This post is part of Viator’s coverage of the London Olympics. Leading up to the Games and every day during the Games, we’ll be posting tips from our London-based blogger, Philippa. Be sure to check back often for the latest updates on happenings around London, news on special events and tips for what to see and do in London and the surrounding area while you’re visiting!
One of the most challenging parts of the London Olympics for spectators may be getting around the city. London’s transport system is generally very efficient and with the added pressure on the bus and tube system, it will be a good idea to plan ahead so that you are sure to have plenty of time.
Here are some useful bits of information and a few tips:
1. Free travel to events
For those people with tickets to attend the Olympics at the London sites, you will be issued with a free Games Travel-card for that day. You can use it on all transport except for the airport express trains and the river buses, although it will get you a discount on those. The special river bus expresses are only for ticket holders and go from Waterloo and London Bridge.
2. Javelin Train
This is the new high-speed train which will take you from St Pancras Station to the main site at Stratford. St Pancras, nearby Kings Cross and Euston stations form an easy-to-get-to hub, making this your best way to access Stratford.
3. Oyster Card
The Oyster Card is the way most Londoners pay to travel. You load it with credit and then touch it to the readers on buses or at train barriers. Prices are lower for Oyster users than if you buy paper tickets. There is a Visitor Oyster, but this will only allow you to prepay up to £10 ($15.60). To give you an idea of the cost, a day’s travel-card is around £8 ($12.4). The Oyster will automatically top-out at the price of a day’s travel-card, so even if you use it more than that in 1 day you won’t overspend. My recommendation would be to buy a Pay-As-You-Go Oyster from a tube station on your arrival in London. This allows you to put as much money on it as you like; filling up the card is easy at station machines. The credit you don’t use can be refunded along with the £3 ($4.67) card deposit at tube stations.
4. Longer journeys
If you are planning to move beyond central London, it is much cheaper to book train tickets in advance. There are different online booking sites. Opt to pick your tickets up from a station machine and take your booking code and the card you used to pay with you. Buses are cheaper than trains for many regional city destinations.
5. Route Planning
Planning the quickest, most direct route across London can be quite confusing, but there are a couple of excellent online journey planners. One is the Olympics travel planner. The other is the general Transport for London journey planner. Check on the day of travel to see if there are any problems with the routes you plan to take. There are good free smart-phone apps with live travel information for the tube and rail networks in London which can be invaluable.
Many tube and train stations in London do not have step free access. Step free access is marked on the tube map.
One great way to go short distances in London is by bicycle. You can use the blue bikes, known as Boris Bikes after the mayor, and you can register as a casual (short-term) user at many of the docking stations or online. Usage is cheap and there are docking stations all over central London.
8. Cable car
A new innovation for London is the cable car being built to cross the Thames River down at Greenwich and the Royal Docks. They are hoping it will be open in time for the Olympics, but it may end up restricted to athletes and officials if not yet fully operational.
You may have heard that London’s main airports have been having problems with queues at passport control. Be prepared to wait and leave plenty of time when you’re departing. This is especially important if you want to claim back the VAT on goods you have purchased. If you can pack the purchased items in your hand luggage, the VAT claim desk queues on the air-side after security will probably be less busy.
Read more about the London Olympics.