London, capital of the civilised world, is a wonderful metropolis with an incredible number of places to visit and to discover.
To traverse this vast city, which is the largest urban area in the European Union, a dense and extensive public and private transport network is required.
Public transport provision is, in most cases, managed by the local public body responsible for transport in the city, TfL (Transport for London).
It is not always easy to understand how transit works in a city, and it can be a stressful experience at the best of times. This post is designed to help you understand London’s transport system a little better, to provide information and advice on how it works, and hopefully to prepare you for the exhilarating experience.
During your sojourn in London, no matter how long you stay, you will need to use public transport to move quickly in this huge city, even if your hotel in London is located in the city center.
There are many opportunities to save money by using travel cards.
Public transport in London, like public transport in Paris, is divided into 6 zones; you must take this into account when purchasing tickets or when viewing the map to make sure you pay as little as possible.
Some stops listed by zone:
Zone 1 – (Central London) – Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly, Kings Cross, Euston, Victoria, Kensington
Zone 2 - Shepherd’s Bush, Camden Town
Zone 3 – London City Airport
Zone 4 – Richmond
Zone 6 – Heathrow Airport
The Travelcard is a transport ticket for 1, 2, 3 or 6 days.
Note that for a 6 day ticket, the 7th day will be offered, and that cards for 2 or 3 days must be used on consecutive days.
There are 2 kinds of Travelcard :
The Peak Travel period is between 04:30 and 09:29, from Monday to Friday.
The difference is that the “off-peak card” can be used from Monday to Friday only from 09:30am.
This option is certainly the most convenient during a weekend break in London.
If you want to use public transport for longer than a weekend, or if you know that you will not use public transport on every day, an Oyster card is the best option.
The Oyster card is an electronic smartcard ticket, run by Transport for London. That card works like a pre-paid system, as the OV-chipcard for public transport in Amsterdam.
You charge your card with the amount of money that you want and each time you use it, money is deducted according to where you traveled.
This option is really less expensive than to buy a simple ticket and also less expensive than the Travelcard, because if you use your card several times in the day, you will not spend more than the cost of the Travelcard.
If you stay 1 week in the city, you can also charge on this card the “Travel card” of 7 days.
A refundable deposit of £5 is required to obtain an Oyster card.
For those who would like to visit lots of monuments or attractions in the city, The London Pass is the best option.
This card is a pass for monuments and also a transport card (“Travel” – in Option). Using the card you have access to more than 55 of the best attractions to visit in London, such as Tower Bridge Exhibition, London Zoo or River Cruise.
Thanks to this pass, you will also have priority in the queue of different attractions that are affiliates of the London Pass, such as Windsor Castle or Tower of London.
You can also benefit from lots of discount in shops or restaurants to save more money!
Where can you use these cards?
Travel Card and Oyster Card are both valid for many forms of transport:
- Docklands Light Railway
- Overground city railways
- Railway companies within national zones
Where can you find these cards?
You can find these cards or transport tickets across London:
- Travel Information Centers
- National Rail Stations
- Some tobacconists
- On board Eurostar trains travelling to London
You can also register your Oyster card online in advance, which is a perfect option when planning your.
Children under 5 years old:
For children under 5 years old, accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket, all public transport is free.
Children between 5 and 10 years old:
Public transport for children between 5 and 10 years old is also free, with an adult in possession of a valid ticket.
Four children can use public transport for free, with only one adult.
Children between 11 and 15 years old
Children between 11 and 15 years old can also use buses and trams for free, without an adult with them. But to benefit from this, they must have an Oyster card with a picture.
With this card they will be able to use other public transport, with child rates (maximum of £1 per day).
Prices and Info
The different Public Transport options:
The London underground, or “Tube” as it is called generally, is the oldest underground transportation system in the world, owned and run by TfL (Transport for London).
Consisting of 12 lines, the tube connects Central London to various suburbs and train stations.
Once you find your way around the tube, this will be the perfect way to get from one point to another in this huge city.
For example, to go from the city center to the colourful and vibrant neighborhood of Camden Town (a must see), the tube will be the easiest and fastest way to get there.
However, we advise that you use the tube only to travel longer distances.
You can facilitate your travel in the tube by planning your route directly online with Journey Planner.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
The DLR line is an automatic light rail system that completes the tube network for the Docklands area of the city, located in East London.
Since its inception it has undergone numerous extensions, and now links to important places in London such as “the City of London” or “Royal Docks”.
The Overground is an urban rail service, part of the national rail network.
It consists of 5 lines to the suburbs of London.
- North London Line: from Richmond to Stratford
- West London Line: from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction
- Watford DC Line: from Euston to Watford Junction
- Gospel Oak – Barking Line: from Gospel Oak to Barking
- East London Line: from Highbury & Islington to West Croydon
It’s easy to find buses; just look for the sign. Those stops are main stops, which mean that all buses will stop there. If you see the stop sign with “Request” on it, this means that buses will stop only if you request (with your arm!). So, be attentive to those kinds of stops.
If you don’t have any transport ticket, be sure to have coins; otherwise, in some cases, the bus driver will refuse to let you take the bus!
For your information:
- A simple ticket is £2
- Buses are free for wheelchair users
London tram, called “Tramlink” is a small network of trams, fully operational since 2000, in the south of the city.
There are 24 tram units on approximately 28km of light rail.
Tramlink connects Wimbledon to Beckenham to Croydon and has so far proved to be an undeniable success.
Trams run every ten minutes during the day, from Monday to Saturday.
Prices are the same as in the bus.
London taxis, famously known as Black Cabs, are the best choice if you feel lost in the huge city of London. You will easily recognize them by their black color but also by their old and specific design!
There are lots of black cabs circulating in the city, so it is not really a problem to find one.
They can allow up to 5 people in the back. Notice that, in contrast to normal taxis, you will carry your luggage with you in the back.
You can now take the boat in the same manner in which you take the bus. What is changing a little is that many companies have moved closer to London transport fares and offer rather attractive prices.
Regarding “The Thames Clippers”, the day ticket allows you to browse at will from 10:00 until 22:00 on weekdays and from 20:00 until 22:00 at weekends.
This will be the opportunity to discover the city from a different angle, and also to pass under London Bridge.
Prices: £12 (€13.20) per adult (child reduction); with a reduction of 10% with the Oyster Card and 33% with the Travelcard.
There is also a ticket for a single trip, it costs £5.50 (€5.80), and only £3.70 (€3.80) on presentation of a Travelcard.
Cycling is another way to discover the city by getting fit and saving money at the same time!
You can find the Barclays Cycle Hire of London in 400 different locations in the city, with more than 6000 bikes.
It’s really easy to use; just swipe your credit card or membership key, grab a bike and go to explore the huge city.
You can sign up online to get a membership key in advance, for only £3.
If you plan to rent a bike for a full day or more, go to one of the several bicycle hire companies; it will be cheaper.
But even if you plan to use bikes for just few hours, make sure to have a map with you otherwise you can easily get lost…believe me!
If you are worried about becoming too tired, or if you are too lazy to ride, don’t worry! You can take your bike in all public transport options (tube, overground, bus, tram or boat).
You can also discover the city with a tourist tour. This is maybe less fun than to explore a city by yourself, but during a short trip it’s the best option to see the main monuments, faster.
There many Tourist Tours in London, such as “bus tour”, “boat tour”, “walk and bike tour” and many more.
So if you want to experiment this, check out visitlondon.com