There’s a lot of city to navigate once you get to London. UCL student Sophie Parker talks us through how to get where you’re going
London’s a pretty big city. It sprawls across more than 1,500km2, is home to more than 8.1 million people and, with more buildings springing up all the time, it just keeps on getting bigger. Luckily, it has enough public transport options to keep everyone happy, and getting around doesn’t come close to breaking the bank – unless you’re a private chauffeured city car kind of guy. So, whether you’re a walker or prefer taking to the skies, read on to find out the best ways to explore the city (and get to lectures, of course).
You might be a bit surprised this one’s got the first slot, since London’s a city somewhat famed for its mechanised transport. But many visitors don’t realise how close everything really is when they’re tunnelling their way beneath the streets. A lot of the uni campuses are walking distance to the Thames and cultural hotspots like Leicester Square. You also run the risk of missing some amazing views, incredible street performers or maybe the odd celebrity sighting if you rush through the city in some other way. Plus, it’s absolutely free! Take the time to walk and explore your area – you’ll soon know the place like the back of your hand.
We weren’t going to put it off for long, were we? The underground train system is an iconic part of London life; for many Londoners it’s the only way imaginable to navigate the city. It’s fast, easy to use and relatively cheap – especially if you invest in a 16-25 railcard for £30 (or £70 for three years). Staff at any tube station can help you link your railcard to your Oyster card, and it gives you a 30% discount on off-peak travel, meaning you can go anywhere in Zones 1 and 2 from £1.60. Plus, with the night tube running round the clock on Fridays and Saturdays, 90-minute bus journeys after weekend nights out are a thing of the past.
Those red double decker buses are another instantly recognisable symbol of London town. The network spans the city, and many routes either run 24 hours a day or are replaced by night buses taking similar journeys. Gone are the days of missing a bus and having to wait an hour or more for the next one; most routes operate one bus every fifteen minutes at the very least. They’re cheap, too: £1.50 gives you access to any bus on the network for an hour. Watch out though, because they only accept contactless payment. If you use the bus a lot, it might be worth grabbing a student pass.
London has loads of great cycle paths and secure places to leave your bike. It also has hire bikes placed all around Zone 1, which charge just £2 an hour. It is worth saying that London roads are generally very busy, and you should only cycle if you feel confident enough to do so.
Here’s another London hero: the black cab. A little on the pricy side, these guys are good if you want to get to the train station with a lot of luggage, or treat yourself on the way to dinner. Other taxi firms can often be cheaper, especially if you need to go further afield, like to one of the city’s airports. Make sure you book ahead to get the best prices. If you’re just looking for something to drop you home after a night out, Uber’s always a good shout.
Emirates Air Line
More for a bit of fun than anything else, this cable car costs a little bit more than a tube journey and plays a video explaining the history of the area it spans. Going from the O2 Arena in Greenwich across the river, you can walk to the tube at Canning Town or just go for a return journey on the Air Line.
Again, a bit of a gimmick, but with some more practical destinations. The River Thames is at the very heart of London life, so what better way to see the city than sailing along it? Thames Clipper services vary from £4 to £7.50 for a single, depending on your journey. Make sure you use an Oyster card to get the cheapest prices! As it stops right outside the O2 Arena, it’s a nice way to arrive if you’ve treated yourself to gig tickets.
London has lots of airports, with some quite far out of the city. We’ve attached a map below to make it easier for you, whether you’ll be flying home at Christmas or going on a post-exam beach break.
About the author
Sophie Parker is currently in her second year at University College London, studying for a degree in English. As well as getting involved with student media, including writing for The Tab, she enjoys getting lost on Hampstead Heath and recently picked up kickboxing. While she’s pretty good at the former already, the latter needs a little bit more work. After graduation, she’s hoping to work in a writing-based industry – she just doesn’t know which one yet.