Getting around London 101 | CBRE Residential

Getting around London 101: an essential guide for those who are just over to visit or have just moved to the city.

Compared to other cities in the UK and many others around Europe, London benefits from excellent public transport links. So much so, in fact, that if you’re living in the city you can probably do without a car of your own.

Still, getting around London can be tricky for the uninitiated. It is, after all, a huge metropolis and there’s a lot to familiarise yourself with, especially as a new arrival. Knowing your Holborn from your Hounslow inevitably takes a bit of time. Just to prove the point, the Underground network consists of a colossal 270 stations situated along 11 individual lines.

With all this in mind, we’ve assembled this quick guide to the London transport network to help make it easier for you to get to wherever it is you need to go. Read on to get our top tips on travelling around London.


Plan your journeys carefully

As you get to know and find your way around your new home city, you’ll need to make a special effort to retain your bearings. It’s easy to get confused and disorientated when travelling around London, so take some time to get your bearings first – it’s not difficult to lose them!


This is why it’s well worth making the effort to plan your journeys carefully in advance, especially when you’re new in town. There are tools on hand which can make this process simpler. Citymapper, in particular, is a must-have app for new arrivals attempting to get to grips with the London transport system.


Citymapper greatly simplifies London’s transport network by directing you from your current location to the place you need to get to, pointing you towards the quickest possible route. The app takes into consideration a wide variety of modes of transport around London, including Uber, boats, walking and cycling as well as the Underground, Overground and buses.

London transport zones

London has a system of transport zones to help simplify the fare system. These zones are numbered 1-9, and the fare you pay for your rail journey (buses have their own set fare of £1.50 per journey) will depend on which zones you’re travelling between, as well as when and at what time you travel – in other words, whether your journey is taking place during a peak or off-peak period.

If you’re not familiar with transport zone systems, it might all sound a little confusing at first, but once you get used to the concept it actually makes paying to travel a lot easier. Here’s a quick overview of the London fare zones and the areas they cover:


Zone 1 covers central London, including all of its mainline railway hubs (King’s Cross-St Pancras, Euston, Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Victoria, Charing Cross, Paddington, London Bridge).

Zone 2 covers much of inner London adjacent to central London, including such areas as Chelsea, Kensington and Westminster, as well as some areas in outer London boroughs (including parts of Brent, Ealing, Hounslow and Newham).

Zone 3 incorporates some districts in inner London – including some areas of Camden, Greenwich, Islington and Hackney – as well as parts of outer London such as Barnet, Bromley, Ealing, Haringey and Enfield.

Zone 4 includes some areas of Greenwich and Lewisham in inner London, and also large parts of outer London in boroughs such as Croydon, Ealing, Harrow and Kingston upon Thames.

Zones 5 and 6 incorporate various parts of outer London as well as some destinations outside greater London, in neighbouring counties Essex, Surrey and Hertfordshire.

Zones 7-9 cover certain areas outside greater London.


You can buy Travelcards (whether paper ones or loaded on to your Oyster card) covering particular zones; so if you regularly travel between zones 1 and 2, for instance, you can buy a weekly Travelcard enabling you to unlimited journeys around those specific areas for a certain time period (i.e. a week).

To get a good idea of which areas are incorporated into which fare zones, take a look at this London Underground/Overground map.

Know your Tube etiquette!

Something else which you’ll need to get familiar with is the (at times opaque) system of Tube etiquette. The Underground can sometimes seem like its own subterranean little world with its unique – and generally unwritten – codes of conduct which everyone is expected to understand and abide by. Woe betide those who don’t. 

Needless to say, these codes of conduct aren’t always immediately apparent to people who are new to London and to the Underground. To help you get accustomed to the expectations of your fellow passengers, here are a few key points to remember about the Tube’s unusual kind of etiquette:

  • Stand on the right-hand side of the escalators! There will be signs to remind you of this, but it’s one of those things that isn’t always apparent to new arrivals and tourists in London. It’s generally accepted that the left-hand side of the escalators in Underground stations is for people in a rush. If you want to stand rather than dashing up or down the stairs, it’s best if you stay on the right.


  • Always have your Oyster card or paper ticket ready in your hand as you pass through the gate. If you get to the gate and then start fumbling around in your pocket, wallet or bag trying to find it, you can rest assured that there will be furrowed brows and a chorus of tuts emanating from the people piling up impatiently behind you – and nobody wants to be on the receiving end of that.


  • Let other people get off Tube trains before you get on. This is another thing that really aggravates a lot of Underground passengers: that is, people piling into Tube carriages before other commuters have a chance to get off. Tube trains can get really busy, especially at peak times, but try to give people sufficient space to exit them before you attempt to get on board yourself.


  • Don’t put your bag on an empty seat. This doesn’t just apply to the Tube – it’s bound to annoy people whatever mode of public transport you’re on – but it is another one of those unwritten conventions. Placing your bag on an empty seat is generally considered rude and inconsiderate, especially during peak travel periods, and it will get on people’s nerves – so we’re begging you, on behalf of London’s commuters, please don’t do it.
  • Offer your seat to people who need it more than you. When travelling on the Tube, you may notice that some people are wearing small blue badges politely notifying people that they’d appreciate being offered a seat. If you see someone wearing one of these badges (or anyone else who looks particularly like they might need to sit down), consider offering them your seat – they’re sure to appreciate it. Try to remember, also, that not all disabilities are visible.


Tips for travelling around London

There are some other things you should bear in mind when making your way around London and familiarising yourself with the different parts of the city. These points should also help you get used to making your way around London:

  • When choosing somewhere to live, make sure it has good public transport links. Pretty much everywhere in London is well served by public transport, but some areas are better served than others – for example, most Underground stations are concentrated on the northern side of the river. CBRE Residential has a number of high-end residential developments in London, all enjoying good transport links.
  • Contactless cards are the easiest way to pay for public transport. The Oyster card is hugely popular among London commuters, and it’s not hard to see why – not least because it saves you from having to go through the rigmarole of buying new paper tickets regularly. You can top up your Oyster card online, making it quick and convenient. You can also tap in and out of Underground, Overground and bus services with your contactless debit card, with your fares being calculated automatically. Simple!
  • Black cabs with their ‘For Hire’ sign lit up can be hailed by sticking your arm out as they approach. Alternatively, you can hire a black cab (not all of which are actually black, despite the colloquial name by which they’re commonly known) by downloading and using the Gett app, which helps you find and hire cabs in your immediate vicinity.
  • Use the Santander cycles to get around London. This cycle hire scheme is very popular with Londoners, with an annual ridership of around 10 million per year. You can hire Santander cycles for as little as £2 from any of London’s 839 docking stations. There’s also an app you can download which will help you find your nearest station, as well as providing information on bike availability.
  • Bus and tube services allow you to travel across London at night. London is served by 50 night bus services, which run from midnight to about 5am, along with a further 60 24-hour services. Several Underground lines (Central, Victoria, Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern) also run 24 hours on Friday and Saturday nights, though from Sunday to Thursday Tube services on all lines finish at around 12.30am.
  • Don’t forget that there’s more to public transport in London than tubes, trains and buses. In fact, the London public transport network also incorporates other modes including the District Light Railway in London’s Docklands, the Tramlink service in Croydon, the Emirates Air Line cable car service in Greenwich and London’s river boat services. You can use your Oyster card to pay for these.
  • Explore the city on foot! Walking can be a really good way to get to know London better, and you can get more of a flavour for its intimate details simply by taking to the streets. It might take a little while longer from A to B, but there’s a lot of London to take in, and walking is a unique way of getting to know its nooks and crannies up close.

Hopefully these tips and pointers will help you in your efforts to get acquainted with London’s extensive transport network, but there’ll always be an element of trial and error involved – once you arrive in the city and journey around, it’ll all soon start to make sense. Happy travelling!

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