London is a magnificent place to live work and study. By some metrics, the largest city in Europe and the third most populous. It is a literal mountain of culture and history one can view Roman, medieval, and 20th century historical sites often simultaneously. Yet navigating the city can be a challenge especially for Americans who are more use to urban planning and logical road lay outs.
London geographically is not massive, roughly 40 miles from end to end, but traversing the city even a small section of it is often daunting. The city has 32 boroughs, 272 underground and overground train stations, and 700 bus lines, and was rated the most congested city in the world in 2021. In addition to the scale of the city its history shows in its layout. Roadways are rarely straight or wide most having been carved originally as foot paths or cattle trails then gradually linked together and paved over. Canals and rail lines crisscross the city creating chokepoints at the few bridges. Road works are frequently undertaken but almost never in coordination. A car trip of a mile can easily stretch to over an hour as you slowly grind your way through traffic.
Yet all is not lost. Despite its frustrations and inefficiencies London’s size and diversity lends itself to being a city that while not easily navigable initially becomes far easier to traverse once you become more familiar with it. In this day and age we are all lucky to have GPS navigation readily available on our smart phones. Though be warned GPS will take you only so far. London’s layout is so chaotic that the algorithm responsible for plotting a efficient route often breaks down and chooses a highly eccentric and inefficient path. It is perhaps better to use the GPS map to get your bearings than examine how best to get there using your own intuition. On most GPS apps there is now a function that shows public transit overlaid onto the map use this function without hesitation especially when considering bus routes.
If you do not have a car the easiest way to get around London is using a hire car. In central London Black Cabs are plentiful and always have a high quality of customer service. Some black cabs can now be summoned on various apps. Outside of the centre black cabs are more uncommon, but Uber is fairly available and priced comparably with a cab often being a few pounds cheaper.
If using public transit, buses should be a last resort. While there is nothing wrong with the iconic London bus on a day with less traffic or if you are not in a hurry, London’s growing congestion means buses that cannot deviate like hire cars frequently become bogged down in traffic jams. It is best to use buses only for short journeys or on days when traffic is light.
The best public transit option remains the train services. The sprawling underground and overground network does seem a bit intimidating, but the closer to central London you go the more close together tube stations are. The key is to identify which line you need and how to most efficiently utilise it. There can be a lot of confusion. The overgrown trains head to multiple branching lines so pay attention to which train is which.
Underground stations like Baker Street can be regular rabbit warrens with multiple lines intersecting. Fortunately underground train lines in addition to being named are colour coded, and there are usually multiple points of good information available including station staff, easily identifiable in high-vis vests who can help you. Navigating the underground and bus lines will take trial and error, but there are a few key reference points. LSE is located next to the Holborn tube station which is located on the Central or red line. Knowing this will help you plot a course to and from LSE.
Other transport options in London range from the unpractical to the wacky. Water Taxis exist but are confined to the river and often a bit expensive serving more as a pleasure cruise on the Thames than a practical means of transport.
Bicycles and electric scooters are available for rental through various apps, but a word of caution. London’s narrow streets and crowded sidewalks can make using these slow and sometimes dangerous for both the rider and pedestrians. If you do use such vehicles be extremely careful and try to use protective gear like a helmet. Despite new initiatives to create more cycle lanes riding bikes on the London street can still be a dicey prospect.
Ultimately one of the best ways to get around London and to better learn to navigate the city is to use your feet. London is very walkable and the large parks and often temperate weather means walks in the city are often enjoyable. Still have a back up option in mind if you are in a hurry or the rain has come to call. However you choose to get around London though it will be a experience.