Using public transport to travel around urban areas in Britain is fun, insightful and more often than not economical. The larger cities tend to have the most reliable bus services, and London, Newcastle and Glasgow have an underground system. Travel to Edinburgh, Manchester and Nottingham to experience the trams and remember that if you get stuck, taxis are available at nearly every train station. The best way to see many cities is on foot, but whatever transport you opt for, try to avoid the rush hours from 08.00 to 09:30 and 17.00 to 19.00.
Get to know the local buses
Buses come in all shapes and sizes in the UK. They include driver-operated double-deckers, smaller single-deckers that can weave through traffic and in London, the new Routemaster double-deckers, which have doors at the front, centre and rear. Bus conductors as well as the driver are on-hand to check your tickets. The only London route on which the old, open-backed Routemaster buses are still used is Heritage route 15. This route will take you between the Tower of London and Trafalgar Square via St Paul’s Cathedral.
In London it's important to remember that you cannot pay with cash on any city bus. Instead you must use a contactless credit or debit card (with a non-UK card this will incur extra charges) or you can purchase a Visitor Oyster Card, which you top-up with credit that diminishes each time you use it (but can be recharged). When you get on the bus you'll touch your Oyster card against the reader and the cost of your trip will be deducted from the card. Alternatively if you're only using public transport for a day, a one-day Travelcard would be the logical choice. Both cards can be used on the Underground and local trains as well as buses and are available from Underground stations, travel information centres, shops showing the blue Oyster symbol, or online before you arrive in Britain through Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk) or VisitLondon (www.visitlondon.com).
In most other cities you can still buy tickets from drivers when you board a bus, and large urban areas such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester have their own regional travel cards, which are valid on all public transport within their area. Check local tourist offices for timetables and more details.
Night services are provided in larger cities from about 23.00 to 06.00. In London, night buses are prefixed with the letter “N”, and most pass through Trafalgar Square.
If you want to board a bus, raise your arm as the bus approaches: to get off, ring the bell once before your stop. Destinations are shown on the front of buses. If you are not sure which stop you need, ask the driver or conductor to alert you and stay on the lower deck.
Driving in a different city
Driving in city centres can be challenging and it's worth noting that London has a congestion charge. If you drive or park within the congestion zone from Monday to Friday (07.00 to 18.00), you will be charged a £11.50 fee to pay online before midnight that day. See Transport for London's website for more information.
How to get a taxi
In large towns, taxis can be found at taxi ranks and train stations, or you can phone for a radio taxi. If you jump in a regular taxi and there's no taxi meter, ask the price before starting your journey.
The famous London black cabs are as much of an institution as big red buses and it's worth experiencing a ride in one. They are the safe cabs to use since all drivers have undergone strict tests. All are wheelchair-accessible and licensed cabs display a “For hire” sign, which is lit up whenever they are free. Most drivers expect a tip of around 10-15 per cent of the fare.
Licensed minicabs are cheaper alternatives to black cabs, which must be booked by phone; hotels have numbers of local companies. In London and several other UK destinations, Uber is available to use if you have the app downloaded to your phone.
From 31 October 2016, all London black cabs will accept credit and debit card payments.
Travelling on the London Underground
The legendary underground network in London, known as the Tube, has more than 270 stations, each of which is marked with the famous London Underground roundel logo. London tube trains run every day, except Christmas Day, from about 5:30am until just after midnight and some lines now run 24 hours. Fewer trains run on Sundays and public holidays.
There is now a night tube service and you will be able to travel between Central London and the outskirts of the city for 24-hours at the weekend on certain lines. This is a relatively new service so make sure you check the TFL website for updates.
London’s tube lines are color-coded and maps are posted at every tube station, while maps of the central section are displayed in each train. If you get lost, ask someone - Londoners are surprisingly helpful!
To get around many travellers use a Visitor Oyster card, a prepaid electronic card that can bought online before travelling and be used on buses, trains and the tube and most National Rail train services.
Using a Visitor Oyster card is by far the cheapest way to make single journeys on London Transport’s tubes and buses and they also allow you to save money on London’s top museum cafes, restaurants, theatre tickets and more. For information on how to get one, see the VisitBritain Shop website.
Visitor Oyster cards and paper Travelcards can be purchased from abroad and shipped directly to your home address before you travel. These ticket types are highly recommended, given that contactless payment option (the other option available once you are in London) only applies to UK bank card owners.
Oyster cards and some types of Travelcard can also be purchased at stations. A £5 fee applies when buying an Oyster card at a tube station.
Check out our London Underground page for more information.
Walking in cities
Once you get used to having the traffic on the left, Britain’s cities can be safely and enjoyably explored on foot. Instructions written on the road will tell you from which direction you can expect the traffic to come.
There are two types of pedestrian crossing: striped zebra crossings and push-button crossings at traffic lights. At a zebra crossing the traffic should stop for you, but at push-button crossings, cars will not stop until the lights change in your favour. More and more cities and towns are creating traffic-free zones in the city centre for pedestrians and if you visit Oxford Circus in London you'll experience an innovative diagonal crossing.
Cycling around towns and cities
Cycling is one of the greenest ways of getting around towns and cities. Even smaller towns have somewhere you can hire bikes (see tfl.gov.uk for London, or cyclehireinfo.com for the rest of the UK). Cyclists may not use motorways or their approach roads, nor can they ride on pavements, footpaths or pedestrianised zones. Many city roads have cycle lanes and their own traffic lights. You can take a bike on most trains; see the National Rail website for more information. Never leave your bike unlocked, and always wear a helmet.