Keep reading to check out my blog on How to Get Around London | Best & Cheapest Ways.
When you take a trip, figuring out transport can be one of the biggest problems. 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 and guides you on what ticket(s) you should buy on your trip to London.
Here’s How to Get Around London | Best & Cheapest Ways.
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?
An Oyster Card is an electronic card that allows effortless travel around London. You ‘tap’ this card on the yellow card reader at gates the start and end of your journey. You ‘top up’ this card with credit either online, at a machine at an underground station or at selected London convenience stores where you see the Oyster Card symbol. The card costs £5 to buy and you have to put a minimum of £5 on the card when you purchase.
Your Oyster Card is charged per journey and a journey is classed when you tap in at one station and tap out at another. For example, your Oyster Card will charge you £2.40 for a single journey in zone one when you tap out at your destination (See below for an explanation about zones) This is also known as pay as you go. However, Oyster cards have a very clever function called a cap. For example, If you continue to travel around zone one all day, your Oyster will cap at £7.20 meaning you can do 100 journeys in zone one that day and never pay more than £7.20. See here for TFL’s 2021 Oyster Card capping prices.
What’s a Travel Card?
A travelcard allows you to do an unlimited amount of journeys per day for one set price. You can buy a transport travelcard for 1 day, 7 Days, a month, 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year. Travelcards can work out cheaper if you are travelling around for more than 6 days. For example, it would cost you £7.20 per day to travel around central London which for a week which is £50.40. However, with a travelcard, it’ll cost you £36.10. I wouldn’t recommend buying a travelcard for 1 day as it works out more expensive than pay as you go Oyster Card. You can put a Travelcard on your Oyster Card rather than using a paper ticket.
What is Contactless Payment?
Contactless payment is where you use your debit or credit card like an Oyster Card. This can only be used if your debit or credit card has the contactless symbol. Instead of purchasing an Oyster Card and topping it up with credit, the fare for your journeys are deducted automatically from your regular bank balance. You can’t put a travelcard on your debit or credit card. It can only be used for pay aS you go journeys. Your debit or credit card will still act like an Oyster Card when it comes to fare capping.
WHAT DOES ‘ANYTIME’ AND OFF-PEAK MEAN?
Depending on what time you travel, your fare will be classed as any time travel or off-peak travel. An anytime ticket means you can travel at any time of the day or night whereas as offpeak means you can only travel after 9:30 am. An anytime fare is more expensive than an off-peak fare. If you use your Oyster Card you don’t have to select these options anywhere as your card will automatically know the time you are travelling and deduct the correct fare. All you have to do is make sure you have enough money on it.
What is a Visitor Oyster Card & what is the difference between that and a regular one?
A Visitor Oyster Card is very similar to a regular Oyster Card. The main difference of the visitor card is that it offers a few discounts on London attractions and you can have it delivered to you before arriving in London. The regular oyster can only be purchased in London. You cannot add travelcards to a visitor oyster which means you will pay per day. If you’re here for more than 6 days you are better off getting a regular Oyster Card with a week travelcard for £36.10 rather than paying £7.20 a day to travel.
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 zone numbers increase all the way up to nine. 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 cost of your journey. The more zones you travel through, the higher the cost of the ticket. Most tourists will stay in zone one during their stay, 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?
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. You must then touch out at your destination which tells you card you have completed your journey and to charge you for it. 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 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.
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a driverless train 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 riding a bus is on most people’s bucket list when they visit. London buses are all cashless and you need to have an Oyster card, paper travelcard or credit/debit card to travel. Bus fare is £1.50 per journey or £4.50 for unlimited journeys. London buses also offer a ‘hopper’ fare where you can hop on and off buses all day for just one payment of £1.50 if you change buses within one hour of each other. If you have a travel card, buses are included in this. London has a great night bus service that runs all night between the close of the Tube and the start of the day. Not all routes are covered. Click here for more information on London night buses.
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.
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 Card so make sure you check before travelling.
Walking is the absolute best way to get around the city. Well, provided the weather holds up. There is SO much to see in London and by walking from A to B you may discover something new you never expected to see. Much better than sitting on a crowded tube. Not to mention walking is absolutely free! One mistake tourists make when coming to London is that they don’t walk enough. Especially because sometimes it’s 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 takes 5 minutes on the tube and 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 if it’s more time savvy to walk between them or get the tube.
Emirates Airline Cable Car
The Emirates Air Line is a cable car link that crosses the River Thames between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. It’s a great way to see London from the sky. You get there by stopping at North Greenwich tube station and take the ride either one way or a 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 in a whole new way. They have various ticket options to buy but the cheapest way to travel on the cable air is either using your Oystercard/Contactless Card at £3.50 for adults or £1.70 for children for a single journey (which means you have to pay that on the way back too) You can pay cash but it is slightly more expensive. It is NOT included in a travelcard.
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 to and it’s important to note it only accepts Oyster pay as you go or contactless payments. You cannot use a travelcard on the Thames Clipper but if you present it at the ticket office you will get 1/3 off your fair. The Thames Clipper is an alternative way to see the sights from the river without spending a lot of money on a full riverboat tour.
London is famous for its iconic black cabs. You can hail down a cab by sticking your arm out from the pavement. It’s important to note that if the yellow TAXI sign at the front of the cab is illuminated, the cab is available for hire. If it isn’t, they are unavailable and won’t stop. Fares are metered, and there is a minimum charge of £2.60.
Uber is a smartphone app that connects together drivers and potential riders. In other words, Uber is another form of a taxi service but fulfilled completely via a smart app. You download the app on your smartphone to request a ride and when a nearby driver 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 is about to arrive. The fare is deducted from the bank card you attach to the app. 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 pavement 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 re-branded to be Santander Cycles. There are over 11,000 Santander bikes and 750 docking stations. You can rent a bike for just £2 for 24 hours which you can pick up and dock at various stations across the city.
What transport tickets should I buy for my trip?
If you are travelling around London between one – six days …
I’d recommend you buy an Oyster Card for a one-off fee of £5. You top up or ‘charge’ your card at one of the many ticket kiosks or online. You touch in at the start of your journey and touch out at the end and the money is deducted from the card. Alternatively, If you have a contactless credit or debit card this acts just like an Oyster card and the cost of travel will be deducted from your account automatically. It requires no topping up or purchasing of an Oyster card.
A single journey will cost you £2.90 or unlimited travel around zone 1 Central London will cost you £7.20 a day. For example, if you’re in London for 3 days it will cost you 3 x £7.20 = £21.60 (+ £5 if you buy an Oyster Card) to travel around Central London. 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. You also are eligible for a few discounts at selected attractions when you show your Visitor Oystercard.
If you’re travelling six or more days in London…
I’d recommend you buy a Travelcard which will be a set a price of £36.10 for 7 days of unlimited travel around central London or £138.70 for a whole 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 attach a travelcard to an oyster card if you want to rather than using a paper ticket but remember a paper version costs nothing whereas buying an Oyster card costs £5.
You can view a breakdown of official 2020 travel fares in London here with this helpful guide.
I’m still not sure. Give me an example.
No problem. If I was…
✓ Was staying in Central London for 3 days
✓ Wanted to do lots of sightseeing
…. here’s what I would do …
I would buy an Oyster Card for £5 & top it up with £22. This would give me unlimited travel within Central London for the whole time I was here. Alternatively, I would use my contactless card as my Oyster Card (kif you have one) and have the fare be deducted from my bank account. Also, If I do it this way I haven’t got to pay a £5 fee for the card. would have my visitor Oyster Card delivered to my house before I left for my trip.
.. or if I was…
✓ Was staying in Central London for a week
✓ Wanted to do lots of sightseeing
…. here’s what I would do …
I would buy an Oyster Card for £5 & add a travelcard to it which would cost me £36.10. This would give me unlimited travel within Central London for a whole week. It’s worth noting a 7-day travelcard is not available as a paper ticket. It is only available as part of an Oyster Card.
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.
Does London transport run at night?
London has a great night transport system. On Friday and Saturday nights, TFL run a night tube on five of its tube lines – Victoria, Central, Northern, Piccadilly and Jubilee lines. It’s important to know that the tube does not stop at all stations on these lines and services are less frequent than the day service (Approx every 10 minutes) Fares are charged at off-peak rates. You can check out the London night tube map here. London also runs a 24 hour night bus service on limited bus routes. See here for more details on bus routes.
WHAT ARE THE CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES FOR TRAVELLING AROUND LONDON?
TFL are doing their utmost to provide a safe environment for us to travel in during the Coronavirus pandemic. You can find all the safety information and guidance on the TFL website here.
Is there anything else I should know?
With a transport network so large, maintenance and delays are expected so it is really important that you CHECK BEFORE YOU TRAVEL. You can do that by checking TFL’s status updates here.
Travelling to and from the airport
In London, there are 5 airports – so first things first is to make sure you know exactly which one you are travelling from/to.
Parking: London 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 parking click here.
Hotels: Heathrow has plenty of hotels around it. I always think it’s worth getting a hotel for the night if you have an early flight in the morning or land really late. You can find hotels near Heathrow airport here.
Tube: The tube arrives has Heathrow has three London underground stations. One in Terminals 2 and 3 and one each at Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. It takes about 50 minutes into Central London by tube. Heathrow is in Travelcard Zone 6. You can pre-order your travelcards here or Oyster Card here and make sure you select the one up to zone 6!
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 your tickets before you travel here.
Train: 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. The train tends to be cheaper than the Heathrow Express as it takes longer.
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 which 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. The train tends to be longer than the Gatwick Express but can be cheaper.
- 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.
Bus: A number of operators including National Express and Megabus.com run services from Gatwick to Central London and back.It takes about 1.5 hours.
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 Sat Nav the 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 land 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 the 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: London City Airport is served by Docklands Light Railway (DLR). . Pre-order your Oyster Card 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
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 land really late. See all hotels near London City Airport here.
Parking: Luton 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.
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. It takes about 2.5 hours.
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.
Train: Fast trains run between Central London and London Luton Airport in as little as 24 minutes. Book in advance here.
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