…

  • @Sam – the Oyster card requires a deposit of £5 that you can get back at staffed ticket windows. Compared to single-ticket prices you save nearly 50% by using an Oyster card, so we got them.

    There are also Travelcards, I am still trying to figure out when a day Travelcard is better than a day Oyster because the Oyster day price is capped to be no more than Travelcard, but each is priced according to zones so I saw some locals buying for visitors at Heathrow, choosing a 1-day Travelcard for zones 1-2 with a Heathrow add-on rather than an Oyster that would then be the higher-prices zones 1-6 for that day’s cap.

  • @Ben E – thanks, we should have done our research in advance, especially coming from NY where weekends are usually a mess. I wish I had a good way to runs all these apps on the go without getting nailed with a big roaming charge.

  • Sam

    I have been using the day travel cards in the past, but never really looked into the Oyster card.

    Thanks!

  • RakSiam

    I fell in love with Taipei’s MRT when I was there a couple of months ago. It is one of my favorite systems now. Clean, bright, easy to use once you get the hang of it, cheap.