One of London’s famous underground tube stations

One of London’s famous underground tube stations

I don’t know about you, but the holiday season always makes me think of my favorite spot in winter – Oxford, England. If you’ve never been to Europe (not that most Brits would consider the UK to be Europe precisely) then it’s a great place to start, and December is a great time to go. The weather tends to be fairly mild by comparison with much of the U.S., and accumulation of snow is very rare. Besides that, and more importantly, England is the gateway to a whole new world of disabled travel and wheelchair travel.

Handicapped travelers in the UK and much of continental Europe can expect the highest standards of accessibility and a huge number of accessible travel options for public transportation, including a network of rail, bus, and wheelchair taxi services that can make the far near – for example, on a good day it’s only a few hours by train from the southern tip of Britain to Glasgow in northern Scotland! So, today it’s all about Britain, particularly London – with Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to follow soon.

Probably the best place to start is with the major airports around London, where most travelers will begin their journey. There are two international airports serving the city: Heathrow and Gatwick. Heathrow’s special assistance page lays down their accessibility standards and services for travel with a disability, including lots of great information on planning your trip. Both Heathrow and its sister airport Gatwick are equipped with wheelchair access facilities you would expect, such as ramps, accessible roll-in bathrooms, and accessible elevators. Gatwick’s special needs page lays out the same information for that airport, and in much the same format.

Directgov is a web resource provided by the UK government to centralize all the information on public services. Here’s their informational page on disabled travel by train. In the UK, trains are a public institution and you can get virtually anywhere by using the train, or at worst, a combination of train and bus. Within most municipalities, taxis are widely available, including wheelchair taxis. The Directgov website can help you understand the services available for disabled travelers throughout the UK and also has some disabled travel resources for planning a trip to mainland Europe. If you plan to do a lot of travel by train, you should learn all about the disabled persons’ railcard, which entitles disabled travelers and their attendants to discounted fare throughout Great Britain.

Transport for London is an accessibility guide for public transport in London, including tube (subway), rail, and taxi. Notably, all licensed black cab services in London are now required to use fully-equipped wheelchair accessible taxis. Because of srict training and licensing standards, it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever encounter an unlicensed taxi in London, but just in case, you can book a licensed accessible taxi ahead of time. If your travel plans will take you into Europe, you’ll want to visit Eurostar’s special travel needs page to plan your journey – Eurostar connects London with Paris and Brussels, and all Eurostar trains cross under the legendary Chunnel.

So you’ve made it to and through London, one of the most metropolitan, historical, and accessible cities in the world. The only thing missing is accommodations, and the city has a truly wonderful range of those! Through Direct Enquiries, a database commissioned by the London Development Agency, you can learn about the accessibility features of over 100 hotels in and around London. This is a great resource which allows you to search hotels according to the exact features you need: there are over twenty options covering amenities like roll-in showers, accessible car parking, guide animals welcome, and various facilities for the deaf, blind, or hard-of-hearing.

Exploring all the accessible tour providers for Britain’s major cities could (and will) take up a whole separate post, but there’s a great introduction available on Visit London’s Accessible Tours page. This includes resources for wheelchair taxi tours, accessible walking tours, fantastic wheelchair accessible riverboats, and more. For a brief overview of facilities for visitors with reduced mobility at various London attractions, see British Tours Ltd, which also offers guided tours for handicapped travelers.

A little later on, I’ll be going further afield and discussing other great destinations in the UK. Dublin is one of my particular favorites, so expect a full access guide soon. Until then, keep adventuring!


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Comment by clarine spetzler

Posted on January 25th, 2010

We are visiting London (from the USA) in May and my husband is a quadraplegic. We would like to hire a power wheelchair….any ideas on where to look?….

Thank you

Comment by Si

Posted on February 8th, 2010

Hi, Clarine,

I’ve never had occasion to rent a power wheelchair in London myself, but you may find the following links a good place to get started with your inquiry:

National Mobility Rentals:

Direct Mobility Hire:

London Wheelchair Rental Service:

As of the time I vetted those links, all had power wheelchairs on offer.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your trip!