The Tube: You’ll have heard of the Underground (aka The Tube). Not the quickest, but wonderfully branched. Stops nearly everywhere. Will suck the will to live out of you if you rely on it for your commute – everyone I’ve talked to agrees. There is something about running up and down stairs in the underground rabbit warren of corridors, being jostled this way and that by the millions of others doing the same – it can be soul-destroying if indulged in on a daily basis, unless you pick your stations carefully.
Overground Rail: You may not know much about trains in London. The railway lines leave the City from the central rail stations, and then split into a complex network of branches. If you live on a major train line, your trip into town may be surprisingly speedy. For example, to get from Richmond to Waterloo Station on the fast train is only 20 min (increasing to 30 min on the slow train). There is also something called “The Overground” – a Tube-style train that stays above ground (as the name would suggest), and moves you around the perimeter of the city centre, rather than going through it. It seems to avoid the masses of people the Tube has to cope with, but it’s rather slow going. Tons of stops. Still, better for your sanity than the underground rabbit warren.
- For a complete map of London train and tube lines, click here.
- And click here for a very cool visualisation of travel times (tube only). I wouldn’t base my home search on this, but it’s great to play around with!
PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES
I’ll leave these for a different post. One will be your gateway back home and to exploring the rest of Europe / the world. The other will be your gateway to insane roundabouts, queues of traffic, and petrol prices.
Buses are everywhere. I love them and I hate them. They are cheap(er): currently, £1.40 per journey with Oyster card, no matter how far. If it’s a double-decker and you get one of the seats on the top deck, the views can be glorious. It currently allows me to peek over the tall fence into Brangelina’s front garden, complete with full scale elephant topiaries. But, as in any city I’ve lived, they like to travel in packs (long wait times), and fill up to the last square inch in inclement weather (even longer wait times, and the frustration of watching them pull away without letting in passengers).
Yes, you can commute by ferry, if you happen to live and work near a pier. Oyster-cardable. For a map of services, click here. Even if you don’t end up using the ferry to get to work, it’s worth hopping on on a clear sunny day – the tour from Woolwich Arsenal to the London Eye is spectacular, passing under the Tower Bridge and past many of London’s landmarks.
TICKETING AND OYSTER CARDS:
Within Greater London, both the Underground and trains are charged on a ‘zone’ basis, as well as a time-of-travel basis. Commuting hours (peak time) are much pricier.
It’s best to get Oyster cards for the whole family straight away. These are pay-as-you-go smart cards for travel on trains, tubes, buses, ferries, light rail, and even the Emirates cable car across the Thames. Fares are cheaper than individual tickets, and it’s easy to use (no heavy pound coins in your pocket!). Oyster cards can be purchased at any rail or tube stop (e.g. at the airport), as well as some shops (look for the blue Oyster card logo in the window). Or online here. They’ll cost you a £5 deposit each, then load your card up with some cash for pay-as-you go travel – and away you are! For travel on trains, hold the card against the yellow card reader (a circle to the right of the turnstile), then beep yourself out again at your destination. On buses, use the yellow circle at the bus driver’s pay station. Using Oyster cards is much cheaper than buying individual tickets, and it will automatically stop charging for the day once you have reached the cost of a one-day travel card.
If you venture out of London on the train, don’t forget to buy a (paper) ticket – your Oyster card won’t be valid beyond zone 6. It’s easy to forget this, since you can beep yourself in with your Oyster card at the London start of the journey. Paper tickets also open the turnstiles, by shooting the little card through a slot at the front. It comes back out at the top – do take it with you on your way in.
You can also purchase season tickets for your commute (called Travelcards), for a week up to a year. To calculate what you’ll have to fork out, use this site. But keep in mind that a train journey into London, even if costly, may save you a lot of rent – and hustle-and-bustle noise. You could live out in the lovely Kent countryside, or in hip and fun Brighton…
NEXT UP will be how to find your way around – some good apps available! And I’ll also look at how this whole system interlinks with your search for a new home….