Read an Excerpt
The Unofficial Guide to London
By Lesley Logan Richard Ehrlich
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-4065-3
Chapter OneGetting around London
The most important thing to take out with you in London is a good map and/or the pocket-size London A to Z Book-the map for the overall big picture and the A to Z for the small streets. You won't regret the extra weight in your bag. A camera is a must because you never know when you'll run into a horse-drawn carriage or a battery of the queen's guards outfitted as if waiting for the Battle of Waterloo. Strange details on buildings or gates will call out to be recorded, and you may never pass that way again. Bring extra film. Also, be sure to carry a few 20p coins for the public toilets.
Like all big modern cities, London's biggest problem is transportation and traffic. The congestion charge initiated in February 2003 was an attempt to limit cars in a certain central area by charging drivers £5 a day to drive inside its perimeters. The idea was to get more people to leave their cars at home and use public transportation. The money generated by the congestion charge is to be used to improve underground and bus service. Unfortunately, public transportation is still a mess, so the extra people using it as a result of the congestion charge has made commuting in London just that much more hellish. There are constant delays and interruptions of service on the tube, and on the weekends repairs are made, whichcauses whole lines to be shut down. Buses, when not stuck in traffic, have an infuriating habit of arriving at long last in packs. But having said that, as visitors, you will be more tolerant than regular commuters, and will be able to travel during off-peak times. Eight times out of ten, the tube will get you wherever you're going quickly and efficiently, and the double-decker buses are a fun way to see London. Just avoid public transport during rush hours, and resign yourself to taking a cab late at night.
For any questions you might have regarding London travel information, call London Transport at (0207) 222-1234. You can get information on any facet of travel, including how everything (or if everything) is running.
London Transport has divided London into six travel zones (which have nothing to do with the zones outlined in this book). Zone 1 is in the middle of central London, and the rest radiate outward in circles that end at zone 6 in the suburbs and at Heathrow in the west. Most of what you'll be doing in London will fall within zones 1 and 2. Bus and tube fares rise with zone numbers. For years, the transportation experts have discussed the possibility of simplifying fares by making one flat fee, but the size of London and the cost of gas unfortunately make such a master stroke impractical.
The best deal for traveling on public transportation is the Travel Card, which gives you unlimited travel on the tube, buses, and most overland rail services in Greater London, including the Docklands Light Railway. The Travel Card will save you time and money. A one-day off-peak Travel Card for zones 1 and 2 (bought after 9:30 a.m.) costs only £4.10, whereas a round-trip tube ticket in the same zones costs £4. A weekend card is £6.10 for zones 1 and 2, and a weekly card costs £19.60 for zones 1 and 2-a very good deal if you're planning on being in London for a week. You'll need a passport-size photo to get the weekly card. Most stations have photo machines for precisely this purpose.
The Family Travel Card is also a great deal: £2.70 per adult for zones 1 and 2 on a one-day off-peak card and 80p per child. The family must consist of at least one adult and one child between the ages of 5 and 15; they need not be related. Family cards are valid only after 9:30 a.m. Monday-Friday and all day on weekends. For visitors, alas, there are no senior or student discounts; you have to be a London resident. Travel Cards can be bought at tube stations and also at certain newsagents. Travel Cards can be used on buses within the same travel zones.
There is no better view in the world than that of London from the top first-row seat of a double-decker bus. Many of the old buildings seem to have been designed expressly for the view from the top of the bus; the statues and gargoyles that decorate some of the fine architecture of the city are at eye level when you're riding up top. There are 17,000 bus stops all over London, so you should be able to get pretty close to whatever your destination may be. See pages 155-158 for some of the best London-viewing, double-decker public buses. The European Union forbids double-decker buses, and there is a threat that they may be removed from the London streets to comply with idiotic continental regulations. Let's hope the government keeps its head in this case and tells Brussels exactly what bus they can get on. The mayor has been plotting to get rid of the handy change-making facility of the present-day bus and, in fact, you will see some bus ticket machines at bus stops in central London. You can also buy bus tickets at some newsagents. These stops will require you to buy a ticket from the machine, so keep a one-pound coin handy.
Types of Buses
* Routemaster This is the old-style double decker. You get on at the rear, take your seat, and wait for the conductor to come collect your fare. These are becoming rarer each year, so enjoy them while you can.
* Double-decker front-entry buses These are the newer buses, used solely by some routes and for all-night buses. You get on in front, pay the driver, and take your seat. Try to have change for the sake of convenience. A Travel Card makes paying much less of a hassle.
* Single-decker buses These tend to be for shorter journeys through London. Same price as the others, less room inside. Pay upon entering or use Travel Card.
* Night buses Night buses tend to cost more than buses in the day; they follow the same routes, but run less often. They have an N before the route number, and run from around 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. They are the only all-night public transport, as the tube stops running around midnight. Most night buses have a stop at Trafalgar Square. It is advised that you not sit alone on the top of a night bus late at night; there are many drunks and more sinister types out then.
Here's how the buses go 'round and 'round:
Get on the Bus Most bus-stop shelters have a big map of London displaying the bus routes. There is also a list of the stops of each number bus on the route. Be careful that you're standing at the correct bus stop-on Oxford Street or Hyde Park Corner, for example, there are many buses and many stops. If your bus number is not written on the red-and-white sign, it won't stop there. The bus stop with a red symbol on a white background indicates a compulsory stop, and the signs with a white symbol on a red background are known as request stops. Supposedly, a bus will always stop at a compulsory stop, but don't believe it. When you see your bus, wave your hand to flag it down, or it may just sail sedately by (if it's full, it will definitely sail by, so don't take it personally). When preparing to get out, ring to stop the bus in advance of your stop. Ask for help if you're not sure where your stop is.
Paying Your Way The fares of the buses are determined by how far you travel, so you should know the name of your destination. The fares go up every year, but at time of publication, the fare for zone 1 was £1, for zones 2-4, £1.20, etc. You can buy a SaverTicket book of six zone 1-2 bus tickets for £3.90, or a bus day pass for only £2. They can be purchased at a Travel Information Center, Underground station, or newsagent. You can also use the tube Travel Card. Children under age 5 ride free; children ages 5-16 pay a child's fare of 40p in zones 1 and 2 until 10 p.m., after which they pay full fare. Fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds must carry child-rate photo cards, and if your child looks borderline you may be hassled by some persnickety conductors. Photo cards are available in any post office; take a passport-size photo and proof of age.
The first tube line ran in 1863 and carried 40,000 people the first day. It now carries millions of passengers a day; at rush hour it feels as if there are millions in your train car alone. Avoid it at peak times if possible.
It is the best possible way to get around London, even with the breakdowns and delays. The streets are just so choked that buses are too iffy when you need to get somewhere quickly. The tube's most outstanding failing is that it doesn't run 24 hours a day. The last trains leave central London around midnight and begin again around 5:30 a.m. You pay according to transport zones, as outlined above (and remember, these zones have nothing to do with this book's tourist zones), with zone 1 costing £1.60, zones 1-2 £2, zones 1-3 £2.30, zones 1-4 £3.70. Your best bet is the Travel Card as described above, or buying something called a Carnet, for which you receive ten zone-1 tickets for £11.50 (£5 for kids). The ten tickets come in a handy holder with a tube map on it. Beware: If you are traveling with an invalid ticket (such as trying to leave a zone-3 station with a zone-1 ticket) you are liable to be fined £10 on the spot. You will certainly be asked to pay the difference. Look on one of the big maps posted near the vending machines and ticket windows-it will show you what stations fall in which zones.
Tickets Please Buy a ticket for your trip at the ticket window or use one of two machines. There is a big machine, which has in alphabetical order all the possible stations you might wish to go. You pick your station and the type of ticket you want (adult single journey, child single, adult return, and so on), and the machine will tell you how much money to insert. The other machine is simpler, but assumes you know how much your ticket will cost and what travel zones you'll be in. You will most likely be buying the £1.60 ticket for zone 1. You can choose one way (single) or round trip (return).
Put the ticket in the front of the turnstile, magnetic stripe down. It will come out at the top of the turnstile. Don't lose it; put it in a convenient pocket because you will need to put it into another turnstile as you exit your destination. A lost ticket will cost you £10, so hold onto it.
Reading the Map The tube map is an amazing feat of workmanship. Before it was standardized in 1931 by transport hero Harry Beck, it looked like an explosion in a string factory, with lines snaking all over central London. The map is not an accurate geographical representation of London, and much time and grief will be saved if you look at the A to Z first. Locate your destination and identify the color or pattern for each Underground line. Look for the key to the lines at the right bottom of the map. There are 12 tube London lines; to change lines, you must find the station connecting the lines, which are indicated by white circles outlined in black. The conductor may tell you while you're on board which lines you can catch at the next station, but you're better off using your map and your head. If you get on a train and are totally confused, look at the map above the windows-it's a straight line of the stops on that particular train and is much easier to read than the big map.
Which Way? Be aware of what direction you're traveling. Each platform has a sign indicating direction. See where you are on your map and figure out which direction you want to go in and go to the correct platform.
Check the front of the train for its destination! There are a few lines, as you will see on the map, that split off into different directions. Look at the map to see where your line terminates, and make sure you get on the train with that name; the final stop is posted on the front of the train.
A cardinal rule is to always stand to the right of the escalators to allow free passage to people who want to walk. Failure to observe this rule will always be met with an impatient reprimand. As in any big city, rush hour is a nightmare, and it is best to try to avoid the tube at this time.
You must never leave a bag unattended at a tube station. This is not so much an invitation to thieves (although it is certainly that) as it is an alarm to the commuters who will treat it as a possible explosive device. London has a history of terrorist bombings, and people tend to be cautious. You may notice that there are no trash cans on any London tube platform-trash cans are a good place to hide a bomb.
There is no smoking allowed on the tube platforms or trains.
The famous black taxi cab of London is not always black now-many are besmirched by advertising painted all over the body, a disturbing sight indeed. This is also becoming common on buses. The taxis in London cruise the streets or line up in queues. If they are available, the yellow light atop the car will be on, and you may wave them down. You can usually get a taxi on the opposite side of the road to stop for you, so don't despair if none are going your way. They are famous for being able to make U-turns on a dime-or on a 5p piece. If there are zigzagging lines running along the curb, the taxi cannot legally stop. Move to where those lines end to get picked up.
Seekers of the Knowledge As much a part of the London scene as their automobiles, the taxi drivers are a respected part of the work force. They have remarkable powers of navigation, of which they are justifiably proud. They train for three to five years, memorizing every street and landmark in London. You'll sometimes see people on mopeds, with maps clipped to the handlebars, looking around and making notes. These are student cab drivers. They have to learn, by heart, 60,000 routes across and around London. During their exams they have to recite these "runs" to their examiner, citing traffic lights, one-way systems, roundabouts, and landmarks. During this recital, the examiner will do everything he can to distract the student, often playing a difficult customer, hurling insults, singing, or arguing. Those who pass this stringent test are said to have "the Knowledge."
How to Take a Taxi It may be because of the respect to which drivers feel entitled that the preferred etiquette is that you do not enter the cab until you have told the driver, from the curb through the window, where you want to go. Do not ask if he knows the way; he's trained to know and what's more, he will not admit it if he doesn't (we say "he" because there are not so many women cab drivers at this time)-although to be fair, plenty of cabbies will gracefully turn to their oversize A to Z. When getting out of the cab, you are likewise expected to pay through the window, standing on the curb.
Excerpted from The Unofficial Guide to London by Lesley Logan Richard Ehrlich Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.