Transport and Tours
It is easy to get around London. The underground or ‘tube’ is the preferred option, followed by buses and then rail and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). Waiting times are usually in minutes. Expect to wait between 2-4 minutes for the tube, 7-10 minutes for a bus and trains have fairly reliable timetables. London is divided into six circular zones, zone 1 being the most central and six the furthest away. Cheap fares start at 10am, following rush hour.
There is also a river boat service, although – if you decide to go by boat and you are not in a rush– the tourist boats are my preferred option to the Clipper, as they are slow and give you the chance to take in the sights with a guided commentary from one of the crew. Expect to find a bar on board, selling a range of hot and cold drinks and snacks and ensure you get a good ticket discount with a valid Oyster or travel card. Boats for Greenwich run from Westminster pier.
If you fancy a ride in a black cab, just flag one down. They have a meter that starts with a fixed minimum fee. Driving is not advised, as the roads are crowded and there is a congestion zone in operation during the day – you’ll have to pay for it if you drive into it.
Children up to age 10 travel free with a paying adult and 11 to 15 year olds pay a half rate with an Oyster card. If you are visiting as a family and the adult has an Oyster card then up to four children can be added to it to get a discounted fare. A visitor Oyster card costs £3, plus pay as you go credit. Oyster fares are capped at a maximum of £6.40 in a day, so if your accumulated travel goes over that you won’t pay more, but remember to tap in and out.
All the information you’ll need can be found on the Transport for London (TfL) website; www.tfl.gov.uk
Walking Tour Guide
Tourist Tracks currently produce four audio guides to different parts of London. Choose from South Bank (60 minutes), London Bridge (90 minutes), the City of Westminster (90 minutes) or the City of London (90 minutes). You can either listen individually or play it through a bluetooth speaker. Available as a download.
Cost: between £3 and £5 each or all 4 for £12
Phone: 01223 305847
This would probably suit a family with older children, as there is a lot of walking and a lot of information to digest. Tours take around 2 hours and there are a number of tours to choose from. You just turn up on the day at the given time and location and pay the guide, no booking required. London Walks is a collective of tour guides.
Cost: Adults £10, children 15 and under free
Runs: start of May until the end of October
Street Art tours
There is some great street art around the Capital. Under Waterloo station you'll find a tunnel and authorised graffiti area in Leake Street (map), but if you want a tour, you’ll find a wealth of street art around the East End’s Whitechapel and Brick Lane areas with Street Art London. You’ll get an up close introduction to East London’s incredible street art scene and the opportunity to discover the work of over 40 street artists. Street art in London is incredibly dynamic and changes everyday, as older pieces are gone over by other artists or buffed away by the Council. Tours are constantly changing and there is always something
new to discover.
If you hire a Boris Bike you can cycle from Kensington to Westminster without going on the road. Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and the Mall, beside St James Park, are all linked by cycle paths that avoid the main road. Taking this route means you pass through Wellington Arch, which is pretty cool. Roads tend to be congested. While not fast moving, there are risks and a number of cyclists die each year. Avoid cycling down the left side of lorries, particularly near a left turn.
Santander Cycles, better known as the Boris Bike, is a bike hire scheme that allows you to book and collect a bike at one location and leave it at another for £2 per day. The number of rides are unlimited, as long as journeys are kept to less than 30 minutes each.
Enjoy a bike tour of London and take in the sights over a three-hour trip. The London Bicycle Tour Company has a number of tours to suit a range of riders. If you don’t want the tour you can also hire bikes and do your own thing.
Cost: varies by tour, see website
The Original Tour
Jump aboard a famous red open-top bus and enjoy the sights and sounds of London, with informative and entertaining commentaries in a choice of languages. The Original Tour is not only the largest and most popular sightseeing operator in the world, but also the only tour operator to offer commentaries specially designed for children. The 24-hour hop-on hop-off tour ticket allows full access to 3 main tour routes and a fantastic FREE Thames river cruise. Buses operate daily every 10-20 minutes from a number of central stops.
Fares: Adult £26.00, child 5-15 £12.50, Family £75.
Tube: Baker St, Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch, Victoria (zone 1)
Address: The Original London Visitor Centre, 17-19 Cockspur Street, Trafalgar Square, London SW1Y 5BL
Phone: (020) 8877 2120
Big Bus Company
Put your headphones on and relax for a two-hour double decker open air bus tour, giving the history of London on the go. If you see something you want to explore, just hop off the bus at one of the stops and you can hop back on later, as they run every 10-15 minutes. And while your ticket is valid why not go on a walking tour! It’s included in the ticket price. Bus tours also run throughout the evening.
Fares: adult £26, child 5-15 £16, family £73
Tube: Victoria (zone 1)
The old Routemaster is a design icon synonymous with London. A number of these old buses (built between 1960 and 1964) are back on part of the central London section of route 15 from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square. Give them a try for a bargain tour of the sights. They have been repainted in the 60s style with the original 'London Transport' logo and cream stripe.
Running time: every 15 min, every day 9.30am-6.30pm
Fare: standard bus fares apply.
London’s famous cabs can be booked in advance or hailed on the street. The TFL site has some good information on what to expect. Journeys start at £5.60 and extras should be added at the start of fare.
If you see little green cabins that look a bit like sheds, these are cafes for cabbies or Cabman's Shelters that date back to 1875.
As a Londoner, I love the Thames and you get great views of the city by boat. Jump on a boat at Westminster pier and relax as it winds its way down to Greenwich or go up to Kew, Richmond or Hampton Court Palace, but make sure you get the right pier.
Operators include City Cruises, Transport for London (TFL) and Catamaran Cruisers. Check times first and turn up with a valid travelcard, as many operators give up to a third off fares.
TFL boats are less tourist-focussed – they’re fast, you can’t sit on deck and there is no guide. Pleasure cruisers offer a more relaxed view of the river, but start later and finish earlier.
There are a variety of trips, tours and bespoke experiences on offer that enable anyone to see London's iconic waterfront from kayaks. Based at the Cremorne Riverside Centre, Chelsea, you get the chance to view landmarks, such as the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge, from a unique angle.
Cost: varies by excursion + membership available
Address: Cremorne Riverside, Cremorne Gardens, Lots Road, London SW10 0QH
Phone: 020 7349 9591
The Tate Boat
The boat runs every 40 minutes, during gallery opening hours, between Tate Britain and Tate Modern. There is a discount available for Oyster and travelcard holders.
Fare: adult £7.15, child £3.50
Piers: Bankside, Waterloo, Millbank
Operates frequent sightseeing cruises every day, Greenwich to Westminster/Waterloo Pier (longest journey). Check site or call for detailed information. Combo & Family deals available. Oyster/
Fares: Adult from £8.91 Child £4.45
Piers: Westminster Pier, Waterloo Millennium (London Eye) Pier, Tower Pier and Greenwich Pier
Phone: (020) 7740 0400
London Duck Tours
The London Duck Tour lasts 75 min and is a bus and boat in one! You can see the sites of London both north and south of the river without crossing any bridges. Just hold on tight and prepare to get splashed!
Open: 10.30am, 11am, noon, 1.30pm & 3pm
Fares: Adult £24, Child £16 Family £70
Tube/BR: Waterloo (zone 1)
Address: 55 York Rd, London, SE1 7NJ
Phone: (020) 7928 3132
Thames Rib Experience
Take a sightseeing trip on the Thames at speed in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). You’ll get a guided commentary as you hurtle along and there are a number of trips to choose from, lasting between 20 and 75 minutes. Trips start at £24.50 and £21.50 for a child. Family tickets and other offers are available and there are other operators out there.
Fare: varies, see site
Phone: 0203 245 1177