I remember the first time I came to London semi independently. I was 17 and attending a history conference...nothing too exciting but being in London without parents and with very limited teacher supervision seemed pretty amazing at the time. Right up until the point I found myself on the wrong tube with two equally as clueless friends.
I remember very well what it's like to be travelling around London alone for the first time!
I also know what it's like to be stranded in London in the middle of the night because you didn't bother to check the tube updates to see that the line you thought could get you home is actually closed. I would like to say that this is another thing that happened to me when I was seventeen, but unfortunately it was less than a year ago and I was 24 but feeling like I was seventeen again!
So I decided to put this guide together for those of you who will be travelling around London.
The first thing you need to do is get yourself an oyster card.
An oyster card is basically a swipe card that you can use on buses. the overground and the underground in London. You can either buy a travel pass or you can go pay as you go and just top up as and when you need more money on your card.
Oyster cards are easy to buy at tube stations and you can top them up either at the desk or at one of the many machines that you will find in the tube stations.
Why do I recommend oyster?
The first reason is that it's easy. The last thing you want to worry about when you need to get a bus is where to buy the ticket from. You simply swipe it when you get on the bus and the money is taken off of your card. The same thing happens when you get on the tube.
The second reason is that it's cheap. A bus ticket costs £2 but if you use an oyster card it's only £1. You get similar discounts on the tube.
Some people do opt to buy an all day travel card but I would NOT recommend doing this. There is a maximum amount that you can spend on an oyster card each day before travel is free and this does not exceed the amount that you would pay for an all day travel pass but with oyster you know that if you don't travel as much as you had intended you will pay less and if you get lost and end up out of the zone that you bought the pass for you won't have to pay for another ticket.
So you've got your oyster card, picked up a tube map while you were at it and you're ready to get around London.
The easiest way to get from A to B would be to use the underground. Although this is the easiest form of transport it is also the least pleasant, in fact I am convinced that the reason why many Londoners can be so miserable is that they spend so much time underground. London is a beautiful city, there's so much to see and I think it's such a waste to travel underground. It's also crowded and at the moment has no air conditioning which awful in the summer. They're due to put air conditioning in next year but until then in the summer anyone travelling on the London underground will have to put up with sweaty people, unbearable heat and plenty of delays due to people fainting on trains. It's not pleasant.
All year round you will find yourself getting more intimate with strangers on the underground that you would like to ( I have yet to be stuck between two sexy people but I live in hope).
Before making travel plans it's always best to go to www.tfl.gov.uk to find out if there are any severe delays or station closures. There's nothing worse than getting halfway to your destination before realising that the tube station you want is closed.
A few things to remember when travelling by tube:
If you're on the escalators stand on the right hand side, walk down the left.
Don't stop at the bottom/top of the escalator for five or ten minutes while you figure out where you're going, it's annoying and it could cause an accident.
Check the direction of the train before you get on it and if you're confused ask station staff...don't worry about them being rude, just take it as part of the London experience!
Travelling by bus is much more pleasant than travelling by tube but it can take a lot longer. I personally think that it's worth taking a bit longer to get somewhere if you can see where you're going but it will probably depend entirely on your priorities. The degree of pleasure you get from your bus journey will probably depend on where you're travelling from but if you're staying in Central London it seems quite likely that you will pass by some lovely buildings and parks and that's much nicer than just staring at the black walls of the underground.
Bus travel is also much cheaper than tube travel which is another plus and I find that it gives you more of an idea of where you are. I thought London was much bigger (and more intimidating) when I travelled everywhere by tube.
Many buses run throughout the night and are your best bet for getting home at night...unless you want to pay a fortune for a taxi.
I'm not suggesting you walk from the outer areas of London to central London (although depending on where in London you're walking from it could be quite pleasant) but to get from one place in Central London to another walking is often a lot easier than you would think. London is actually not that big and many attractions are in walking distance of each other.
The best thing to do is buy a map which seems really obvious but I have been known to go sightseeing without one and have always enjoyed my five or six hour walks around The City and Westminster, I've found that getting lost is a good way to find new places and is a lovely way to waste a couple of hours. But if your time in London is more limited than mine and you have a lot of places that you want to see then you will probably want to take a map!
Walking by the Thames is always particularly pleasant.
If you're particularly into walking you could always check out the walking routes on www.tfl.gov.uk.
Here in London we are susceptible to the rain and being stuck in soggy clothing is never fun so I would not recommend walking if the weather is miserable, as it so often is.
If you are on the Thames and want to get to somewhere else on the Thames then you can always take a boat. There are various different kinds of boats that go at different speeds so you're able to choose a service that suits you best.
Unfortunately I rarely get to do this because I don't live near the river. I don't think you can use oyster cards on boats.
Don't do it!
I took a richshaw once. It cost me and two friends £20 for about ten minutes and I spent the entire time being terrified. It just doesn't feel safe, especially when you're on busy roads surrounded by vehicles that are much bigger than you.
I also found out afterwards that if you have an accident you're not insured. Not that you'll be worrying about that if you end up under a lorry.
For information regarding accessibility (which is shamefully poor for the most part), the overground, trams, driving, maps and timetables please visit www.tfl.gov.uk.