I should get into the habit of writing a post like this before we arrive at our destination. But no. It wasn’t until we wasted a few bucks getting into London that I realized that researching transportation options is a good idea. So here it is. To help others figure their way around and avoid my mistakes.
London Heathrow is is London’s largest airport and most likely destination if you’re coming from across the pond. It pushes 70 million people around every single year, making it the third busiest airport in the world.
Once you’ve arrived you’ll have a few rail options to get into central London:
- Heathrow Express – the fastest train into town, leaving every 15 minutes and taking just 15 minutes to get to Paddington. The speed will cost you though – £20 one-way (~$32 at the time of this post) and £34 return.
- Heathrow Connect – this is what we ended up taking. Not because it’s the best option, but because we didn’t know what we were doing. It runs every 30 minutes and is a 25 minute ride. £9.50 one-way.
- Piccadilly Underground – the first choice for getting into town for the budget traveler. Departs from terminals 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 and takes just under an hour. £5.50 Cash and £3.00 on an Oyster Card (read more about the Oyster Card below).
Chances are you may also fly into on of London’s other major airports. Since I’m no expert on travel from these airports, I’ll just point you in the right direction. But from whatever airport you transfer from, only take a taxi if you’ve got money to blow.
If you’re coming from Paris or Brussels, the Eurostar is a great option. This high speed train will have you whizzing through the country side at nearly 200mph, under the water through the Channel Tunnel, and into London St. Pancras in about 2 hours from either city. If you’re flexible on days and times, you’ll find a good deal. We paid the lowest advertised fare of $66 one-way by adding a day to our London stay and leaving around 6pm on a Monday.
We were shocked at the price of a tube ride when we first saw it. £4.50 cash for just one ride. That’s over $7! How do these Brits afford this?
Well there are some better options. And they all involve the Oyster Card. Plan on getting one no matter what. It will pay for itself in just one ride. In fact, they are free if you’re willing to stand in line to return the card when you leave London in order to get back your £5 deposit.
Give some thought to how much you may travel by train around town. It’s you’re most viable option and if you’re moving fast like us, you’ll easily fit in 6 to 8 trips a day. And you’ll likely stay around the central part of the city keeping you in Zones 1-2 on the fare charts. Keep that in mind as you weigh your options.
- Option 1: Pay As You Go – Pay for every trip that you take. Reduces the trip cost to £2.10 in Zone 1 and £2.80 in Zone 1-2 as compared to cash.
- Option 2: Buy a 1 Day Anytime Travelcard – a one-day pass will cost you £8.80 in Zones 1-2.
- Option 3: Buy a 7 Day Travelcard – will put you back £30.40 in Zones 1-2.
- Option 4: Buy a Visitor Oyster Card – don’t do this. It’s for folks that want to be super prepared and have a card in hand before they visit London. It works on a pay as you go system and is no better than buying an Oyster Card when you get to London.
Now do the math based on the costs above.
- A 7 Day Travelcard is better than a 1 Day Travelcard if you’ll be in London for 4 days or more.
- A 1 Day Travelcard is better than pay as you go if you plan on taking 4 or more trips a day in Zones 1-2 and 5 or more trips a day in Zone 1.
- Otherwise, just add some credit to your Oyster Card and plan on getting a refund on your remaining funds and your deposit once you leave town.
Just before we left Chicago, we saw the Divvy bike stands literally pop up overnight. Around every other corner was a shared bike stand to allow tourists and locals alike to cruise through the city at reasonable rates.
London’s got a Barclays sponsored system and here’s how it works:
- Decide on the time period you may want to use the bike share system. 24 hours – £2, 7 days – £10, and Annual – £90.
- Find a bike stand and decide where you are going.
- Don’t plan on riding these bikes all around town.
- Keep it under a 30 minute ride to avoid additional costs to the access charges you already paid. If you go over 30 minutes, plan on giving up some additional dough. Between 30 minutes and 1 hour – £1, Up to 1 hour and 30 minutes – £4, Up to 2 hours – £6, Up to 2 hours and 30 minutes – £10, Up to 3 hours – £15, Up to 6 hours – £35, Up to 24 hours – £50, and Over 24 hours – £150.
Take a look at those additional charges closely. The costs go up significantly the longer you keep the bike. There’s a reason for this. These bikes are meant for point to point transportation and not leisurely rides around town. Use it to get to where you need to go, drop it off at another bike rack, and pick up another one when you’re ready to move along.
Used the right way, biking around town can be cheaper than one ride on the tube and a whole lot more fun. Be safe!