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, 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 entite 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 London transport has its advantages and disadvantages, and there will be some that suit your needs more than others during your trip. Let’s dig into some FAQ’s …
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 London’s ultimate travel tool. It is an electronic card that allows effortless travel around London. 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. It works by ‘tapping’ it on the yellow card reader as you enter and leave the tube/train station. 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 Card will cap at £7.40 meaning you can do 100 journeys in zone one that day and never pay more than £7.40. Please 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 week/month for one set price. You can buy a transport travelcard for 1 day, 7 Days, a month, 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year. You can also buy 2 and 3 day travelcards online however I would NOT recommend buying 1-3 day travelcards as it works out more expensive then using an Oyster Card or contactless card. For example a day travel card is £13.90 but a day on an Oyster/Contactless card costs £7.40. Travelcards can work out cheaper if you are travelling around for more than 6 days. For example, it would cost you £7.40 per day to travel around Central London which for a week which is £51.80. However, with a travelcard, it’ll cost you £37. If you buy your 7 day travelcard when you arrive in London you will have to put it on an Oyster Card (which you will pay an additional £5 for) as there is no paper version.
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, you tap your card on the card reader like you would an Oyster Card and the money is 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. Anytime travel is usually more expensive than off-peak travel unless you are staying in zone one (see explanation of zones below) when it is the same whatever time you are travelling. An anytime ticket means travelling any time of the day or night. An off-peak ticket means travelling after 9:30am and not between 4pm-7pm.
If you’re using an Oyster card you don’t have to worry about this as TFL knows what time you are travelling and will deduct the correct money. Peak and off peak only applies if you are travelling outside of zone one or if you buy a 1-3 day travelcard which I DO NOT recommend you do.
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 to London attractions and you can have it delivered to you before arrive 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 when you arrive in London and put a weekly travelcard on there for £37 rather than paying £7.40 a day to travel. If you’re visiting for 5 days or less, the visitor oyster card is a good option. You can pre-order your visitor Oyster card here or read more info about it here.
What are zones?
When you arrive in 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. Please see here for more info about London’s night tube. 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 , travelcard or credit/debit card to travel. Bus fare is £1.55 per journey or £4.50 per day 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 £1.55 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. Please see here for more information about the night bus service.
The overground is the ‘overground’ version of the ‘underground’. Imagine it like a regular train but it is under the control and branding of Transport for London. They are usually more open and more modern than tube trains. 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. 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 and money savvy to walk between stations or get the tube.
Emirates Airline Cable Car
The Emirates Air Line is a cable car 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 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 Oyster Card/Contactless Card at £4 for adults or £2 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 and does not count towards the daily cap on 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 card 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 fare. 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 £3.20. See more about taxi fares here.
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 that you attach to the app.
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 like those bikes at Aventon 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 unlimited journeys within 24 hours and £2 for each additional 30 minutes 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. A single journey will cost you £2.40 or it is £7.40 for unlimited travel around zone 1 Central London. For example, if you’re in Central London for 3 days it will cost you 3 x £7.40 = £22.20 (+ £5 if you buy an Oyster Card) Visitors can buy their card when they arrive in London or pre-order a Visitor Oyster card here which can be posted directly to you before your trip so you don’t have to fuss when you arrive. You cannot put a travelcard on a visitor Oyster card but if you’re here for less than 6 days you won’t need to add a travelcard anyway
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 £37 for up to 7 days of unlimited travel around Central London.
I’m still not sure. Give me an example.
No problem. If I 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 £23. 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 (if you have one) and have the fare deducted from my bank account. Also, If I do it this way I haven’t got to pay a £5 fee for the card.
If I wanted to cover…
✓ Flying in/out from Heathrow airport
I would still buy an Oyster but top it up with £34 (instead of £23) which would cover return to and from the airport
ALTERNATIVLEY If I 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 £37. This would give me unlimited travel within Central London for a whole week.
If I also wanted to cover
✓ Flying in/out from Heathrow airport
I would add an additional £11 onto my card to cover transport to/from the airport. I could make it simpler and add a zone 1 – 6 travel card on to my Oyster Card that covers Heathrow but this would be an extra £31 instead of £11.
What about kids? What should I buy for them?
Children under 11 travel free on most public transport services when accompanied by a fare-paying adult. For anyone aged 11-15, you can ask for the Young Visitor discount to be set up on an a visitor Oyster card. This allows them to travel at half adult fare for 14 days. This can’t be added to a regular Oyster card. Children aged 16 & 17 pay adult rate unless you apply for a 16+ Oyster photocard. This option is only available for people who live in London.
Is there an app that can help me get around?
Absolutely! You need to download CityMapper for your trip to London. It is SO easy to use, very detailed and really comprehensive. What’s most helpful about this app is it will give you easy alternate routes if there are problems and delays with London transport.
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 pandemic 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.