There are several different options for getting about the West End – including by taxi, minicab or (always a favourite among tourists) pedicab rickshaws – however, by far the most cost-efficient way to get about is to use the recognised public transport options. Or, of course, if it’s feasible and the weather’s good enough, there’s no better way to sight-see the fascinating, bustling centre of the city and get to where you want to by simply relying on your feet and walking. Something to think about…!
Visitor Oyster Card
A version of the Oyster Card – the pay-as-you-go electronic ‘smartcard’ that millions of London commuters rely on to get on about the capital everyday – the Visitor Oyster Card is an excellent version specially tailored to those visiting the city, not least for a short-break. It’s accepted on pretty much every form of public transport – offering discounted fares (potentially 50% off) on the Tube, Overground trains, buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), South London Trams, the Emirates Air Line cable car and riverboats – and successfully caps the amount you’ll pay for travel around Central London each day too. It also opens up users to potential offers and discounts at more than 40 major restaurants and shops around the capital.
To use the card is very simple; just plonk it down on the bright yellow circle on the top of the ticket gates at the entrance of Tube and train stations and buses (but don’t forget to touch out as well when you exit stations and buses). If and when you run out of money – or, to use the correct terminology, credit – on an Oyster card, you can top it up simply and easily at designated machines in Tube and railway stations.
Be aware, though, that prices vary across the network, depending on where you’re travelling from and to and whether you’re journeying on a Tube. Overground or DLR train, bus or riverboat. To travel to and from Tube and bus stops in Central London (generally recognised as Zone 1) is, as you’d expect, cheaper than travelling further afield in the city.
Travelling by Tube
As you may well be aware, the London Underground (or ‘the Tube’, as it’s affectionately known) is the capital’s subterranean urban railway network. In total, it’s more than 250km in length, features 12 individual lines and dozens of stations – many of which are located, as you’d expect, in Central London, a good number of them in the West End; making the Tube the transport mode of choice for a great number of visitors to the city for their meeting and events in London West End.
The Tube network – whose trains generally run between 5am and midnight (and some 24-hours-a-day on Fridays and Saturdays) – is interconnected both with the similar but entirely above-ground Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and the city’s local train network; it shares several of its stations with the latter. As mentioned above, Central London is designated on Zone 1 on the Tube, meaning that all journeys between one station and another in Zone 1 cost the same. In total, there are nine travel zones – Greater London is generally covered by Zones 6-9; although the Tube doesn’t reach particularly far into South London.
To ensure your journey on the Underground’s as easy and enjoyable as possible, you’re best advised to make a note of – and follow! – the following tips:
- Try not to travel during rush hour (7-9.30am and 5-7.30pm on weekdays)
- Check LED notices on platforms and train fronts (especially the latter) for correct destinations
- On escalators stand on the right-hand side; walk up the left-hand side
- Don’t get on to a train before (practically) all passengers have got off
- Don’t block the doors on Tube trains, especially if it’s busy when you travel
- Don’t cross the yellow line on a platform unless you’re getting on or off a train
- Keep the seats closest the train doors free for use by the elderly, pregnant and clearly unwell people – it’s welcome to offer your seat to them too if possible
- It may be a cliché, but mind the gap!
Travelling by bus
Catching a bus is as traditional a way to get about the capital as using the Tube – and there’s an advantage here too, with so much to see in Central London you can catch a sight of all that’s going on around you because, unlike on the Tube, on a bus you’re above-ground, of course, and surrounded by windows. Moreover, red double-decker buses are a (literal) cast-iron icon of London and, with so many routes and bus stops about the West End, they make for a quick and convenient way to get around the place, so it’s very easy to jump on one should you be staying somewhere in the area like the Piccadilly London West End hotel.
Again, unlike the Tube, the bus network covers the entire city with a 24-hour service (‘night buses’ are well established in London, both north and south of the river). However, like with the Tube, you’re strongly advised to use a Visitor Oyster Card to pay for journeys by bus – note: no London buses accept cash as payment anymore. In fact, if you ‘touch in’ on a bus using such a smartcard option, you can nowadays make a second, free bus trip within one hour. You can’t say fairer than that!