Getting Around

How to Use London Black Cabs: A First-Timer’s Guide

When it comes to exploring London, you’ve got a lot of options – the Underground (Tube), by bus, by bike, or on foot –, but that also might make you feel completely overwhelmed figuring out how to get from one part of the city to another. While I’ve got a list of helpful London apps that include some that are very handy for getting oriented and planning routes between London’s top sights, there is one form of travel in London that often gets overlooked: London black cabs.

Almost as ubiquitous as the Tube’s iconic logo and red double-decker buses, black London cabs are a great – albeit less budget-friendly – way to get around the city. However, they do operate a bit differently than cabs in other cities, so it’s helpful to know what you’re in for before you hail one.

London Black Cabs Hero

Below you’ll find a guide to different cab and taxi options in London (beyond the standard black cab), as well as a step-by-step guide for using London’s black cabs – from hailing to paying. You’ll also learn about “The Knowledge,” which I think is one of the coolest parts of the London cab experience. Ready to stick out your hand in London with confidence? Read on!

This post was originally published in April 2022, and was updated most recently in January 2024.

Black Cabs & Minicabs, Explained

How to Use London Black Cabs - Black cab by big ben

At a glance, black cabs and minicabs might not seem to pose major differences, except for the color and fares. However, there’s more to know than just that. Knowing the difference between these two is crucial to understanding how to use London black cabs during your stay.  

Black Cabs

Also called hackney carriages, black cabs are just like any other taxi in the world, but with a distinctive shape and black color instead of yellow. Black cabs work with metered fares that the Transport for London department regulates and sets. There is a minimum charge of £3.80, and then the fare increases based on time/distance traveled; here’s the official resource from TfL on taxi fares.

However, additional charges apply when you take a black cab from Heathrow, book by telephone, and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. The most important thing to notice is that black cabs are also the only vehicles that can pick up customers off the street. 

Minicabs/Private Hire

How to use a black cab in london - minicab

Private hire covers a wider range of vehicles. You find chauffeur and executive cars, limousines, and minicabs in this category. London minicabs look like standard cars and are a more affordable alternative to the black cab. 

They are not on a meter, and the driver gives you a distance-based fare estimate before your journey starts (unless you’ve pre-agreed a fixed fare). The main difference with black cabs is that minicabs can’t pick up passengers off the street, and customers must pre-book them through a TfL-licensed private hire operator

Fascinating Facts About London Black Cabs

How to use London Black Cab - Black Cab

Before we dive into the logistics of how to use London black cabs, let’s have a little fun and learn about what makes them unique. Here are five fascinating facts about London black cabs.

  1. Their drivers know London like the back of their hand. Unlike most cities, black cab taxi drivers must pass the world-famous Knowledge of London. The test requires them to study and memorize 25,000 London streets within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. Drivers also have to develop quick thinking and know the most direct route for your journey. 
  2. London black cabs are manufactured in Coventry, which might explain why they’re ubiquitous as soon as you step out of Coventry station. 
  3. London black cabs are purpose-built vehicles whose shape and design facilitate their navigation through London’s tricky streets. They also have creative seats inside to fit up to five passengers in the back.
  4. Despite their name, they don’t have to be black nor boast the traditional shape associated with London cabs. 
  5. Their predecessors date back to the 17th Century. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the real Hackney coaches were elegant trimmed horse-drawn carriages. Allegedly, wealthy Londoners wanted to recover the money invested on horses, drivers, and coaches, so they began hiring them out to other aristocrats.

Interesting, right? As you can tell, London black cabs are as important a part of the city’s transit network as the Underground and red double-decker buses – and have an equally interesting history.

How to Pay for London Black Cabs

How to pay for black cab

 It’s a common misconception that to use London black cabs, you need to pay in cash only. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  To save you from running to the nearest ATM, here’s all the payment information you need for a smooth ride. 

First, you should know that all black cabs take credit or debit cards and contactless payment methods. While cash was more common before the pandemic, most taxi drivers prefer card/contactless payments now. Be sure to check that the driver will accept cash before hopping in, as some may not have the ability to make change.

If you pay by card, there will be a payment device in the car to pay upon arrival at your destination. The device can be fixed or handheld, but most taxis have it installed in the passenger compartment.

How to Use London Black Cabs

How to use a london black cab- hailing a cab

If you’re traveling to London in the near future, here’s a mini-guide to learn how to use London black cabs like a true Londoner, from where you can find them to how you pay the fare. 

Hailing a Black Cab

Hailing a cab in London is similar to hailing a cab in NYC. You can just step out into the street and raise your arm to hail a cab. While most people will be looking for a black cab, what will give away that the vehicle is actually a taxi and that it is available for hire will be that the yellow TAXI sign will be on – London taxis don’t have to be necessarily black. 

Customers can also pick up black cabs from designated taxi ranks in prominent places, including many mainline rails, Tube, and bus stations.

Entering and Giving Directions to Your Driver

Once you’ve hailed the cab, you can approach the front window to talk to the driver and explain where you need to get before entering the car. You can also jump in the back and give the driver your address. Remember, London cab drivers are well-versed in the city’s streets, so they don’t need extra information unless you want to suggest a very specific route.

When I lived in London, my address was relatively new and many drivers struggled to find the building; I would provide them a few extra instructions – but that was the only time I ever needed to suggest anything to drivers with The Knowledge.

Paying for Your Ride

Tipping in London - Contactless

While you’re in the cab, the meter will be running so you can see the balance owed at any time.

Once you reach your destination, you have to pay the full fare displayed on the meter. If you’re traveling outside Greater London, you and the driver can negotiate a fare and agree to pay it before the start of the journey. Or, you can simply ask them to set up the meter and pay what the fare shows at the end of the journey.

Tipping is not necessary, but drivers appreciate it. If you pay by card, you can typically add 10% easily on the payment machine. If you’re paying by cash, rounding up a pound or two is a reasonable tip.

And there you have it: a guide to using London’s black cabs (and the other cab types too!). Have any questions about hailing your first London black cab ride? Let me know in the comments!

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Valerie fell in love with London on her first trip to the city way back in 2011. Since then, she spent a year living in London and visits as often as she can (you can find her recent trip recaps here!). She launched LOMM in 2021 to help other travelers fall in love with her favorite city on earth.

6 Comments

  • Nicola Matthews

    will the cab driver allow my dog in the cab. She is not an assistance dog but is well behaved and the size of a cocker spaniel. will I be charged extra for taking the dog.

    • Avatar photo

      Valerie

      I can’t guarantee it, but most black cab drivers accept animals. You will just have to flag one down and ask; if they aren’t accommodating, there are lots of taxis so another one surely will. I can’t say whether they charge extra; I haven’t heard of that being the case, but it again depends on the driver.

  • Mark Nov

    Hi Valerie,
    Are Black Cabs hired per car (3.80 GBP min) or by number of passengers?
    Are there minimum fees for under 1 mile?
    Can Black Cabs carry several average size suitcases?
    Do suitcases take up passenger space? (how many passengers is optimal?)
    When paying by credit card will the balance show in GBP or $?
    Thanks

    • Avatar photo

      Valerie

      Mark, hi, cabs are hired at a starting rate plus time/distance and there is no additional charge for passengers; check this page for estimates https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/taxis-and-minicabs/taxi-fares.

      I’m not sure what an average suitcase is anymore, but it can certainly fit several carry-on sized one. Suitcases do take up passenger space. I don’t really know how to answer about optimal passengers; two is comfortable with luggage, and more than that will fit but probably be quite cozy.

      Everything in London is in GBP – you’re in Britain, so you pay in pounds!

  • Martin Francis Peagam

    I was charged twice for the same journey on my credit card when using a Black Cab . How do I get refund?

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