I have to admit London wasn’t really high on my list of places to visit only because prior to my arrival it seemed pretty similar to America (though more fashion-forward and posh) and I thought it would be similar to other metropolises like New York or Los Angeles, but I could not have been more wrong about the city. Since it is a large region with over 8 million people, I thought it would be more harsh and difficult to manage, overwhelming me and making me feel like a small spec in a vast place. I instead found it to be very warm, sophisticated, calm, easy and welcoming, even with the masses bustling about.
London has been my favorite city so far. I even extended my stay a few days because I was so enamored. One of the things that gets a city onto my favorites list is definitely its public transportation system, and London’s is exquisite. I find that riding buses and trains around any city is definitely easier than using a car and frees you up to see the world around you more than a car allows. I especially get excited about efficient public train systems. I lived in Chicago for a short time and while that was pretty good as far as American cities goes, London’s is so easy to use it would actually be difficult to get lost. The web of Underground Tube stations allows you to get practically anywhere within London and I usually find the train easiest to manage for covering longer distances. Greater London is made up of the City of London (the smallest city in England according to Wikipedia!) and its neighboring districts, which the tube and transportation system cover. Here are a few reasons why I am obsessed with the transportation system in London.
Signage. There are signs within each station with the station name every 5 feet, and almost as many signs telling you where to find connecting lines and the “Way Out” so you never can really be confused about how to get out of the station. There are also signs at each staircase outlining which line you are heading towards, and also in which direction you’d be heading if you went down a particular corridor. The trains and signs area also color coded by train line so if something is amiss you are clued in by the color. There are huge signs informing you of the direction the train is heading (Westbound for example) with the map of that line and its stops. Once on the train there are maps lining practically the entire top of each train car. Anyone standing or sitting would be able to see the route. This has not been the case for me everywhere so it is definitely something I take note of.
Announcements. On each train there are multiple voice announcements to tell passengers which station is approaching, and what the next stop is once the train leaves the station. There were a few times where a train was delayed or not running according to the regular route and in this case, the station attendant came onto the loudspeaker to tell me alternative methods. I could have looked at my map to figure out another route if a delay was shown, so this was just an added bonus for their personnel to suggest different routes as another train was approaching so I could just hop on the other train.
Street Level Maps. Even while walking or taking the bus, the signs and maps available are second to none. The bus stops are very well marked, and include big city maps at each stop. There are also posts along some of the streets with the local neighborhood and “you are here” listed, making London as easy to get around as any local shopping mall.
Reusable Transportation Cards. We bought reusable transportation cards (called Oyster cards) upon arriving in London which was really nice because there is little to be desired about a pocket full of single-use paper tickets. We filled up the ticket card with a small amount of money and used until we needed to add more. The entry barrier will alert you to “Seek Assistance” when you need to fill up again so you wouldn’t really need to monitor how much you have left prior to each train ride unless you really wanted to. Just be sure to swipe your card both at entry and upon exit in order to avoid a penalty for not swiping. It is also really nice that you are able to use the transportation card on London’s buses, Tube, trams, DLR, London Overground, National Rail services and boats (source), which makes getting around even simpler. There were also bikes to rent all around the city as pictured outside the sandwich shop.
It was also fun seeing the different train stations, as the corridors were often lined with musicians and current advertisements, which made the experience of walking all the stairs enjoyable. The stations all had stairs, escalators and lifts for easy access.
If you know of other cities with amazing public transportation, please comment below!