Travelling within cities
Using public transport to travel around urban areas in Britain is fun, insightful and, more often than not, economical. It will give travellers a greater understanding of British people and the infrastructure, as well as helping them get their bearings in their destination. The larger cities tend to have the most reliable bus services, and London, Newcastle and Glasgow have an underground system. Visitors should travel to Edinburgh, Manchester and Nottingham to experience the trams. It is worth remembering that taxis are available at nearly every train station, however it is advisable to avoid rush hours where possible, so from 08:00 to 09:30 and 17:00 to 19:00.
Get to know the local buses
Buses come in all shapes and sizes in the UK – we happen to think it’s part of their charm. These different styles include driver-operated double-deckers, smaller single-deckers and the new Routemaster double-deckers, which have doors at the front, centre and rear. Bus conductors as well as the driver are on-hand to check customers’ tickets and offer guidance where required. The only London route on which the old, open-backed Routemaster buses are still used is Heritage route 15. This journey offers a real flavour of British culture, and will take passengers between the Tower of London and Trafalgar Square, via St Paul’s Cathedral.
In London it’s important to remember that passengers cannot pay with cash on any city bus. Instead they must use a contactless credit or debit card (with a non-UK card this will incur extra charges) or they can purchase a visitor Oyster Card, as mentioned previously. Oyster Cards can be topped-up with credit that diminishes each time it is used, and can be recharged online or at any of the capital’s train/tube stations when required. Alternatively, if they are only using public transport for a day, a one-day Travelcard would be the logical choice. Both cards can be used on the Underground and local trains, as well as buses, and are available from Underground stations, travel information centres, shops showing the blue Oyster symbol, or online before your clients arrive in Britain via the VisitBritain shop.
In most other cities, passengers can still buy tickets from drivers when they board a bus, and large urban areas such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester regions have their own regional travel cards; these are valid on all public transport within their areas. Check local tourist offices for timetables and more details.
Night services are provided in larger cities from about 23:00 to 06:00. In London, night buses are prefixed with the letter “N”, and most pass through Trafalgar Square.
Driving in a different city
Driving in city centres can be challenging and it’s worth noting that London operates a Congestion Charge. If motorists drive or park within the designated ‘Congestion Zone’ from Monday to Friday (07.00 to 18.00), they will be charged an £11.50 fee. This is to be paid online before midnight that day. See Transport for London’s (TfL’s) website for more information.
How to get a taxi
In large towns, taxis can be found at taxi ranks and train stations, or clients can phone a local taxi firm.
The famous London black cabs are as much of an institution as the big red buses and it’s worth experiencing a ride in one. They are the safe cabs to use since all drivers have undergone strict tests. All are wheelchair-accessible and licensed cabs display a “For Hire” sign, which is lit up whenever they are free to accept new passengers. Most drivers expect a tip of around 10-15% of the fare (although this is not mandatory), and all accept credit and debit cards.
Licensed minicabs are cheaper alternatives to black cabs, which must be booked by phone; hotels have numbers of local companies. In London and several other UK hubs, Uber is available to use if your clients have the app on their phone.
Travelling on the London Underground
The underground network in London, otherwise known as the Tube, has more than 270 stations, each of which is marked with the famous London Underground roundel logo. London tube trains run every day, except Christmas Day, from about 5:30am until just after midnight, and some lines now run 24 hours. Fewer trains run on Sundays and public holidays.
There is now a night tube service between Central London and the outskirts of the city, running for 24 hours at the weekend on certain lines. This is a relatively new service so passengers should check the TfL website for updates.
London’s tube lines are named and colour-coded, with maps posted at every tube station, while maps of the central section are displayed in each train.
To get around, many travellers use a visitor Oyster Card (a prepaid electronic card that can bought online before travelling). This can be used on buses, trains and the Tube, as well as most National Rail train services within London. This is by far the cheapest way to make single journeys on London Transport’s tubes and buses.
Visitor Oyster Cards and paper Travelcards can be purchased from abroad and shipped before travel. These ticket types are highly recommended, given that the contactless payment option (the other option available once in London) only applies to UK bank card owners.
Oyster Cards and some types of Travelcard can also be purchased at stations. A £5 fee applies when buying an Oyster Card at a Tube station.
Cycling around towns and cities
Putting your pedal power to the test and cycling is one of the greenest ways to get around Britain’s towns and cities. Even smaller towns will usually have somewhere visitors can hire bikes. See tfl.gov.uk for London, or cyclehireinfo.com for the rest of the UK. Cyclists may not use motorways or their approaching roads, nor can they ride on pavements, footpaths or in pedestrianised zones. Many city roads have designated cycle lanes and their own traffic lights. When cycling on the road, riders must follow the rules of the road, and it is also advised that they wear a helmet for safety. If clients want to take a bike on the train, please refer to the National Rail Enquiries website for more information, and to ensure this is permitted on the route.