In London, we’re blessed with a very extensive transport system. Although comparatively expensive to some other major cities around the world, and perhaps not always quite working right, there are many different modes of transport that make up the system. London transport really is very easy to use and it’s relatively easy to reach almost anywhere in London!
An organisation called Transport for London controls much of public transport in this fine city, including the Underground (Tube), buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), licensed taxis and minicabs, river transport and tram routes in South London, as well as the relatively new London Overground service. There are also train services that exist within London (travelling beyond the city), although this are not controlled by Transport for London.
Undoubtedly the first port of call for any research about transport in London is the Transport for London website, which has tonnes of useful information about timetables, fares, maps, travel conditions and so on. You can also buy some tickets online – even from abroad! Once of the website’s most useful features is its Journey Planner, an invaluable tool for finding the best route to your destination. It’s especially useful for planning bus journeys, as it will tell you the name of the stop to get off – so simply listen out for it when you’re on the bus and you won’t have that old problem of missing your stop by miles! If you have a smartphone, take a look at the mobile version of the site – it has a very useful “live arrivals and departures” section, which means you can check when the next bus is due to arrive at your local stop. (This feature also works for Underground trains, although unless you are staying very close to a station, this is perhaps less useful!)
Get a Oyster card!
If you plan on doing a considerable amount of travelling by public transport in London, our absolute number one bit of advice (in fact, the top bit of advice we’d give throughout this website) is to get an Oyster card, the electronic travelcard. Not only are Oyster cards a very easy touch-in, touch-out service, but they also offer a significant discount to ordinary tickets – a one-way journey in Zone 1 costs £2.10 on an Oyster card, but a whopping £4.50 with a normal ticket! Meanwhile, a single bus fare costs £1.40 with an Oyster card, but £2.40 in cash. There is also a “cap” on fares, meaning that if you use your Oyster card extensively in one day, you won’t go over a certain limit – this is £8.40 during peak times on the Underground (£7 during off-peak) and £4.40 on buses. The price cap for the Underground is cheaper than a one-day travelcard!
You can purchase weekly or monthly (or even annual) Oyster cards; for most of you, however, we would recommend the pay-as-you-go version. You won’t need to obtain a photo card to get the pay-as-you-go Oyster card, and after paying the initial £5 deposit, you can top up the card by any amount (you can even do so online). It’s ideal if you’re not sure how much travelling on the transport system you’ll be doing and, best of all, you can return the card at the end of your stay to get a refund on any money still on the card (as well as the deposit). To obtain one, go to your local Underground station ticket office and purchase one from the ticket office or the Oyster card kiosk (if there is one). You can also buy Oyster cards from some shops (such as newsagents) – look out to see if they have a special sign or sticker signifying this.
Oyster cards can be used on the Underground, the DLR, all buses, trams, the London Overground and some boat services.
Full details on Oyster cards at Oyster online.
What are travel zones?
The London transport network is divided into different circular zones. Central London is Zone 1, the area around that is Zone 2, around that Zone 3 and so on. There are in fact 9 zones, althought most of the transport network is within Zones 1-6.
These zones are used to calculate how much transport journeys cost (apart from buses, on which there is a simple flat fare). A journey starting in zone 1 and ending in Zone 6 (which is where Heathrow Airport is located) costs more than one from Zone 1 to Zone 4. However, transport gets cheaper the further out you are – so if you travel from Zone 2 to Zone 3, then that’s cheaper still than a journey solely in Zone 1.
Some Londoners also refer to these zones when talking about locations in London. So, if you’re based or know someone living in Zone 1, then that’s pretty much the main part of London. Locals might say they’re looking to live “anywhere in Zone 2”, by which they mean just outside the very central bit of London (i.e. which means housing is cheaper!), but still easy to get to and from the main part of the city and all its delights!