As all big cities, London can be a little complex to navigate for the uninitiated – in fact even locals appreciate finding out new ways of getting around more swiftly and with fewer murderous glances needing to be thrown. Traffic can be suffocating and end in missed travel connections or delayed dinners, your map might get rained on or you could be standing in that freezing bus queue emulating the perfect Brit for hours longer than necessary. Thanks to the kind people behind new smartphone and tablet apps, however, there is a plethora of new, cheap, ingenious methods to expedite your way around this metropolis. We’ve listed a few of our favourites below, so just download them through the every hotels super fast Wi-Fi and get out exploring!
The first all-round wunderkind of the City App genus has got to be Citymapper. Just type in where you are and where you want to get to, and this free app will do the rest, using live train, tube and bus times, offering a host of alternate routes, estimated times for walking, driving, cycling, taxi, Uber and public transport, as well as calories burned and the total cost. A British start-up, the app launched in London four years ago and is already available in New York, Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Washington DC, Boston, Barcelona, San Francisco, Chicago, Milan, Rome and Mexico City.
On a similar note but purely for the bus-bound among you, London Bus Live Countdown frees up your time to do other more interesting things than standing in a terribly well-formed queue craning your neck to look at the bus-less road for the 5th time in under a minute, furrowing your brow, looking at your watch, checking to see if your fellow queuers are also surprised by the situation, and repeating the sequence… it works at any of London’s 20,000 bus stops, with real-time arrival information for each bus, live from GPS receivers in each vehicle, as well as full route maps, disruptions, travel tips and more – all for free. The London Bus Checker will even wake you up when you get to your bus stop – how’s that for friendly service?
Isn’t it curious how there are always loads of the distinctive blue Boris Bikes at the bottom of, say a very steep hill, but very rarely any at the top. Or plenty beside that far-flung pet shop in deepest Hackney but never enough beside anywhere near a supermarket in central London. Frustrating, ever? London Cycle is here to fix your wheelie woes: so long as you’re a member of the Cycle Hire Scheme, you can download the app for free and locate where the nearest cycle station is, how many bikes there are, track how much you’re spending on it and make sure you embark on the safest route to where you need to go, avoiding traffic, notorious intersections and badly-lit routes.
Everyone knows about the convenience vs cost conundrum of London’s rightfully famous black cabs, but one company has come along and upset the balance significantly in the last year: Uber. Billed as ‘everyone’s private driver’, Uber offers three differently priced options – Luxury, Executive and UberX, which are a fleet of BMW 3s, Toyota Priuses and other similar cars running about 30 to 50% cheaper than a traditional taxi. The app tells you who your driver is, gives them a rating and tells you when to expect them, how much it will cost, takes the amount directly off your registered credit card, and notifies you as soon as they arrive. There is even an option to split the fare if you’re with a friend and want to keep things even.
Created by the Guinness World Record Holder for travelling to all tube stations in the fastest time possible, the man behind Station Master counted every step on every staircase, catalogued all the facilities, travelled on all the escalators and in the lifts, explored every publicly accessible part of every station and collected all the knowledge that was humanly possible. This goldmine of information is now yours to download in this invaluable little app, which doesn’t even require the internet, so you can use it on the tube underground and everything. Find secret staircases to shave valuable minutes off your commuting time and stop you getting that suspicious feeling that you’re being sent on a wild tube chase (you are, in King’s Cross for example, which is designed to optimise the flow of people), or choose the ‘Best Exit’ – look up the carriage and door position nearest to the exit at every station and use this to figure out which carriage door will let you out in front of your desired station’s exit.
If it’s more time travel into the past than a vision of your future that you’re after, giveStreetmuseum a go. Originally launched by the Museum of London in 2010, the app has now been updated to give users an idea of how the capital’s streets have changed, and allows people to look through the cameras on their phones at hundreds of sites where an overlay of historic photographs will appear across the present-day scene. Just choose your current location in London via Google Maps or geo-tagging, or select one you’re curious about, and a historic image will appear onscreen juxtaposed with the present day one. This image can then be expanded to give you historical information about a range of subjects. Truly fascinating stuff!
And the app that will change the way you even choose where you’re going and what you’ll do once you get there – Yelp. Providing the best way to live like a local in London (even if you’ve been here your entire life) or New York or a whole host of other cities around the world, it is already built into your iPhone directory services and will show you everything from nearby museums, cafes, bike repair shops, bars and happy hours and how users have rated them. May this be the end of your disastrous evenings and mis-calculated haircuts forevermore!
So now you’re all set to step outside without getting lost or being late, just look up what you’re going to do before and after from the comfort of your every hotels room in the heart of London and get on your well-mapped out road!