Whatever your reason for heading to London, there are numerous options for transportation and these can be confusing to a regular in London so how visitors are meant to work it all out, I do not know!
Hopefully the below will give you a good overview if you are planning a visit to London.
The Tube (underground), Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London overground and National Rail services in London are divided into zones. Most services operate in zones 1-6, with the Tube, London overground and National Rail also operating in zones 7-9.
Go here to download a London zones map.
These will save you money compared to individual fares. But note that if you used a Travelcard, it must be valid for every zone you travel through.
Using a Travelcard is recommended if you're planning to hop on and off a lot on a particular day, for example stopping off to take a quick photo and then jumping back on to the tube without doing much more.
The reason for this is rather complicated, but it relates to nearby stations often being linked by out of station interchanges. I'm not going to try and explain it, rather just recommend you trust that a Travelcard will normally be cheaper and it's not worth the risk of using an Oyster card (detailed below) if you are getting on and off the tube numerous times throughout the day.
Note that Travelcards are valid for any bus journey within greater London regardless of the zone(s) it covers.
Finally, if your Travelcard includes zones 3, 4, 5 or 6 you can use it on trams too.
An Oyster card is a must for saving money on transport in London and is valid in all travel zones, automatically calculating the cheapest fare.
You will need to top-up the reusable credit card sized electronic ticket, which can be used on almost all public transport modes across London.
Passengers must remember to touch in and out on an electronic reader to validate or deduct credit. Touching in or out again in error will often charge you for a continuing journey, so be careful to watch out for the validating light.
You can order an Oyster card in advance online (at the tfl website here) or by telephone, or pick one up at any of the following:
- London underground or London overground ticket windows;
- Ticket machines at London underground stations, which accept bank notes, coins and credit or debit cards;
- Oyster ticket stop agents, normally newsagents;
- Selected National Rail stations;
- Travel information centres;
- Visit Britain outlets around the world;
- Other transport operators such as EasyJet and Gatwick Express.
Each card incurs a refundable £5 deposit. Find out more and up to date information at the tfl website here.
There is also a visitor Oyster available but my recommendation is to avoid these unless you will benefit from the following:
- discounts and offers available at selected restaurants or shops. See here for full details;
- a maximum of 4 children under 11 can travel free with an adult who has a valid visitor oyster card on tube, DLR and London overground services.
The downside of a visitor Oyster versus a standard Oyster card is that the £3 deposit is non refundable (where as noted above, the £5 deposit on a standard Oyster card is).
If you're visiting London for a worthwhile period of time, with a standard Oyster card, you can sign up for online statements, auto top-up and to protect your card if stolen, so it's very convenient.
Alternatively, touch-screen ticket machines at stations, report the last eight journeys and last top-up amount.
If the above isn't enough to convince you, then the savings with a standard Oyster card might, as these will vary depending on your journey. For example the price of a single Tube fare in Zone 1 reduces from £4.70 to £2.20 with an Oyster card.
It is also possible to buy a Travelcard to put on your Oyster card (it's even cheaper than a 'paper' Travelcard), which is valid for unlimited travel for a day or week.
Even just topping up an Oyster card with credit, that gets deducted when you touch in or out at stations, will save you money as it's is capped at less than the cost of an equivalent 'paper' day Travelcard.
See here for further details of prices.
For short journeys, it’s worth considering taking the bus rather than the Tube, as the price is even lower with an Oyster card.
If you plan ahead, taking a bus can be a cheaper alternative to a sightseeing bus. Some routes run past some of the city’s main sites.
For example, the 88 heads past Camden, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and over the Thames.
Better still, is route 15 which passes most famous sights and still uses some original 1960's Routemaster buses.
Tip: You only need to touch the yellow card reader at the start of your journey on buses and trams.
You can also use your Oyster card on the Thames Clipper river boat service. It’s a commuter service bus runs along the scenic stretch of river from the London Eye to Greenwich. Adult single fares with an Oyster card are at least 10% off.
2 for 1 offers
Finally, it's worth knowing that National Rail have a number of 2 for 1 offers for when you go by train, not just to London but around the UK.
Therefore it's worth weighing up what you plan to do and whether it is actually beneficial to stick with an over land train ticket inside our outside of London to take advantage of the savings available. Check out the Days Out Guide here for more details.
If you have a 16-25, disabled, HM Forces or senior railcard you will need to do a little research to clarify whether discounts will actually be beneficial compared to Oyster caps, particularly depending on the time of day you travel.
Of you have other railcards including family & friends or a network card it is often cheaper to use them but when travelling with children there are complexities in calculating further discounts that may be determined by things such as the number of travellers in a group.
So, now you know where the main savings can be made as well as have a better idea on all those transport options next time you are in London.
I've not covered everything, only what I think is useful for a visitor.
Those who commute in London or plan to utilise trams will need to research a little further for more ways to save and deal with the complexities of the London transport system. And if you are planning to use or pass through Wimbledon tube, train or tram then prepare for extreme confusion as they have more than one type of electronic reader to deal with extended travel. There are also other stations that have similar puzzles to solve.
Have you stumbled across any other savings and facts when visiting London... If so please share them?