Accessible London is both true and untrue. Some of my favourite places and spots in the city are delightfully wheelchair friendly. Railings as far as the eye can see, lifts aplenty and enough ramps to get you to the Moon! (This is of course ludicrous, and a complete lie). Many tourist spots and highlights in my hometown have been designed with accessibility in mind. The museum mile in South Kensington is a perfect example of this forethought. The V&A, Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are well equipped for those with special access needs. However, the issue arises when you actually try to get to your destination. The South Kensington station is not accessible in the slightest. Anywhere they could put stairs, they did put stairs, certainly not part of “accessible London”.
Having friends that have studied or worked in the area, I know very well just how much of a hassle it can be getting to that part of London. Or any part of London if you are fond of the tube and not having your time wasted. Most stations on the underground system do not have a lift available. This is a nightmare for those in wheelchairs, but also the elderly and those with children in buggies. Not to mention the tidal wave of tourists with giant backpacks and suitcases cramming up and down staircase after staircase.
But all is not lost, and there are some handy routes and tips that I have learned during my many years in the capital that could help you see the sights, and not waste the limited time that you have in London. So first things first…
London is the capital of the United Kingdom, and the capital of fun. (This has not been confirmed…) There are so many amazing things to see and do in the city, but unfortunately, not all of them are accessible. However, there is a way to get the most out of London that works best for those with reduced mobility. Here are some hints and tips about how to get around London with a disability, and truly make the most of your time here.
The London Underground is the oldest metro system in the world, and as such, this means that a lot of the stations were not built with accessibility in mind. While this has been changing over the years with the addition of newer lines and improvements being made to older lines, there is still much work to be done. Here are some tricks to get the most out of the capital’s rail services:
Know Your Legend
– Transport for London has key symbols that let you know if a station is accessible for wheelchair users or those with reduced mobility.
– The wheelchair symbol with a white background means the station is step free from the platform to the street
– The wheelchair symbol with a blue background means the station is step free from the train to the street
– Sometimes platforms have a wheelchair symbol on the floor that signals where you can enter the train with level access
– All the stations on the DLR are fully accessible!
– Many stations on the Jubilee line are accessible, including all the stops between Stratford & Green Park
– King’s Cross St Pancras station is fully accessible and has 6 underground lines going through it. You can get mainland trains around the UK, and the International Eurostar to continental Europe.
– You can take the Piccadilly line straight to Heathrow Airport, which is fully accessible and saves you money!
– Many stations on the Overground are wheelchair accessible, including the hip area of Shoreditch
As not all stations are fully accessible, sometimes your best option would be taking the bus to see some highlights on your trip! Buses in London have allocated space onboard for those with wheelchairs. They can be used by buggies, should they not be required by a wheelchair user. And there are designated spaces near the front for those with reduced mobility, such as the elderly, pregnant women or others who are less able to stand. Here are some bus routes that take you to a few of the city’s must see attractions:
– Route 11 St Paul’s Cathedral, Somerset House, Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Westminster Pier
– Route 14 Chelsea FC, South Kensington for V&A, Natural History and Science Museums, Harrods, Piccadilly Circus, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Chinatown
– Route 10 King’s Cross St Pancras, British Library, British Museum, Oxford Street, Selfridges, Marble Arch, Mayfair, Hyde Park, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Palace & Gardens
– Route RV1 Covent Garden, Somerset House, London Eye, SEA Life London Aquarium, Shrek’s Adventure, The Shard, Tower of London
– Route 274 Camden Town, ZSL London Zoo, Lord’s Cricket Ground, Madame Tussaud’s, Selfridges, Marble Arch, Hyde Park
– Choose accommodation close to the major attractions you would like to see. This will save you travel time, and mean you get to see more in one day without rushing.
– You can get onto a Routemaster (buses with entrance at the front, middle and back) quicker by using the middle entrance and tapping your card on the reader. This takes you straight to the allocated wheelchair space, and to the designated seats for those less able to stand.
– Some stations have a gap between the platform and the train. Upon arrival, alert one of the TfL staff members who will be able to arrange a ramp for you.
– The easiest and most accessible way to the heart of London is using the Piccadilly line from Heathrow Airport to King’s Cross St Pancras station. Even better is that all the airport terminals and St Pancras station are step free from the train to the street.
– Avoid rush hour if possible. Very early in the morning or during the middle of the day are the best times to travel. It allows you time to take in your surroundings and you will bypass the hectic foot traffic on public transportation.
– Should you require more assistance on any TfL service, please do seek assistance from the transport staff. They are always happy to help meet your specific needs, for example, having a ramp ready at your destination.
– Have fun! You’re in London and you have everything you could possibly need to make the most of your stay here as enjoyable as possible.