In this article, I would like to give you some top tips on travelling to and within London.
First of all, these days most people fly to London, unless they are with a school party travelling by coach from the Czech Republic. You can travel using so-called ‘budget airlines’, such as Ryanair, Easyjet or WizzAir and book on their own websites, or you can travel more comfortably and use so-called ‘scheduled or more traditional airlines’, such as British Airways and book through many different traditional flight websites such as letuska, pelican or kiwi.
There are six airports in London: Stansted, Southend, Luton, Gatwick, Heathrow and City. Because London is absolutely massive and transport is very expensive, compared to the Czech Republic for example, it’s a good idea to plan your trip by looking into where you want to stay in London first. Most popular sights are located in Zone 1, and everything is within easy reach by the London underground, overground or bus network systems. When you have a quick look at a map of the London Underground, you will see a yellow line forming a big circle in the middle of the city. This is the Circle Line, and that’s pretty much Zone 1. Most accommodation in Zone 1 will be very expensive, obviously.
But as you can see, the underground network stretches from the centre in all directions, and further from the centre hotels and hostels are a lot more affordable for a budget traveller. If you are OK about sleeping in a hostel, where you would have a bunk bed in a mixed or ladies’s dorm, with shared bathroom and the use of a fridge, a microwave and other facilities, then just type ‘London hostel’ into the Google search box and a huge choice will appear on a map with the cheapest prices. Most people prefer a double room with their own private bathroom and the option to have breakfast in the morning, ideally included in the price. If you are one of these people, you will need to look into hotels. There are a number of cheaper options available along the RED tube line, called the CENTRAL line. I would recommend that you stay in the eastern or north eastern part of the city, close to this red line, partly because for this part of London, you will be able to use the three cheapest airports which are used by the budget airlines. They are Stansted, Luton and Southend. None of the three is actually in London but you can take a bus, a train or a private transfer into London.
There are currently four flight companies which operate direct flights to London from the Czech Republic. British Airways goes to Heathrow, WizzAir to Luton, Easyjet to Luton and Gatwick and Ryanair to Stansted from Prague. With Ryanair you can also fly from Brno or Ostrava, but only on some days. These airports are not actually located within London itself, except for London City (but there are no flights there from the Czech Republic) and London Heathrow, which is located in the western part of London in Zone 6 and reachable by the London Underground line called the Piccadilly; Heathrow is the last stop, so you shouldn’t get lost.
London Southend Airport is east of London, and it is a very small, almost provincial airport. It reminds me of Pardubice Airport because it’s just a small terminal building with important things like toilets, a few shops and a place to buy something to eat and get bottled water from. The town of Southend is by the sea with plenty of fish & chips places, a beach and a lot of nightlife. I would recommend this airport to people who are not used to travelling much or are perhaps a bit scared of big airports. When you come out of the terminal building, just cross the road and there is a big sign showing you where the train to London goes from. Very simple. It will take you about an hour to get to London Liverpool Street, which is a big train station in central London, and it will cost you £17.40 one way.
London Luton Airport is north of London and it is a good airport to use if you want to travel further north or west of the country. The best busy train station to go to in London is called King’s Cross, where the popular Platform 9¾ is located, if you remember it from Harry Potter. The train ride from this airport again takes about an hour, and the price is very much the same as getting from Southend to Liverpool Street, but this time from Luton to King’s Cross – again it’s £17.40 one way.
The airport which I use the most, because there is a big choice of cheap flights there, is London Stansted. It’s a medium-sized airport, but because it’s the main hub for the budget airline Ryanair, there is a big volume of flights and people, so even the security there takes a long time, but at least it’s safe. Stansted is only about 47 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street train and underground station and the cost is similar to the other two airports above – £18.90 one way. Some people prefer to go by bus into London from there because it’s cheaper, as little as £9, which is about 900 CZK for the 50-minute ride. The buses go to many different parts of London and are clearly marked. The train station is located under the airport, so you can use escalators or lifts to get there and won’t even get wet if it rains. The bus station is one level below and in front of the airport. Again you can use escalators to get there, and it’s clearly signposted. You have to buy the train ticket in the terminal building, either at a machine or at a stand, where a person will help you. The bus ticket is paid for on the bus. You can use cash or, as the drivers tend to prefer, your credit card. You can also buy a return ticket, so saving money for when you need to get back to the airport. Just don’t lose the ticket, which is something I’ve done before.
When in London, you can use three types of payment to travel on the underground, overground trains and buses: Travelcard, Oyster Card and your own credit/debit card. There are different websites explaining the rates and differences, so I’ll just sum it up by saying that for a tourist, the paper Travelcard is best. It’s for a fixed price for all buses, trains and the underground – it’s just brilliant. The Oyster card is more like the Czech ‘litacka’; it’s for people who live there, and it will soon have a photo on it too. If you don’t have any of the above cards and just quickly need to use the tube, use your credit card at the gates – it’s quick and easy. The main thing to remember with the Oyster card and when paying by credit card is to ‘peep’ on the way into the underground/overground train or bus (which all people do), also remembering to ‘peep’ on the way out (which is just weird…)
mobile phone App – Trainline
mobile phone App – Moovit
All links and information accurate on 22nd November 2019.