I am a Londoner. I’m a Londoner who is planning to skip the Olympics 2012. But what I was thinking about for the last couple of weeks is that I have to leave a sort of survival guide for those that are coming to London to see the games because according to taxi drivers it’s going to be quite a hassle to get by… I did some research and mixed it with my own life experience I really hope that this article will be useful for you.
So here is your London Olympics 2012 Survival Guide
The main website to find information about transport in London is www.tfl.gov.uk (which stands for “Transport for London”). There you can find information and schedule for underground, buses, and overground trains.
The first thing you should do when you get to London is buy yourself an Oyster Card. It works on all types of transport in London and is the most convenient way to pay for your fares. Oyster Card only costs £3 for the actual card but it will save you a lot more than if you pay for each ticket without it. For example, a single ticket on the bus costs £2.30 but it only costs £1.35 if you use Oyster Card. I would also advise you to set up an online account on www.tfl.gov.uk and top-up your Oyster Card online as the queues for ticket machines are usually long and they will be an absolute torture during the games.
If you do prefer to go against this advice though, you can pay with your card or cash at the stations or on buses (cash only on buses) and get your tickets the old style.
TfL do not have any Oyster Card helper apps but there is a very good Oyster Balance iPhone App that will let you check your Oyster Card balance (if registered), your journey history and get journey fares.
The Underground (tube)
London’s underground was open in 1863 which makes it the oldest in the world. It has 11 lines and 270 stations. Because it’s old it has endless constructing and engineering works which makes it quite frustrating when you are running late and cannot make it from one end of a tube line to the other. So minor delays, signal failures and other “classic jazz” occur often in London.
Here you can find a tube map to help you planning your journey but every station has tube maps on the walls so you should be able to find where you need to go easily. You can always check the tube status on the TfL’s live travel news page and a schedule of engineering works here.
Be aware of rush hours as tickets cost almost double the usual fare during the periods Mon – Fri 6.30 – 9.30am and 4.00 – 7.00pm.
The Underground uses TfL’s Travelcard zonal fare system to calculate fares. Greater London is divided into 6 zones; Zone 1 is the most central, with a boundary just beyond the Circle line, and Zone 6 is the outermost and includes London Heathrow Airport.
To plan your route on the go and see live information on tube closures and delays, I recommend London Tube Deluxe iPhone App. I have been using it for years and it has never failed. Additional bonus is the offline tube map that you can use while on the train.
Buses are numerous in London and a convenient way to get around if you take time to understand how to use them. Each bus stop has a map of bus routes and other bus stops nearby so take time to study your local one and see where buses can take you. A huge bonus is that you also get to see London on your way to your destination. Journey Planner on the www.tfl.gov.uk website is your friend here yet again and will help you to plan your bus route.
If you need planning tools on the go, London Journey Planner by CrownTech iPhone app is great for planning your trips around London and includes all the bus routes.
If you are not a big fan of public transport and rather go out and about on your own – the bike hire might be just right for you. Barclays Bikes recently introduced in London have completely changed the way how I commute around London. It’s cheap. £1 gives you 24 hour access to the bikes and first 30 min are free. There are tons of bike stations in London and you can just hop on and hop off at any such station. This map will give all the locations of the stations and you can also get a Barclays Bikes iPhone App which will give you all the locations, help you plan your route and tell you if free stations are available at your destination.
I’m not a big fan of London black cabs. Of course, they are convinient and you can hail one in no time in London, however, that convenience comes at a price. Black cabs are probably the most expensive way to travel in London. But there is a solution to that. The taxi company called Addison Lee where you can hire a cab and they will get down to you next to no time for a very reasonable price. The website has a mobile version but even better – you can virtually hail a cab with your phone with their Addison Lee iPhone App which can detect your location and give you the exact price for your planned journey. If you have a number of people in your party, you might even save a few pounds.
Thames Clippers river boats are one of the most expensive travel types in London (6.00 GBP single) but they are well worth it to try at least once. As you are cruising down the river Thames take your camera out and snap some great pictures and memories from the unique position that is the river Thames. You get the best of of the Tower Bridge as well! You can plan your journey and find the maps and timetables on http://www.thamesclippers.com/. Unfortunately, Thames Clippers do not have an official iPhone App, but there is another rather great third party KPMG Thames Clippers App with timetables and journey planner.
London is by far one of the most vibrant and best places to taste any type of worldwide food. The choice is so huge and amazing, you can literally eat food from every corner of the world! When you fancy eating out, just pop over to any of the reviews websites and find what you fancy:
London has a lot to offer when it comes to staying in and ordering food with delivery to your place. You can usually pick up leaflets of local restaurants in the lobby of your flat or hotel but the easiest way by far to find exactly what you want is a website www.hungryhouse.com. There you can find all open restaurants in your area by any world kitchen and order from online menu. You can also use their brilliant iPhone app hungryhouse | Order Takeaway Online – hungryhouse
Staying connected in London and UK is easy. You can buy pay-as-you-go sim cards in any mobile phone shop. It can be a network’s own shop like Vodafone, Everything Everywhere (Orange and T-mobile combined), O2 or Three. Or it can be a general phone shop like Phones 4 U or CarPhoneWarehouse. All will offer competitive rates on calls and sms within the country and some sort of data package. Although, I cannot recommend enough getting a sim card from Three (or 3) and adding a £15 addon which gives free sms, calls and UNLIMITED data. I have been using this sim card for a while and can definitely say that this is by far the best deal available if buying from the shop.
There are other virtual operators that run on the above major networks that offer some advantages and you can see a full comparison table here: http://mobilenetworkcomparison.co.uk/compare/
London is one of the greatest cities and no matter what you will have a great time here. I hope the information above helps you greatly to experience this amazing city and you enjoy the euphoria of Olympic games! Have fun!
By Lesya Li & Eugene Li
Photos by TFL