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Tower of London - view from Thames Clipper ferry boat

London Transport – unusual travel options

Want to know about some of the quirky transport options in London – stuff other than the usual yawn tube? How about boats, cable cars or electric bikes?

If you’re not familiar with the basics of London public transport, I recommend reading this article first.

Boat service

In addition to the tube, bus and train options, London has plenty to offer those who like different modes of transport!

The Thames Clipper boat service runs from Putney in the west, as far as Woolwich in the east, and offers a superlative way of getting around. Coffee onboard, plenty of warm seats inside and out, great views of London. Bit expensive – expect to pay about £4 to £8 per trip, with reductions for Oyster travelcard holders; or River roamer for all day hop-on, hop-off is £18. Thames Clipper website has links to a price calculator and timetable. There’s also the Woolwich car ferry, and of course, there are lots of tourist boats and rib boat options if you love the water – check out this Time Out article

Try going under the water instead – there are two foot tunnels under the Thames too, elegantly built around 1900, at Woolwich and Greenwich

On the more normal side of transport, as well as trains and tubes, there’s also a tiny tram line operated by TfL – it only runs in a small part of south London, but is a pleasant option if you’re around Wimbledon. Also bear in mind that the DLR is more fun than most trains – the rails run high(ish) above the ground with steep(ish) corners, giving it a slightly roller coaster feeling, if you’re generous. And no drivers, so you can grab the front seat and pretend you’re driving.

Cable car

The Cable car across the Thames (not part of daily/weekly cap): also called the “Emirates Air Line”) is lovely with spectacular views on a good day. However, it doesn’t go to/from anywhere useful – most people just do the return trip from Greenwich to the Excel centre to admire the views. The boat stops nearby at North Greenwich Pier, and it’s also close to the Jubilee North Greenwich station. Note that all these are few kilometers from central Greenwich – walk, bus or boat to Greenwich Pier if you’re looking for its various tourist attractions. More details on TfL’s Emirates section.

Touristy but unusual options abound too, of course. Rickshaws and tuktuks (bike powered) are plentiful for the late night drunken crowd; there’s horseriding in Hyde Park, London Duck tours in amphibious vessels, etc. Or sometimes there are occasional pop ups like giant ziplines and balloon flights.

But the best option, which most tourists don’t try, is biking. Electric bikes are available from Lime and others, or heavy push bikes from Santander and others – see the bike section below for tons more detail!

Public bikes

There are lots of city bike providers allowing you to hop onto a publically available bike for a short spin. Note that the options are constantly changing!

Electric bikes are great, reducing the cycling effort – but far more expensive, and many are limited to specific areas for parking; you’ll have to download an app for most of them. Manual bikes are cheaper, but are heavy and slow – not that it matters much as London’s flat – and most of them are docked. Decent detailed review here. All except Santander (below) will need you to download their app to unlock and pay.

TfL’s Santander bikes (aka ‘Boris bikes’) are the cheapest option – £2, but you can keep using for up to 30 min segments all day – they’re heavy manual docked bikes, but do the job.

To plan your A to B route, Google Maps is generally fine. But if you want to interrogate quietest, fastest versus balanced routes, try  CycleStreets. You can also check this map of TfL’s suggested cycle routes. This shows the  ‘CS’ cycle superhighways – fast routes, usually main roads but segregated slightly from traffic; and ‘Q’ quietways – back streets with little traffic; and ‘C’ cycleways (new term, which will replace CS and Q); or this wikipedia article for every official route in London. Also there are many other articles re pleasant routes by parks, canals and rivers.

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