London is a large city, and places that you might want to visit are often some distance apart. There are many ways of getting around the city:
- Roller Blades
- Walking (very rarely)
Motor-Powered Modes of Transport
Cars are used by those people who can afford to run them, tax them, put petrol in them and who have the sort of job where 'executive parking' is one of their executive perks. Otherwise, parking in London is almost impossibly expensive; more than £20 a day (at time of writing) is not uncommon. There are plenty of traffic jams for you to enjoy, as well as a world class selection of potholes, badly planned one way systems, and poor road signs. This is possibly a ploy by the government to force us all to use public transport.
Taxis have the same disadvantages as cars - high cost and traffic jams, although they can use bus lanes where they exist, but also have added negative atmosphere. All sorts of people use taxis; business travellers on expense accounts, people with too much to carry and enough cash not to struggle with their luggage on the tube, people that are too drunk to drive, and people fed up with waiting for a bus in the rain. (It's a horribly smug thing to do; leaving the cold, wet, silent solidarity of the bus queue for the warm speedy taxi.)
You can hail a passing black cab if its orange light is on. If the driver can be bothered, he'll stop to pick you up and take you to your destination, providing it isn't too far away and he was going that way anyway.
A minicab is not the same as a taxi. Drivers of black cabs (considered 'proper' taxis) have to learn 'the knowledge' and prove that they know London's roads and landmarks off by heart. Minicab drivers can just show up at a dodgy looking shop front in a knackered Ford Anglia and start work.
Minicab drivers vary a great deal, some of them are really nice and some of them are really scary. All minicabs smell bad - a combination of body odour, old vomit and curry, barely masked by a cheap 'magic tree' air freshener. Minicab drivers sometimes pretend that they too have 'knowledge' of London's many backroads and short cuts, and freak you out by driving through council estates, industrial parks and quiet, speed-bumped roads at 90 miles an hour, which usually doubles your journey time. Unlike taxis, mini-cabs aren't metered, and so the drivers can make up a fare when you get to the end of your journey. It's usually best to decide on a price before you get into the minicab.
Sometimes, they will pretend to refer to a grotty price list, but the price is always just made up. Being chatty and pleasant to the driver can reduce your fare by up to 50%. Being sick will triple it.
Buses are great. Even though they are slow. Even though they get stuck in traffic where there aren't any bus lanes, and stop every 200 yards to pick up and drop off passengers. Even though they often host nutters who sit next to you to talk about their social workers. Despite all that, buses are great. Sitting at the top of the number 73 (a proper, red, routemaster 'London' bus1 that is oft-used by the denizens of Stoke Newington) on a sunny day, right at the front with a cheerful conductor dinging the bell and shouting 'hold on tight' is a satisfying and pleasant experience. So long as you are in no particular hurry, buses are a great way to see the city.
Trains in London are mostly awful. If you travel regularly, you'll find that at least once a week there's a significant delay (sometimes up to 12 hours), and they are normally about five or ten minutes late as a matter of course. The train lines in London are dated and creaky, and the train engines and carriages are worse. Train travel is comparatively expensive too. There are train lines into London known as misery lines, where every day commuters queue and jostle to squeeze onto overcrowded trains taking them into overcrowded stations and onto an overcrowded tube. They pay up to and beyond (at the time of writing) £1000 a year for a season ticket which entitles them to this privileged journey, day in, day out.
The tube is unpleasant. Outside rush hour, it's just about alright. Central and North London are quite well served for underground stations, and it is the quickest way to travel from one side of the city to the other. During rush hour (7am to 9am, and 5pm to 7pm approximately), the tube is a sticky, unfriendly, horrible place, with too many people, and not enough space or good humour.
If you are a bewildered tourist caught up among this heaving mass of travellers, they will hate you with all their hearts. Rush hour tube travellers are regular commuters, and every second spent waiting while some idiot tourist consults a map is another second added to their nightmare journey. That's why people hurry during rush hour - in order to get the twice daily ordeal over with as quickly as possible.
Self-Powered Modes of Transport
The cheapest, simplest way to travel. Central London isn't that big, and you can happily wander its centre for hours. There are many pedestrian crossings, named after pelicans and zebras, which mark safe places to cross. You can cross the road in relative safety at these, but check the green cross code or highway code for government guidance on avoiding cars. Running is similar to this, only done more quickly.
Cycling is great for longer distances. Use smaller roads, parks and canal sides where possible to avoid the traffic. There are not enough cycle lanes and London drivers can be aggressive, so care is needed on the roads, and cycling competence is essential.
Basically, these are trainers with wheels. They look a bit dangerous but are enjoyed by some people. This skill takes a fair amount of idiotic looking practice in the park to perfect, although some parks do not permit skating.
These are planks of wood with wheels. They are more an activity of misspent youth than of helpful transport.
Stupid-looking wheeled boards with handles. Only really suitable for those aged under seven, or for those of similar height and weight.