If you’re planning on staying pretty central to London, I wouldn’t suggest renting a car for the following reasons:
- Unless you’re comfortable driving on the other side of the road, its best not to learn on the busy streets of London.
- Drivers are pretty aggressive with tight turns and closely following people on bikes and cards.
- Traffic can be insane at times in London
- All you really need is an Oyster card!
For first time visitors to London, I really found doing a Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour bus a great way to get a quick overview of the city and get a quick guided tour. We purchased Golden Tours which during the winter months runs a 24 Hours & Extra 24 Hours FREE Hop on Hop off London Bus Tour. Considering we only did this once and on the first day and also noted, did not Hop On Hop Off at all, it was a pricey investment. What we did get was a great overview of the city, quick lay of the land with a bit of history sprinkled in. Once you boarded you were provided with headphones if you opted for the programmed tour vs the live tour. It’s primary function was for alternate languages of course. It did come with a FREE River Boat ride which we didn’t take advantage of due to time constraints but definitely wanted to.
WHAT IS AN OYSTER CARD?
If there was one tip I think was best taken from my research is getting an Oyster card. There is a Visitor Oyster card available for purchase prior to your travels, but I couldn’t really justify the added costs to it for simply being a Visitors Oyster card even with their so called discounts at a select group of restaurants and shops. It should also be noted that this is different from the London Pass, which I also didn’t really find added value to.
There is a £5.00 refundable deposit on new Oyster cards, which I just considered non-refundable as I didn’t see at what point I was going to go through the hassle of getting a refund. After that you can “top up” at any tube station or at thousands of shops across London.
I suggest a “Pay as you go” ticket as travel cards (one-day, 7-day, etc.,) require you to do a lot more planning and have more awareness of what zones of travel you will be utilizing etc., which can get very complicated, and more expensive then has to be. I have found the “Pay as you go” to be equally economical as you can travel on as many trains, buses, bikes etc., for no more than £6.50 a day. Not so important for sightseers hopping all over the city, but a journey using “Pay as you go” (contactless or Oyster) on a bus or tram, and you can make a second bus or tram journey for free within one hour of touching in on the first bus or tram.
IPHONE MAP APP
Our best friend during this journey was the Map app on our iPhone. You can of course download the London Tube Map or the Bus London app but really the Map app on the phone was very precise and useful for mapping out our journey. You would simply type in your destination and it can map it in the most efficient manner in your method of transportation – walk, drive, transit or ride – any combination inbetween. You can explore alternate routes as well. With transit (public transportation), it was great with step-by-step directions and even transferring. I really appreciated how easy it was to navigate public transportation in London. In particular, London has a great bus system where bus stops are named but also have a code at the top of each stop. It can read A, B, K, SD, SC, or any letter in between etc., I’m sure there is some logic to it, but within the Map App, they will tell you to proceed to Stop A and with 3 bus stops in line of vision, its easy to know exactly which one is where you should be, Stop A!
What we wished it could do was map from one location to another, not just your current location, so planning ahead was a bit more difficult. Once we reached our destination, I would map the next part of our journey to get an estimate of the travel time and used it to consider how much time we would spend in our current location. If you have an Android… I can’t help you — SORRY! If anyone wants to chime in, please do!
TIPS and NOTEABLES:
- Children under 11 travel free with a paying Adult. When using the Underground, proceed to the manned turnstile noted for passengers needing additional space. You and your child will touch in and walk in together.
- Travel as much as you like but you will never use more than £6.50 of credit per day in central London
- You can use the Oyster card on:
- London Underground (the Tube)
- Overground and National Rail trains in London
- London buses
- South London trams
- Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
- The Thames cable car (Emirates Air Line)
- Santander Cycles – although a great option, what my daughter pointed out was that we didn’t have helmets! Oh well!
- Be really conscious of the amount remaining on your Oyster Card. A typical trip can cost £2.2o one way so making sure you have enough to make it to a destination where you can TOP UP is important!