Friday, November 23, 2012

Tips for driving and parking in London

london flag telephone booth

white cliffs of dover
the white cliffs of dover
dover ferry cliffs

london architecture

london streets

the white lion pub london

london streets

No other city has stolen my heart quite like London. Given the opportunity (and the budget) I would move there tomorrow.

London marked the mid-way point of our road trip, and we arrived in the city for the last weekend of the London Paralympics. We drove from Chambord to Calais, France, where we caught a ferry to Dover.

Dover, and the English countryside, are really very pretty. But I know what you really want to hear about is the logistics of driving through and parking in London (er, maybe not. But it might be helpful for some future traveller, so here goes...)


The drive from Dover to London is 2 hours long, and we took a quick diversion around the city to park on a street near a friend's house in Highgate. Street parking there was free, and we were assured quite safe, so left our little Fiat there for three days. Compare that to parking in the city of London for €60+ per night, and it was worth the hell-on-earth that is lugging suitcases on the tube downtown.

If you did want to take a care into London (as you may know) the city charges a congestion fee for entering its congestion zone by car (£10). Here are the signs to look for if you're driving around the city and don't want to end up in the congestion zone by mistake. And FYI: most rental car companies will add a surcharge to whatever traffic tickets or congestion charges you incur during your rental. So £10 could turn into £20, etc. In other words, if you want to avoid sticker shock when you return your rental, avoid racking up charges and tickets.

But, good news! There is no congestion charge in London between 6 pm and 7 am on weekdays, and all day on weekends. So if you're planning on driving and parking in London, you do have some options. Here are a few we considered:
  • Park on the street for free and take a tube to a downtown hotel (we did this)
  • Stay at an affordable airport hotel at Heathrow with free parking. Buy transit passes and commute into the city everyday. (Pros: cheap. Cons: the commute can take 2-3 hours out of your day, and the tube stops running before midnight)
  • Stay and park at a hotel just outside the congestion zone. (Pros: convenient, no lugging suitcases on the tube. Cons: parking at hotels is expensive)
  • Stay at a hotel within the congestion zone and enter/exit the city between 6 pm and 7 am. Park at the hotel or a parking lot downtown. (Pros: convenient, no lugging suitcases on the tube. Cons: pricey)
  • Park at an affordable parking lot and take the tube to a downtown hotel (NCP is a popular, private parking provider. You can also park at tube stations at affordable rates, but be sure to check availability before you go [I hear there can be wait lists to get spots? Is that true?], and have a back up lot in mind in case your first pick is full. Or, like we did, ask a local where you can find free street parking)
All that is to say, do your research before you commit to driving through or parking in London. Parkopedia is a great resource to get a feel for parking rates and locations in the city.

Many travel forums will tell you driving in London is a nightmare, but that really depends on your perspective. Mike found it to be intense (he had to concentrate) but fine. People obey the rules of the road, are considerate of other drivers, etc. etc. We had the TomTom for iPhone GPS app to guide us, but the street signs were clear enough that we might have found our way anyway.

If you're from North America (no offense intended) where drivers are more cautious and perhaps a little absent minded, driving in London will be a big change for you. Do-able, but different. If you're from the southern Mediterranean, where drivers are quite skilled but also a bit aggressive, London will be a breeze. So before you trust what you read in travel forums, consider the perspective of forum contributors. Plenty of people drive in London everyday and they survive. So will you.

Have tips or comments about driving and parking in London? Do leave them below.

- Jess

p.s. come back Monday to see the London Paralympic Marathon!

date: september 7-12
weather: sunny, warm
distance travelled: 634 km/394 mi (chambord, france to london, uk)
hours driving: 7
distance travelled to date: 3,223 km/2,003 mi
hours driving to date: 34.5
stayed at: hotel grand royale london hyde park, €115/night
parked at: street parking in highgate, london (free!)
tolls: €28 (chambord, france to london, uk)


  1. This is seriously so useful! When I was in London I just used the tube so I previously had no idea that they charged "congestion" fees. Seriously Jess... you should write an e-book :)


  2. Very useful!! always enjoy reading your posts. We are thinking of taking a trip to London ourselves. We just have a little problem now, we have a 5 month old pup and since we got him travelling had to stop because we can't bring ourselves to leave him behind.

    Did you take ur pups with you on this road trip?

    1. We had planned to take them (almost all of the hotels we stayed at during our trip were dog friendly because we booked them thinking we would), but it didn't work out (we had to fly Ryanair to Pisa at the beginning of our trip and Ryanair doesn't allow dogs).

      Taking dogs to the UK isn't too hard though, if they have an EU pet passport. They would just be checked at the airport or Dover port by an inspection agent.


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