Transportation in London

by Heather Robinette /
Heather Robinette's picture
Apr 21, 2015 / 0 comments

The ins and outs of transportation in London while studying abroad. 

Growing up in the United States, most of us typically learn how to drive around 16 years old and driving quickly becomes a part of our everyday lives. In your preparation to study abroad in London, you were most likely told to not try to drive while you are abroad. Luckily, studying abroad in London or anywhere in Europe provides you the opportunity to use various means of transportation to get to just about anywhere you want to go. I’ve put together a list of common transportation methods I used so you have a better idea of what to expect and feel ready for your adventure!  


London Tube. From Transportation in London



One common method for transportation is the bus. Known around the world for the red double-decker buses, these are very common among the streets of London. I used the bus a few times. A word of caution, make sure you are aware of the bus schedule for the area you are traveling. While I was abroad, I mixed up the time schedule and ended up on the right bus, going the wrong way. Luckily, I figured it out within a few stops and was able to get off and get on the correct bus. Traveling by bus is a get way to get to a destination and be able to see the city. 


Taking the Bus! From Transportation in London

Heather Road, London



London's official taxis are called black cabs, despite being different colors and have advertising designs. They can be hailed in the street or at designated ranks. A rank is a line of black cabs that wait outside popular areas, including many tube and bus stations. Taxis may all look similar, but there are some very important differences. Black cabs are the only taxis allowed to legally stop when hailed in the street. All legitimate black cabs are licensed by the local authorities and have a white license plate. Other taxis are called minicabs, which are private hire cars and they can only pick up pre-booked passengers. There are also a large number of ‘taxi touts’. These are unregistered drivers who attempt to pick up passengers. If you plan to use a taxi, it is always best make sure you have numbers of reputable minicab services before you leave home or get a taxi from the ranks if near one. Some final advice involving minicabs is when the minicab approaches to pick you up, first ask them who they are picking up to ensure you have the right car before you get in the cab. 


London Taxi - from Transportation in London


Take a taxi in London!


Transportation in London - includes taxis!



The train is a great method of transportation when you plan trips outside of London. If you want to take a weekend trip to Scotland, Wales, or France, the train provides a fairly inexpensive and quick method of transportation to get there. Commuter trains are not as common in the United States and taking at least one trip on a train is a great experience I would recommend. It is a very enjoyable ride! 


King's Cross Train Station


King's Cross Train Station - construction for the Olympics

King's Cross Train Station

King's Cross Train Station - construction for the Olympics



Taking at least one trip on the River Thames in a Ferry is a recommended experience. Our group took the ferry to Greenwich for a day of sightseeing. I had only been on a ferry once, up in New York to get to Ellis Island and this was a much different experience. Some people commute daily by ferry to work. The River Thames used to be one of the busiest waterways in the 16th and 17th centuries because it was used to transport goods. The ferry ride was an enjoyable experience and made traveling to Greenwich a unique experience. 


Take the ferry whilst in London!


You can take the ferry on the Thames, while in London


Did you know how easy it is to take the ferry in London?

Transportation options in London include the ferry!



A fairly new concept a few years ago, European cities like London started introducing bicycles for rent to provide people another transportation alternative. You are able to rent a bicycle at one location and return it to the same rack or another rack in the city. Every so often the company redistributes the bicycles so they all stay fairly consistent in having available bicycles. Renting a bicycle is another great alternative for getting around London and sightseeing. 


Did you know you can rent a bike in London?



I don’t know where to even begin; the tube is very much a part of many millions of people’s lives in London. It is probably the most used method of transportation. The line I traveled on the most carries about 2 million passengers a day. After using the tube a few times, you’ll catch yourself saying “Mind the Gap,” which refers to the gap between the platform and tube train. One thing I noticed is that everyone always seems to be in a hurry, and I believe a lot of that has to do with the tube because people are always in a hurry to catch the tube or to change lines. Therefore, it carries into the rest of their lives because you can’t get anywhere without planning your journey to make it on time. If you use the tube as a main method of transportation, you will quickly learn the hours and how to work your schedule around it. Monday to Saturday the tube lines run 5am to midnight and has reduced hours on Sundays. 


How to take the London Tube


How to use the Tube

When it comes to the tube you can buy an oyster card which allows you to buy a week, month, year, or season pass. Or you are able to top up, just add money to it, and it takes money off after each journey. Once you get to the station you touch the card to the yellow pad and then you enter the gates. Each station is different, but you essentially follow the stairs, escalator, or lift to the platform you need. Then you wait for the tube and when it arrives you stand to the side to let the people off before you get on.  You either find a seat or grab a pole to help balance for the duration of your journey. At your stop, you get off the tube and follow the signs that say “Way Out.” When it comes to the escalators people actually stand single file line and on the right if they are just standing so people in a hurry can walk up on the left. It is very orderly and quite a sight to see. Then you tap out and continue on with your day.


How to take the London Tube

tube lines

How to take the London Tube - tap in and out with your Oyster Card

tap in and out

How to take the London Tube -  walking to the elevator

walking to the elevator

How to take the London Tube -Tube elevator

Tube elevator

How to take the London Tube - the Tube platform

the Tube platform

How to take the London Tube - inside a tube train

Inside a tube train

How to take the London Tube - the way out!

The way out!

I studied abroad during the summer of 2011 and many tube upgrades were occurring during my time in London. They were upgrading most tube stations to prepare for the Olympics and millions of additional people that would travel via the tube. The tube stations probably look much different than my pictures, but it gives you an idea of what to expect. I look forward to traveling by tube again one day! 


Lambeth North Tube - construction for the Olympics

Lambeth North Tube Station entrance, under construction

Lambeth North Tube - construction for the Olympics


And last, but not least…



Make sure you take a good, comfortable pair of walking shoes because even if you decide to use one of the various methods of transportation listed above, you will still have to walk. Although I used a combination of the transportation methods, I can easily say I walked 5-10 miles a day. Walking is also a great method for getting around because you get to see more and have the ability to venture off course if you see something interesting. I spent several days walking around the city and exploring different parks, stores, museums, and restaurants. While walking around, you’ll notice some differences in crossing roads, such as the crosswalk buttons and writing on the ground. The crosswalk buttons actually light up and let you know to go or wait. On many roads, you’ll see writing that lets you know what way to look for cars to help keep you safe. Since they drive on the opposite side of the road from the US, it is very helpful as a reminder of which way to look because you typically look the other way out of habit. Many of the differences are because there is no offence in the UK for jaywalking. In the UK it is considered a personal responsibility to cross the road safely.  

Be careful when crossing the road in London!

Look both ways! Be careful when crossing the road in London!

Look right - Be careful when crossing the road in London!

Crosswalk sign to help you look in the right direction in London



Although it felt great to drive my car again after returning home, I really enjoyed the opportunity to use a variety of different transportation methods and learn how to get around a city in a different manner. Before going abroad, I talked with a friend who attended school in London and even at the age of 25, many of them never had a driver’s license or cars - it was unnecessary. It wasn’t until living in London that I could fully comprehend why they would never need to learn how to drive. 



Heather Robinette is the London Study Abroad Editor for Wandering Educators. She notes, "During the summer of 2011, I studied abroad for six weeks in London at the University of Westminster with Academics Programs International. I graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS in December 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. I currently work as a marketing analyst for a small company in central Texas. I am also pursuing my MBA. While I was abroad in London, I was able to create many unforgettable memories that I will never forget! My study abroad experience helped me gain various skills, but above all else, it helped me to learn more about myself and the world around me."


All photos courtesy and copyright Heather Robinette