What's the best - and by best I mean cheapest - way to travel around London? Should I get a pass for the tube or pay as I go?
Hi Elizabeth - I was in London this past December and found the tube great for anywhere I went. My hotel (due to business) was at Heathrow which has a stop (at the VERY end) of the Piccadilly line. While convenient, it sure took quite a bit of time to get where I needed.
If I wasn't so far out of central London, the time between Heathrow Terminal 4 and the city would have been a non-issue.
The maps are easy to follow; just keep an eye on where the train is going and plan accordingly. Hit their website to check for any gaps in service due to maintenance, etc.
Getting an Oyster card is your best option. You can load a seven-day travelcard for zones 1-2 on it and load a few extra pounds for occasional trips outside of those zones (like getting from the airport to the city). Or, if you're going to ride the bus or walk a lot, you can use it as a pay-as-you-go card. Each single ride will be discounted and the card will top off each day at 50 pence less than the price of a one-day travelcard. If you don't take any tube rides that day, you'll top off at the rate for a bus pass rather than a one-day travelcard. Read all about it at www.tfl.gov.uk. At the end of your stay you can get a refund for any cash you added that you didn't spend.
Elizabeth, you might also consider taking the double decker bus. The view and the closeness to the sights is worth it. The advantage is...you can see something and hop off the bus to tour it! With the tube, you have to know where you are going and get off at the correct stop. I got lost in London on the bus and had the most wonderful time. I felt like a local. The bus drivers where great and got me back to the tube stop for my return trip to the hotel! I got to see so much more than if I'd been on the tube!
Just to echo Tim...don't EVER pay-as-you-go in London. Cash bus fares are 2 pounds....cash tube fares are 4 pounds!...even for travel just in zones 1 and 2, where the attractions are. And if you have kids, check out the site Tim mentions for various regulations regarding kids travelling free with a fare-paying adult.
Either get an Oyster card or purchase (before you go, from a travel agent) a 7day visitor card. Good on buses and the Tube. Walking and the Tube/buses are the absolute best way to get around London. The pass also gets you discounts on some boat trips to Greenwich.
There are a few multi-day deals so just pick what works best for you. I believe the card for the tube also works for the double decker buses. When I was there, we used both, depending on how quickly we wanted to get to our destination (tube) or whether we wanted the view!