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The complete student guide for navigating London transport

Posted in London by on April 15, 2020

Whether you’re from a big city or a small town, getting from A to B in London can be daunting – especially for young students who’ve just arrived in the capital. From its iconic red buses to its excellent tube, London boasts some of the world’s best public transport, but using it for the first time can be stressful.


To help out, we’ve put together a comprehensive student guide to navigating London using public transport. Covering everything from the cheapest travel to the apps that can help, this is an essential read for any student getting set up in the capital.


Quick links


Different ways to get around London


The tube is definitely the most well-known way to travel around the capital, but it’s by no means the only option. Did you know, for example, that London busses carry around 6.5 million people a day (that’s more than the entire population of Scotland)? Take a look this list and see if there were any you didn’t know about:


  • The Underground aka “the tube” – busy, noisy but oh-so-convenient for getting you from A-B.
  • The Overground – these breezy, air-conditioned trains tend to be newer than underground trains and operate more around the peripherals of the city.
  • The DLR – the second closest thing London transport has to a fairground ride. Get a seat at the front as you cross the river. The first time you do it, you’ll be surprised that it’s included in the price of your weekly Oyster.
  • Rail services – yes, regular old trains also operate around London. Most stop at the big interconnecting stations like Kings Cross and Paddington, but check out where you live and you might be surprised to learn there’s one on your doorstep too.


students on tube platform


  • Bus – there are so many buses in London and you could find that they’re even cheaper than your regular bus route back home.
  • Tram – didn’t know London had a tram system? You’re not alone. The Tramlink is short and runs between Croydon and South West London.
  • Emirates Air Line – officially the closest thing to a fairground ride on the London transport system! The Emirates Air Line was built for the Olympics and feels like far too much of a treat to be a mode of transport.
  • River Boat – if you’re lucky enough to live on the river, then you may just find yourself getting a boat to lectures every morning.


The cheapest way to travel around London


The cheapest way to travel is with an annual Oyster Card, and you’ll be able to benefit from a 30% student discount! An Oyster Card gives you access to almost every part of the capital, and using your card will ensure you never overpay for a journey.


Essential apps to help you navigate London


We’re sure in no time you’ll be directing tourists with the best of them, but even born-and-bred Londoners find these apps handy.


City Mapper


City Mapper is about to become your new best friend, however you plan to travel across the capital. Simply type in where you want to go, and the app will tell you the quickest way to get there.


It covers every mode of transport, and is integrated with live train and bus times, Uber and cycle docking stations. It also boasts a handy function that tells you which carriage to sit in for the quickest transfer between tubes, too.



students walking with pizza


TFL Oyster App


The Oyster app allows you to top up your card on the go without having to queue (or more likely, try to find a TFL worker at your Zone 3 station) and see how much each journey has cost, so you’ll know right away if you’ve overpaid.


Google Maps


You probably already use this app. Google Maps comes into its own in London, with live bus, train and tube departure times. It’ll tell you how to get to your destination but will likely only give you a couple of options, unlike Citymapper. The beauty of it is the walking routes though, and it gives you pretty realistic estimates of how long a walk will take. It’s especially useful in Zone 1 as you’ll often find walking between stations is quicker than jumping on the tube.


Station Master


You may already be a dab hand at the tube and know exactly which change you need to make to get from Blackhorse Road to Covent Garden, but this nifty app shows you 3D maps of stations so you can ignore the signs and take short cuts between platforms. Get ready to impress your buddies.


Santander Cycle Apps


If you’re planning to cycle but don’t have your own set of wheels, then the Santander Cycle App is likely to come in very handy. You can see at a glance which docking stations have bikes and get release codes straight to your phone, allowing you to skip the docking station terminal. It will also tell you how much each journey costs, so you can work out how much you’re saving by not getting a cab! Speaking of which…




You’ve probably already got this app, and it will be just as handy in London. Realistically, you probably won’t be getting an Uber every day, but you can’t beat a cosy car ride home after a late night on the town.


5 tips for navigating the tube like a local


student on tube platform


  1. Stand on the right, walk on the left. It doesn’t matter how great a person you are, if you stand on the left in rush hour you’ll experience A LOT of passive-aggressive huffing before someone will shunt you to the other side.
  2. Wait for others to get off the tube before you board. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of people that get the tube each day, but Londoners are really rather polite when it comes to letting people on or off the tube. If you jump on before other passengers are off, you’ll instantly look like a tourist.
  3. Take off your backpack (and watch your bag). London is really pretty safe and you don’t need to be overly worried, but do keep an eye on your belongings. Also, if you’re on a busy tube, put your rucksack in between your feet – you could fit another person in your rucksack space at rush hour!
  4. Keep it down. You’ll soon see that Londoners don’t really talk on tubes.
  5. Don’t panic. The majority of Londoners were in your position once and most are really quite friendly once you scratch the steely-eyed surface. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re lost. There are also maps on every platform to help you check you’re going the right way.

London is a busy, fast-paced city. It may take you a while to navigate the transport systems, but before long you’ll be a pro and wonder what you were ever worried about.


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