London buses connect with destinations all over Europe. These are mostly run by Eurolines and mostly serve Victoria Coach Station. Buses provide the cheapest and the slowest means of travel between London and other European cities.
Eurostar train services from Paris (two hours and 15 minutes), Brussels, Lille and beyond connect with the relatively new terminus at London St. Pancras International.
London airports dot the city’s periphery. Heathrow (LHR), the busiest and biggest, is one of the busiest airports in the world. With its location 15 miles west of centre city, it handles a mind-boggling number of international flights, and also has the quickest (and most expensive) route into city centre via the 15-minute Heathrow Express to Paddington. A cheaper, but slower, route to/from the airport is the Tube (Piccadilly line), which will take you around 45 minutes to an hour into city centre. Gatwick Airport (LGW) lies to the south, around 28 miles from city centre. It, too, handles international flights and is the preferred airport for most charter services. Stansted (STN) sits 40 miles northeast of the city. This is the main hub for low-cost airlines, and Ryanair’s largest base, while Luton (LTN) is another hub, lying 32 miles north of the center. The closest airport to city centre is City Airport (LCY), in London Docklands, but this handles mainly private business flights. All the airports have myriad bus services into the center of town, which are a much slower but cheaper option than train services.
London taxi services, often recognized by those iconic black 1930s-style cabs, make a great way to move through a London vacation, if you can afford it. They are expensive, but comfortable and safe, the drivers usually know where they are going (they have to do the ‘knowledge’—up to four years of training), and they can be hailed on the street (if the orange lamp on top is lit, it’s available). Otherwise, licensed minicabs work out to be cheaper, and may be booked by dropping into local cab offices, by phoning in advance, or by booking on the Internet. Don’t use unlicensed minicabs—these can be unsafe, and especially to be avoided if you’re a woman travelling alone.
London transportation runs deep and wide, with trains, buses, the Dockland Light Railway and the ‘Tube’ underground system serving the city. Most of these are a source of much frustration to local commuters, but services are mostly pretty efficient if you’re not struggling into work on a daily basis. London trains do not tend to run later than midnight, and the Tube stops at around the same time (last Tube times vary), but many bus routes have night bus services.
Useful information about the metro:
* Avoid the cattle-truck conditions peak hours bring (around 8AM to 9.30AM and 4.30PM to 6.30PM).
* Keep costs down by buying an Oyster Card, which is valid for most train, bus and tube trips in the central London area, and then charging it up as you need it.
* Engineering works often take place on the weekends, especially Sundays, so check first to see whether the lines are running via www.tfl.co.uk.
* Let people off the train first before getting on.
* On escalators, stand on the right, walk on the left; Londoners get quietly agitated about this sort of thing.
* Tube, train and bus etiquette is to avoid eye contact, and locals rarely start up conversations (unless you are bonding over freak weather conditions or a particularly annoying delay). People who do are generally mad or drunk.
Driving in London? Pop some aspirin (make that a Xanax) first. British drivers tend to stick by the rules and drive in a fairly measured, law-abiding way. However, London’s traffic and complicated roadways can make the city a headache to drive around, and a worse issue is parking: in popular zones and city centre, parking is largely controlled, so it can be difficult to find a place to park. NCP car parks tend to be expensive. It’s much easier to park in the center of the city on a Sunday, when parking restrictions are often lifted. There is a congestion charge in operation in the central London zone from 7AM to 6PM Monday to Friday. The £8 fee can be paid online or over the phone. Non-payers face fines.