When you go on holiday, figuring out the transport can be one of the biggest ball aches. When I first moved to London I used to stare at the maps on the tube and think I’ll never be able to figure this out! It can be so daunting to know what’s the easiest or safest or cheapest way to get around the city and there are so many options it can be hard to figure out which one is best for you!
Well luckily for you, I’ve written an ENTIRE guide to transport in London that will make your trip a WHOLE lot easier. My guide includes the different types of transport you can take, explains frequently used terminology you might hear, information for people with accessibility needs and for me, the most important part, how much everything costs and what ticket(s) you should buy for your trip to London.
Here is The Complete Guide to London Transport for Visitors & Tourists.
Types of transport in London
There are 11 different ways to travel around London (yes,11!) .
- Emirates Airline
- Thames Clipper
- Black Cabs
Every mode of transport has its advantages, disadvantages and there will be some that suit your needs more than others. It depends on your location, your budget and your accessibility needs. First, let’s dig into some FAQ.
What is TFL?
TFL stands for ‘transport for London’ and is the local government-run body responsible for the transport system in London.
What’s an Oyster Card or a Travel Card?
An Oyster Card is an electronic card that allows effortless travel around London. You ‘tap’ this card at the start on the yellow card readers at the gates at the beginning and end of your journey. You ‘top up’ this card with credit.
A travelcard is a ticket that you can buy for a longer length amount of travel and it can work out cheaper than a pay as you go Oyster card. You can but them for 7 Days, monthly, 3 months or 6 months. There are two types of travel cards:
- Anytime Day Travelcards: use for the date on the ticket and for journeys starting before 04:30 the next day
- Off-peak Day Travelcards: use from 09:30 (Monday to Friday), anytime on weekends or bank holidays for the date on the ticket and for journeys starting before 04:30 the next day.
Just to confuse matters you can also put a travel card on an Oyster Card if you want to. I’ll explain more about that later on in this article.
What are zones?
When you come to London you’ll see the word ‘zone’ thrown around a lot. A zone is essentially a section of London with the centre being zone one and the further out you travel the zones go up to two, three and all the way up to six. It’s REALLY important to understand what zone you are in or travelling to as this will affect what type of ticket you buy and the more zones you travel through the higher the cost of the ticket. Most tourists will stay in zone one but I would encourage you to expand out to zone two for some of the hidden gems and less ‘touristy’ spots of the city. Zone 3 and beyond are where it starts to get a bit more residential.
What does ‘touching in’ and ‘touching out’ mean?
No, it’s not as dodgy as it sounds. Touching in and out means that at the start of your journey you should ‘touch’ your Oyster Card on one of the yellow card readers to start your journey. Touching out at your destination means you have completed your journey. It is really important to touch in and out at the start and end of all journeys otherwise TFL will charge you the maximum fare possible for your journey because it doesn’t know where you have travelled … or worse you could be fined!
Is London transport accessible to all customers?
TFL work hard to make transport as accessible as possible for all customers including wheelchair users, people with sight and hearing loss and pregnant or elderly customers. You can find all the information you need about accessible travel here.
Types of Transport Explained
The London Underground or “the Tube” as us Londoners like to call it is an interconnected local train network that runs 11 different lines across London. Each line has a different name, a different colour and a different personality (see a hilarious video titled ‘If tube trains were people’ here). The underground trains generally run between 5 am and midnight but some lines operate a night tube on weekends. Find the tube map here and night tube map here
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a driverless version connected to the London Tube network and gives access to parts of East London and the Docklands area.
London is famous for its iconic red double-decker buses and it’s on most people’s bucket list to ride one when you’re visiting the city. It’s important to know London buses are all cashless and you need to have an Oyster card, Travelcard or contactless payment card (Your regular visa card you use to buy things) to travel. Bus fare is £1.50 and a day of bus-only travel will cost a maximum of £4.50. If you have a travel card, buses are included in this. As well, you can hop on unlimited buses or trams for free within one hour of getting on your first bus. London has a great night bus system that runs all night between the close of the Tube and the start of the day. Not all routes are covered. Please see here for more night bus info.
The overground is the ‘overground’ version of the ‘underground’. Imagine it like a regular train but it is under the concession control and branding of Transport for London. They are usually more open and more modern too. See the overground map here.
Rail in London is run by National Rail under a set of private train operating companies. Rail services take you all over the UK as well to more suburban areas of London. Not all areas that the train will stop at will accept an Oyster or Travelcard so make sure you double check before travelling.
- Bristol: 1 hour 45 mins (via First Great Western)
- Cardiff: 2 hours (via First Great Western)
- Birmingham: 1 hour 30 mins (via Virgin Trains)
- Manchester: 2 hours 10 mins (via Virgin Trains)
- York: 1 hour 50 mins (via East Coast Main Line)
- Newcastle: 2 hours 50 mins (via East Coast Main Line)
- Edinburgh: 4 hours 30 mins (via East Coast Main Line)
- Glasgow: 5 hours (via East Coast Main Line or Virgin Trains)
- Leicester: 1 hour 25 mins (via Midland Mainline)
- Nottingham: 1 hour 30 mins (via Midland Mainline)
- Derby: 2 hours (via Midland Mainline)
- Sheffield: 2 hours 30 mins (via Midland Mainline)
The absolute best way to get around the city is to walk. Well, provided the weather is holding up! There is SO much to see in London and just walking from A to B you can discover something new you never expected to see rather than sitting on a very crowded and stuffy tube. Not to mention walking is free! One mistake tourists make when coming to London is they don’t walk enough and sometimes it’s actually quicker to walk somewhere than to get the tube. When I first moved to London I got the tube from Leicester Square to Piccadilly Circus and if you know London you know that it took me 5 minutes on the tube rather than about 1 minute to walk. I learned my lesson from then on. TFL have come up with this super helpful walking map with times between stations so you can see how long it is to walk between them
Emirates Airline Cable Car
Emirates Air Line is a cable car link that crosses the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks and is a great way to see London from a very different view. You get there by stopping at North Greenwich tube station and take the ride either one way or return. Cabins arrive every 30 seconds and flights across the river are approximately 10 minutes each way. Unless you are staying in or spending time in that area of London you probably won’t need to use the cable car to get around but I would recommend heading there just to do a return journey for the experience and to see London is a whole new way. They have various ticket options to buy but the simplest way to travel on the cable air is either using cash at £4.50 for adults or £2.30 for children for a single journey (which means you have to pay that on the way back too) or if you have a travelcard or Oyster card you can use those.
The Thames Clipper is known as the ‘River Bus’ which connects East and West London via the River Thames. Fares depend on what area of London you are travelling through and it’s important to note it only accepts Oyster pay as you go or contactless payments. You cannot use a travelcard on here but if you present it you will get 1/3 off your fair. The clipper is an alternative way to see the sights from the river without spending a lot of money on a riverboat tour.
London is famous for its iconic black cabs and you can hail down a cab by sticking your arm out from the pavemen. It’s important to note that if the yellow TAXI sign at the front is illuminated, the cab is available for hire. If it isn’t, they won’t stop. Fares are metered, and there is a minimum charge of £2.60.
Uber is a smartphone app that connects driver-partners and riders. In other words, another form of a taxi service. Use your rider app to request a ride and when a nearby driver-partner confirms your request, your app displays an estimated time of arrival for the driver heading to your pickup location. Your app notifies you when the driver-partner is about to arrive. For a discount on your first ride use referral code charlottem3666ue. (Discount will vary on location)
The tram network called Tramlink serves South London only and runs from Wimbledon through Croydon to Beckenham only. See the Tramlink map here
Cycling is a popular way to get around London but I would suggest you only do it if you are a confident cyclist. Cycling has to be done on the road and driving on the payment is both illegal and unsafe due to the amount of footfall in the city. If you have your own bike that’s great but if not you can rent what used to be known as ‘Boris Bikes’ named after the former mayor of London. They have now been rebranded to be Santander Cycles. You can rent a bike for just £2 for 24 hours which you can pick up and dock at various ‘stations’ in London. See more about those here.
What transport tickets should I buy for my trip?
- If you are travelling around London between one – five days, I’d recommend you buy an Oyster Card for a one-off fee of £5. The way it works is you top it up or ‘charge it’ and when you ‘touch in and out’ (see explanation of that above) money is deducted from the card. Travel around central London costs £7 a day so for example, if you’re in London for 3 days it will cost you 3 x £7 = £21 (+ £5 for buying the card) to travel around zones 1 – 2 (see explanation above about zones but if you’re a visitor these two zones will be enough!) Visitors can pre-order their Visitor Oyster cards here which can be posted directly to you before your trip so you don’t have to fuss when you arrive!
- Alternatively, If you have a contactless credit or debit card this acts exactly like an Oyster card and the money will be deducted from your account as normal and requires no topping up.
- If you’re travelling six or more days in London I’d recommend you buy a Travelcard which is set a price of £35.10 for 7 days of travel or £134.50 for an entire month. You can also pre-order your travel cards here which can be posted directly to you before your trip so you don’t have to fuss when you arrive! You can put a travelcard on an oyster card if you want to rather than fussing with a paper ticket but remember a paper version costs nothing where as buying an Oyster will be £5.
The beauty of both of those things is that they can be used on tubes, buses, trains and overground. There is also no limit to how much you can travel. You can travel 100 times if you like in one day! You can view a breakdown of travel fares in London here with this helpful guide.
I’m still not sure. Give me an example.
No problem. So, as an example, if I was travelling to London from Spain, landing into Heathrow Airport, was staying in Central London for 5 days and I was looking at doing all the famous touristy things here’s what I would do.
I would start by pre-booking my Heathrow Express ticket before I left for London. Once I landed, I would head to the Heathrow Express terminal which will take you directly to Paddington Station (the quickest and most direct way into the centre of city). I would have pre-ordered my Oyster Card which would have been delivered to my house before I left or I could buy one at Paddington from the machine and top it up with £40. (£5 for the card and £35 credit). That will last you for 5 whole days of unlimited travel between zones one and two and that covers all the major tourist attractions. See my attraction guide here.
What about kids? What should I buy for them?
Travellers age 11 and under are considered children. Up to 4 children age 11 and under can travel for FREE on all transport when accompanied by an adult.
Is there an app that can help me get around?
Absolutely! I cannot tell you how much you need to download CityMapper for your trip to London. It is SO easy to use, really detailed and comprehensive. It even will give you alternate routes if there are problems and delays.
Travelling to and from the airport
In London there 5 airports so first things first is to make sure you know exactly which one you are travelling from/to.
Parking: Heathrow offers its own parking near the airport terminal. Pre-booking as early as possible is recommended to get the best rate. For more information and to book click here.
Hotels: The airport has plenty of hotels around it. I always think it’s absolutely worth getting a hotel if you have an early flight or get back really late. Find hotels near Heathrow airport here
Heathrow Express: The Heathrow Express is a non – stop express train that takes 15 minutes between Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 and Central London (Paddington Station) .For the best rate you can purchase tickets before you travel here.
Tube: Heathrow has three London Underground stations – one for Terminals 2 and 3 and one each at Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 which takes about 50 minutes into central London and the same back. Heathrow is in Travelcard Zone 6. Pre-order your travelcards here or Oyster Cards here and make sure you select the one up to zone 6!
Rail: As well as the non- stop Heathrow Express, a stopping service to and from London Paddington and Heathrow Airport departs every 30 minutes and calls at local stations in West London before stopping at Heathrow. Pre-order your travelcards here or Oyster Cards here and make sure you select the one up to zone 6!
Car: Heathrow is easily accessible from motorways M4 or M25. Postcodes for Sat Navs below.
- Terminal 2: TW6 1EW
- Terminal 3: TW6 1QG
- Terminal 4: TW6 3XA
- Terminal 5: TW6 2GA
Parking: Gatwick offers its own parking near the airport terminal. Pre-booking as early as possible is recommended to get the best rate. For more information and to book click here.
Train: Gatwick is served by four train operators and directly connects you to 120 stations in the UK:
- Gatwick Express provides a direct, premium service to London Victoria, departing every 15 minutes in peak periods and takes around 30 minutes. Two trains per hour extend to Brighton at peak times. It’s the fastest most direct way to get there. For tickets click here.
- Southern Rail provides services to Gatwick from various Locations across London and the South-East, including London Victoria, London Bridge, Southampton, and Portsmouth.
- Thameslink connects Gatwick to and from the south coast at Brighton
- Great Western Railway runs an hourly service between Gatwick Airport and areas of Surrey.
Car: Gatwick is linked directly to the M23 at Junction 9 and to the A23 London-Brighton road. The M25 is just a ten-minute drive away with connections to the UK’s national road and motorway network. If you’re using satnav our postcodes are: South Terminal: RH6 0NP North Terminal: RH6 0PJ
Hotels: The airport has plenty of hotels around it. I always think it’s absolutely worth getting a hotel if you have an early flight or get back really late. Find hotels near Gatwick airport here
Parking: Stansted offers its own parking near the airport terminal. Pre-booking as early as possible is recommended to get the best rate. For more information and to book click here.
Hotels: The airport has plenty of hotels around it. I always think it’s absolutely worth getting a hotel if you have an early flight or get back really late. Find hotels near Stansted airport here
Train: Stansted has its own station and the station is served by the Stansted Express. The Stansted Express runs every 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on the time of day. As well as the non- stop Stansted Express service, Stansted Airport is served by a regular stopping train service which runs into Liverpool Street station, and services to the Midlands. Buy tickets for the Stansted Express here.
Bus: National Express run services from Stansted to Central London and back.
Car: London Stansted is conveniently situated just off the M11 motorway – use Junction 8a if approaching from the London direction or Junction 8 from the Cambridge side, then follow signs for the airport. The postcode for London Stansted Airport is CM24 1RW.
Parking: London City Airport has several car parks, in close vicinity of the airport which offers short and long term parking and valet service. They offer a range of services for London City, including Park and Ride and Meet and Greet parking. Book here.
Tube: Docklands Light Railway (DLR). There is a lift available from DLR platforms to the Terminal building. Pre-order your travelcards here or Oyster Cards here and make sure you buy one that goes up to zone 3!
Hotels: The airport has plenty of hotels around it. I always think it’s absolutely worth getting a hotel if you have an early flight or get back really late. See all hotels near London City Airport here
Parking: Stansted offers their own parking near the airport terminal. Pre-booking as early as possible is recommended to get the best rate. For more information and to book click here.
Hotels: The airport has plenty of hotels around it. I always think it’s absolutely worth getting a hotel if you have an early flight or get back really late. See all hotels neat Luton airport here.
Car: Luton is close to the M1 and M25 which makes us easily accessible from all over the country. Using a Sat Nav? Use postcode LU2 9QT .
Bus: National Express run services from Luton to Central London and back.
Train: Fast trains run between central London and London Luton Airport in as little as 24 minutes. Book in advance here.
Is there anything else I should know?
With a transport network so large, maintenance and delays are expected so it is really important you check before you travel to make sure your route is a delay free. You can do that by looking at TFL’s status updates.
Wait! Before you go…
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