The basics
THE UK: Essentials

Essentials: Public transport in the UK

Learn about the best way to travel around the UK, including what travel options are available such as buses and trains, and etiquette for using these...

Public transport in the UK - The London Underground
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In general getting around the UK is relatively simply – it’s not a big country so you shouldn’t feel too lost or feel too isolated! However, where you are in the country will impact what options are available to you and how frequently they run.

 

You can find out about travelling to your university on their website, usually in the ‘How to find us’ section. Use campus as your starting point and then slowly get your bearings from there. Your university, International Office and other students will give you all the information you need about the local area, including how to get around – sometimes this will be included in a welcome pack.

 

 

On the road

The simplest way to get around a town or city in the UK is by bus. You can actually look out the window and see your route so you become familiar with the area. You can also hop on and off if you fancy exploring. While the bus is usually easy to navigate with maps & routes available at bus stops or online/through apps, you may find that it can be quite expensive, especially if you’re not familiar with what tickets work where. Usually a weekly or monthly ticket is more cost-effective, especially if you’re using the bus daily to get to class, to go shopping and for socialising. In London, most people nowadays use an Oyster card to pay for the bus; in fact, counting change to pay for the bus is likely to raise a few eyebrows, especially if you don’t have the right change or try to pay with a large note. Make sure you have the right money exactly for the bus wherever you are to make things easier for the driver.

 

However, like all road transport, journeys by bus can be disrupted if you run into traffic (likely in a busy town or city, especially on Saturdays or weekday mornings). A journey by bus will be slower than the same journey on the underground or train too. A city like London is very large which means that you might have to take connections to get to your destinations which can be frustrating. Meanwhile small towns and villages may only have one bus an hour on any particular route!

 

And remember to queue when waiting to get on the bus! As we point out in our piece on cultural misconceptions in the UK, queue-jumping is likely to prompt many ‘Tsks’ or Tuts’ from Brits.

 

 

By rail

Britain is a relatively small country compared to America and the railway system connects each corner fairly well. While the service will depend on the provider in different parts of the country, you can make it from London to Manchester in about 2 hours.

 

Like the bus, it will usually be cheaper if you buy a weekly, monthly or annual ticket for just the route you use. In larger towns and cities, the inter-city train can be the best mode of transport to get around. Meanwhile, if you want to take in all that the UK has to offer, the train is your best bet to visit different parts of the country for the day or for long weekends. You can also take a National Express coach to travel around the country; this option is usually cheaper though it takes longer.

 

If you still need a UK bank account, NatWest offer a free 16-25 railcard which gives you 1/3rd off railway fares.

 

 

By underground

If you’re living in London, the underground (or “Tube”) is your best friend. Quick and easy to use, the Tube is the most efficient way to travel across the city, both centrally (zones 1 and 2) and to the outskirts (zones 5 and 6). Using the tube might seem a little overwhelming at first, what with all the different coloured lines, jumping on a southbound train when you meant northbound etc; but you’ll get the hang of things quickly enough once you get accustomed to your initial regular routes. Plus everything is clearly-marked with signs.

 

Paying by Oyster card is the most accepted form of paying. You simply tap your Oyster card as you pass through the security barriers at a station (and if there isn’t a barrier, you should tap it on the smaller sensor). You can either pay-as-you-go if you’re taking various routes every now and then, or buy a season ticket between search zones if you’ll be a regular user. You can top up your Oyster card at the stations themselves or at newsagents (small shops); usually there will be a shop near the station where you can top your Oyster card up.

 

While space can be very tight on the Tube, particularly on the Piccadilly line which runs through the tourist hotpot which is the West End, you should do your best not to make prolonged eye contact with fellow travellers, nor make a lot of noise; things like this are considered awkward, off-putting and even plain rude. Weekday mornings on the Tube are often a very sombre affair (understandably as everyone is still half asleep!).

 

Although it is the London Underground which is the most famous, there are two other cities that provide efficient underground transport (Glasgow and Newcastle) and provide a quick alternative to longer bus routes. You can visit the Transport For London site for more information.

 

 

By taxi

Taxi firms exist all around the UK, though most think of London's black cabs (complete with a cockney driver making conversation about 'last night's football game'). These drivers especially will know the city like the back of their hand, providing charming conversation throughout the journey.

 

Usually the cost of a taxi will depend on the length of your journey, though usually there will be a flat fare for airport runs or a base fare if you get into a taxi at a train station or city centre.

 

Always make sure the taxi is registered to a legitimate firm before you get in, especially at night and if you're alone! 

 

 

Planning your journey

If you’re planning on making an important journey, and you need to know where you are going in advance then make use of the Google Maps journey planner which allows you to plan a journey in advance either by foot, by car or by public transport. It is pretty easy to use; simply enter your start destination and your final destination and Google will do the planning for you! If you’re living in London the TFL Journey Planner will also do this for you. However, most transport providers which service small towns and cities will have their routes and timetables available online.

 

 

Start your journey to studying in the UK - browse popular and highly ranked institutions, read guides and search for courses in the UK.

 

 

Read more:

'The British higher education system...simplified'

'Tuition fees in the UK'

'Applying to study in the UK'

'Applying for a UK student visa'

'Student accommodation in the UK'

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About Author

Public transport in the UK - The London Underground

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.

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