Every time I visit London and walk through the gates of the Underground Railway at Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus or one of the zillion other busy stations with hoards of people rushing to and from, I can‘t help but feel bad for the large number of tourists who are always stuck in the queue, waiting to buy tickets.
I feel sorry for them, I really do. They stand in line for ages, carefully guarding their matching luggage sets or purses and studying their tube maps looking lost and slightly afraid, while hundreds of Londoners zip by, seemingly unfazed by the chaos. I’m always a little tempted to stop and tell them all the things they need to know to get around London efficiently – but I never do, and I never will.
Why? Not because I’m evil necessarily, but because I, like the other 7 and a half million people currently living in London, understand the precious nature of time and money in this bustling city. So here’s what I would tell them.
Tea is not the cornerstone of a Londoners life, the Oyster Card is.
The minute I stepped off the plane at London Heathrow Airport, my boyfriend gave me a present. As he reached into his pocket I began imagining all the small and fantastic (and sparkly) things that could be hiding on his person.
Then he shoved a blue plastic card in my face and said, “Here, you’ll need this”. But in retrospect, an Oyster Card might be the best gift he’s ever given me.
The Oyster Card is the alternative to paper tube tickets (or rather, paper tickets are the alternative to Oyster Cards). All you have to do is buy a card from a person working in the station (a one time fee of 3.50) and add however much credit you want to it, say 20 pounds. You go about beeping in and out of each station, the computers keep track of where you’ve gone, applies the cheapest price to your travels, and deducts it from your credit. You can use them to pay for bus rides too – just beep in at the front of the bus. And the rate of your ride with an Oyster Card is always cheaper than the rate it would be with a paper ticket.
It saves time and money, and it’s brilliant.
There is no reason to take a ride in a classic-looking London cab more than once.
Those quintessential English cabs that you will see driving around everywhere in London are called “black” cabs. Unlike non-black cabs, which are known as mini cabs, black cabs are privately owned and operated by their drivers.
To become a black cab driver, drivers need to successfully complete a notorious set of tests collectively called “The Knowledge”. Drivers need to know the In’s and Out’s of the entire city, where every landmark and hotel is located, and the quickest route to get there.
To study for and pass The Knowledge takes from 2 to 5 years. The result is a cab driver who knows exactly where you want to go and how to get you there. This means taking a ride in a black cab can be a touristy attraction in itself. Unfortunately, they are very expensive and not all that practical for every day. And in the age of GPS, mini cab drivers can do the same thing for a lot less. Just make sure that the minicab you hire is licensed – it will have some sort of paperwork displayed in the car or a company number you can call – and it’s a good idea to get a quote from the driver before you head off. Minicabs might not look as stylish and perfectly English as the black cabs do, but they’ll get you to wherever you need to go for a lot less.
Get an “A to Z”, some comfy shoes and walk
An “A to Z” is a small book which has every street in London indexed and mapped out. In a city as large and confusing as London, it is the ultimate tool to have. You may not realize how close something is to you until you have a look on a map. It’s oftentimes quicker to just walk to your destination than it is to take the tube. I swear, it’s true.
They’re sold behind the counter at convenience stores, souvenir shops, airports etc.
You never see a Londoner Dawdle
That’s because there are just so many fantastic things to do in this city. So don’t waste time and money and you’ll be able to experience London for what it is – besides crowded and expensive.
Photos originally posted by Iain Buchanan