Do You Need a Car When Visiting London? Essential Tips for Transport Decisions

  • By: pdstamp
  • Date: May 20, 2023

When planning a trip to London, you might wonder whether you need a car to get around. In most cases, if you’re staying within the central heart of the city, a car is not necessary.

London offers an extensive public transportation network, including the Underground, Overground, buses, taxis, and ride-sharing services, making it convenient to explore without the need for a personal vehicle.

However, if your itinerary involves traveling far out of town or you have specific mobility requirements, having a car in London can become more practical.

Keep in mind that driving in London requires familiarity with local rules, such as driving on the left and adhering to the Highway Code.

Ultimately, whether or not you need a car in London depends on your individual circumstances and travel plans. Consider the convenience of public transportation and the complications of driving in a busy city before making your decision.

London at Night with Big Ben and Car light trails.

Public Transportation in London

The Tube

When visiting London, you can travel around the city efficiently using the Tube, which is part of Transport for London. Make sure to get an Oyster or contactless card to pay for your journeys.


Buses are another convenient option for getting around London. Simply touch your Oyster or contactless card on the yellow card reader when boarding the bus.


The UK boasts an extensive train network, making it easy to travel from London to other destinations. Westminster, for example, is well-connected by rail, making it a popular choice for tourists.

Taxis and Uber

London’s iconic black cabs are an easy way to travel around the city. Alternatively, you can opt for local minicabs or use the Uber app to book a ride. Remember to buckle up and enjoy the city’s views from the passenger seat.

Renting a Car in London

Car Rental Companies

Several car rental companies operate in London, offering various vehicles that cater to your preferences. Always compare prices and reviews online before booking to find the best deals and services.

Insurance and Fuel

Opt for comprehensive insurance to stay well-covered during your trip. Also, keep in mind that fuel prices can be higher in London compared to other UK cities. It is advisable to refuel outside central London.

Legal Requirements and Documents

While renting a car in the UK, be prepared to present your driving license, credit card, and passport during the booking process. Keep these documents handy, along with the car rental agreement, during your trip.

Driving in London

Here are some essential points to know for driving in London:

  • Drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel should be on the right.
  • Adhere to the speed limits: 30 mph (48 km/h) in urban areas, 60 mph (96 km/h) on single carriageways, and 70 mph (112 km/h) on motorways.
  • Be aware of charges, such as the Congestion Charge (£15 per day) and the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) charge (£12.50) if your car doesn’t meet the required standards.
  • Remember that parking may be difficult and expensive in London.

However, if you plan to stay within central London, it is often more convenient and cost-effective to use public transport, which includes the Underground, Overground, buses, taxis, and ride-sharing apps. Car rental is mostly recommended for those planning to explore areas outside the city.

Charges and Emissions Zones

Congestion Charge

When driving in London, you’ll need to pay the Congestion Charge. It costs £15 if paid in advance or on the same day, and £17.50 if paid by midnight of the third day after you travel. To avoid a £160 fine, remember to pay the charge online, by auto pay, app, or telephone.

Low Emission Zone (LEZ)

The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) aims to reduce pollution in London by requiring specific emissions standards for larger vehicles. Many vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, and vans, are exempt. To avoid penalties, check if your vehicle meets the required LEZ emissions standards.

Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)

Within central London, there’s the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A £12.50 daily charge applies to vehicles that don’t meet the ULEZ emission standards and don’t qualify for exemptions. Keep in mind that penalties can reach £160 if you don’t pay the ULEZ charge on time.

Knowing these charges and following emissions regulations can help ensure a smoother driving experience during your visit to London.

London Traffic

Parking in London

Street Parking

Finding street parking in central London can be quite difficult. Parking restrictions are usually in place from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Be mindful of yellow lines and carefully check street signs to avoid fees, as there might be time limits or residence permit requirements.

In some areas, like outer London residential streets, you may find free parking without restrictions. To locate these spots, consider using the AppyParking app, which shows parking regulations for every street in London.

Car Parks

When it comes to car parks, Q-Park and NCP operate several locations across London, including Mayfair and Marylebone. You can book these spots in advance, ensuring a secured and convenient parking space for your visit. Q-Park locations outside the congestion zone are also available, positioned near tube stations for easy access.

Parking Restrictions

To avoid parking fines in London, which typically range between £80 and £130, always pay close attention to signage and parking regulations. Remember that street parking in central London is generally limited from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday, with certain streets requiring permits or time limits.

When parking in Q-Park or NCP car parks, restrictions are more lenient, but it is always advisable to book in advance to secure your spot. Ensuring you adhere to the rules will allow you to avoid any unwanted fines during your visit.

Driving Tips and Rules

Highway Code

Before driving in London, familiarize yourself with the UK Highway Code to understand local rules and regulations. You can find the code at most bookshops.

Speed Limits

Speed limits vary throughout London, with standard limits of 30 mph in urban areas and 60-70 mph on highways. Always adhere to posted signs to avoid fines.

Seat Belts and Car Seats

You are required to wear seat belts where fitted, and all passengers must do the same. For children, appropriate restraints or car seats must be used according to their age and size.

Bus Lanes and Roundabouts

  • Bus Lanes: In London, avoid driving in bus lanes as they are reserved for buses and cyclists. Only drive in these lanes when signs indicate they are open to all traffic.
  • Roundabouts: When approaching a roundabout, give priority to traffic coming from your right. Always signal your intended exit to anticipate your maneuver for others.

Remember to drive on the left side of the road and to stay aware of London’s traffic patterns. Be mindful of pedestrians and cyclists, especially in crowded areas.

Alternatives to Driving

Walking and Cycling

London is a walkable city with many interesting sites close to each other. Walking allows you to experience the city, its culture, and sights at your own pace. Use maps, apps, or guidebooks to plan your route.

Cycling is another eco-friendly and enjoyable option. You can rent bicycles through services like Santander Cycles. It’s essential to follow traffic rules and wear appropriate safety gear while cycling.

Scooters and Motorbikes

Hiring e-scooters can provide a fun, efficient way to navigate London. Be aware of the regulations, park responsibly, and ensure you are riding safely and legally.

Motorbikes can be rented for a faster mode of transport. They offer greater freedom for parking and navigating through traffic. Stay aware of potential road hazards and always wear appropriate safety gear.

Visiting Attractions in London

Planning Your Visit

When visiting London, prioritize your must-see attractions such as Covent Garden, Tower of London, and Big Ben. Consider booking accommodation through platforms like Airbnb in advance to secure your stay in desired neighborhoods like Borough.

Using Public Transport to Reach Attractions

Public transport like the Tube and buses are efficient and convenient options for you to reach most attractions. Purchase an Oyster Card for seamless travel across multiple lines and platforms. Remember that attractions like Covent Garden and Tower of London are easily accessible through public transportation without the need for a car.

Traveling Outside London

Day Trips

When planning day trips outside of London, you don’t necessarily need a car. Popular destinations, such as Bath or the Cotswolds, are accessible via train. Train fares vary but booking in advance can save you money.

Using trains not only saves on petrol or diesel costs but also benefits the environment. Furthermore, the train network in the UK is extensive, offering numerous routes and connections.

Using Public Transportation

The public transportation system in London is world-class and includes the Underground (Tube), buses, and Overground trains. You can reach most major attractions within the city without needing a car.

By using public transportation, you avoid the hassle of parking, traffic, and congestion charges. Also, it is important to note that car seats are required for children when driving in London. The Tube and buses don’t require additional car seats, making them more child-friendly options.

Timing and Seasons

Bank Holidays

When planning your trip, consider UK bank holidays. Prices for hotels may be higher, and TfL services could be affected. Many attractions may be closed or more crowded during these days.


On Saturdays and Sundays, TfL services typically run less frequently compared to Monday to Friday. Shops and cultural events are often busier. Hotel prices can vary, so compare your options for the best deals.

Rush Hour

Avoid driving in London during rush hour (6-10 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m.). The Underground system, known as the Tube, can also be crowded. Planning your travel during off-peak hours will make your trip more enjoyable.

Spring and Summer

Visit London during spring and summer for pleasant weather. It’s an excellent time to enjoy outdoor attractions like parks and gardens. Expect higher hotel rates and a larger number of visitors, especially during peak tourist months.

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