So you want to live in the outskirts of London or even further afield, and need to get into the centre of town. You don’t want to let the train take the strain, but what can you expect if instead you travel by road? What are the roads like? How bad is the traffic? Where can you park and how much will it cost? What is the Congestion Charge? This article covers everything you need to know about getting into our capital city by road, as well as what to do with your car when you get there:
Take a look at a road map of London and the first thing you see is the M25, London’s orbital motorway. Other motorways and arterial roads leading into London intersect with this before being downgraded to dual carriageways and single carriageway roads. Here we discuss some of these roads so you know what you’re letting yourself in for:
The M25 was intended to consolidate the motorway system around the capital, drawing long distance traffic away from the centre. It is known as “the biggest car park in the world” by most Londoners as, despite its purpose, it attracts a huge volume of local traffic. Many sections have had additional lanes added, increasing the number of carriageways from three to four, and further expansion is in progress, or planned. Whether or not the improvements will make any difference as the traffic becomes heavier and heavier is the ultimate question!
This pushes into London from the north, and terminates at it’s intersection with the North Circular Road. If you are heading further into London, you’ll either join the A1, A5 or A41 from here.
The London section of the road passes through four London boroughs. It ends up in Islington and (as with all central London roads) can get a bit sticky towards the end.
One of the better roads leading into the west end. However, it can get congested at unexpected times (ie heading towards London in the early evening)
Taking you straight into the west end, through busy town centres. Expect lots of stopping and starting as you work your way through umpteen traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.
A good road from the north until it intersects with the North Circular road, after which it can be stop, start all the way.
The M11 enters London from the north-east and is another motorway which ends at the North Circular road. If you are heading further into town, there is a shortage of fast roads from here, which means you generally have to crawl along east end high streets before you reach the City.
The entire section through London is dual carriageway but it does get congested, especially at the stretch which is known as the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach.
M2 and M20
Routes south of the river are frustratingly complicated! The best routes (M2/A2 and M20/A20) mean you either have to travel through the Blackwall Tunnell which can become very congested, or heading west up the Old Kent Road and crossing the river by bridge. Both options will entail crawling through congested urban streets.
Arriving from the south and terminating shortly after it’s intersection with the M25, becoming dual carriageway for a while before degenerating into a crawl through crowded suburban high streets.
A3 and M3
From the south west, the A3 and M3 are completely separate roads, both of which turn into dual carriageways some distance towards the centre of town after reaching the M25 (the M3 becomes the A316).
The main entry into London from the west, the M4 becomes the A4 at its intersection with the North Circular Road. This is one of the UK’s busiest motorways, with access not only to the capital, but also Heathrow Airport. It’s one of the quickest routes into the west end outside peak times though.
Arriving from the north west, the M40 becomes the A40 just inside the M25 and is dual carriageway all the way to Regents Park and beyond (although there are some bottlenecks along the way)
North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205)
The two halves of the original (and now inner) London ring road, these roads both cross London linking the east and west of the city. In the west, the A406 runs north from junction 1 of the M4 at Chiswick, from which the South Circular Road (A205) heads South over Kew Bridge. The A406 has been subject to much more road improvement than the A205, often coupled with demolition of existing houses and urban infrastructure. There has been slower progress in the south and the A205 is unlikely ever to be further widened – it can be very frustrating and easy to get lost on this road.
Parking in central London can be tricky. Very few employers provide workplace parking in the centre of town and when they do it is usually only for the very elite. The central boroughs operate “residents parking” where spaces are limited to permit owners (you can only get a permit if you live in the area), and a few scattered public/business spaces, so it can sometimes be difficult to find anywhere to park on the road at all. If you do manage to find a parking space, you’ll need to pay for it. Most boroughs operate a “pay by phone system” where you can pre-register your vehicle and credit card information and either phone or text a location number and duration, at the time of parking. Some still use the more antiquated system of “Pay and Display” parking meters. Whichever system is in operation though, the result is usually the same – expensive!
An alternative solution to on road parking is a car park.
National Car Parks (NCP) the UK’s largest car park operator has a number of 24hr car parks in central London:
If you want to have some idea about the parking situation at your destination before you leave home, the following useful website provides all the information you need, including the payment method at each location (so you know whether to take bags of coins with you, or not). – all you have to do is enter an address or postcode:
If you are travelling by road on a regular basis, you might want to either buy a parking space, or rent one and pay a monthly fee. There are websites which provide details, such as this one:
If you are travelling to London for a specific duration (every day for a week, for example), you can do that too:
Basically, the lists of options is endless. If you’re certain you want to bring the car into town, you will be able to park it – somewhere!
Similar to other major cities, London is plagued by traffic congestion with many roads being permanently jammed with traffic. There is continuous debate about traffic congestion and various measures have been introduced to discourage car drivers. One of these is the congestion charge.
This is a daily charge of £11.50 (or £10.50 if paid using CC Auto Pay or £14 if paid the next charging day) for driving or parking a vehicle on public roads within the Congestion Charging zone. The times the charge is in operation are between 7.00am to 6.00pm, Monday to Friday. Weekends and public holidays are free.
You will know when you are entering and leaving the Congestion Charging zone because you will see the Congestion Charging signs on or at the side of the road. There are no barriers or tollbooths; instead you pay to register your Vehicle Registration Number (VRN) on a database. The cameras read your number plate as you enter, leave, or drive within the charging zone, and check it against the database to work out whether you’ve paid. The database is checked until midnight the following charging day so you have until then to pay (you can pay in advance, or on the day of travel too). If they don’t get a match, Transport for London will send a Penalty Charge Notice to the registered keeper of the vehicle.
You only need to pay once a day, no matter how many times you drive in and out of the charging zone on one day.
Here is a link to the Transport for London website where you can register your details, pay online, view a map of the zone or just find out more: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/congestioncharging/
If you want to reduce the cost and stress of getting to London by car, how about car sharing? There are numerous car sharing schemes in London which help you find others travelling the same way as you, so you can share your journeys. Here are a couple of them:
Petrol Stations and Charging Points
Although there are plenty of petrol stations in Greater London, because of high rents, there is a scarcity in the more central parts (you have to look very carefully to spot them), and just like everything else in the Capital, filling up with fuel there is expensive. You’ll also pay a premium on a motorway. The best advice is to fill up before you leave your home town – it will probably be cheaper there.
If you’ve got an electric car, charging points in central London are plentiful. You can access a map and find out further information this website:
Don’t worry, once you’ve done the journey a couple of times you’ll get used to where the bottlenecks are and find alternative “rat-runs” that make your trip quicker. You’ll also become familiar with where to park and the cost v benefits of different methods of parking and different locations. Until then, if you make sure you plan your journey, check the traffic reports (London Traffic News: http://www.londontraffic.org/a12/), fill up with fuel before you leave home, and above all keep calm – driving into London doesn’t have to be something to avoid at all costs. Some of us even actually enjoy it!