We all know the best way to see a city is to walk around. However, sometimes you cannot reach all the sights by walking, hence you need to hop on public transport.
Or perhaps you are in a hurry and need to get somewhere quickly or your feet are giving up, because you have walked so much all day long for the past days and they just need a break. So, you need to hop on public transport.
In London, the public transportation system is very well developed and there are so many and different modes of transport that can get you anywhere. The main transportation options are:
- Underground / Tube
- London Overground
- DLR (Docklands Light Railway)
- National Rail
- River Boat
- Tfl Rail
In order to use public transport in London, you need to purchase an Oyster Card. This is the easiest and most convenient way for tourists to pay for transportation and nowadays everyone more or less actually must have one to get around the city.
Most locals pay using their credit card, but this is most likely an expensive option for tourists due to exchange rates and extra charges.
What is an Oyster Card?
An Oyster Card is like a prepaid smart card for travelling. You top up the Oyster Card with as much money as you think you need and use it on a pay as you go basis.
Where can I use the Oyster Card?
Oyster Cards are accepted pretty much everywhere in London and sometimes also the surrounding areas close to the city.
You can use it on all the services that I mentioned above and even on trains that get you to Heathrow and Gatwick Airport!
Where can I buy an Oyster Card?
There are several ways of purchasing an Oyster Card.
You can buy a Visitor Oyster Card online in advance before coming to London and get it send to your home. However, you will have to pay for the postage cost.
The other option would be to buy an Oyster Card once you have arrived in London. You can buy those from:
- Selected Oyster Ticket Stops in newsagents / Off Licence Shops (they will have the Oyster Card symbol in the shop window)
- All Tube, London Overground and most TfL Rail Stations
- Selected DLR and National Rail stations
- Visitor Centres
- The Tramlink shop in Croydon
When you buy an Oyster Card, you always have to pay a £5 deposit for the card. However, you should be able to get this deposit back if you return the card at the end of your stay.
Where and how do I top up / put money on my Oyster Card?
This is fairly easy and can be done at Oyster machines on all Underground, Overground and the majority of Rail Stations as well as selected newsagent.
1. You touch your Oyster Card on to the yellow card reader – the next screen should tell you how much credit you have left
2. Select top up option – you can top up using pay as you go. This means topping up as much as you want or you can select a set amount such as £5 or £10
3. Top up with cash or credit / debit card
4. Touch the Oyster Card on the yellow card reader again so the credit gets loaded onto the Oyster Card
5. Go and travel some more!
How much does transportation cost in London?
This depends on several factors such as:
- Mode of transportation (taking only the bus or underground and bus)
- Distance – how far you are travelling (how many zones)
- Time of the day you are travelling (peak or off-peak)
But to make it simple, London is divided into 9 zones. The majority of attractions are located within zones 1 and 2. This is Central London.
The daily capping for travelling in zones 1 and 2 for one day is currently £7,20. This means you can use your Oyster Card within those two zones as often as you like in one day for £7,20.
Of course, when you travel into other zones, the cost goes up.
Please note though that River Boat services are not part of this capping system. You can use the Oyster Card for River Boat services, but there are separate fares for those.
If you are in London for a week, it is recommended to look into buying a travel card, which gives you a better discount.
If you travel by bus only, the daily cap is £4,50. This is currently the cheapest option to get around London.
How to use the Oyster Card?
This bit is very important. If you do not do it correctly, you might be charged a penalty fare, which trust me is a heck of a lot of money!
At the beginning of your journey, touch the Oyster Card on the yellow card reader (touch in). At the end of your journey, for instance when you leave a tube station, touch the Oyster Card on the yellow card reader again (touch out).
You always need to touch in and out.
The exception is the tram and the bus system. You are only required to touch in on those.
What do I do with the Oyster Card when returning home?
You had an amazing holiday in London and are on your way back home. What do you do with the Oyster Card? After all, you have paid £5 deposit for it!
Simple, you just return it.
If you have less than £10 credit on your Oyster Card, you can get a refund for this as well as the deposit you paid from a ticket machine at a tube station.
If you forgot to get a refund for your card and you are already back home, you can call and apply for a refund. Again, the credit needs to be less than £10 and you may be asked to post your Oyster Card. Therefore, you may incur extra charges for postage.
Travelling with children
All children under 11 travel for free, if they are accompanied by an adult who pays the full fare.
This is a great advantage and should be made use of. Do no get an Oyster Card for your children if they qualify for this.
Simply go through the bigger gates together, one adult and the child / children normally fit through easily.
Children aged 11 to 15 qualify for a discount. This is normally 50% discount of the standard fare.
Visitor Oyster Card
A Visitor Oyster Card exist specifically for tourists. This card works the same way as the normal Oyster Card, but it comes with a few visitor perks and discounts.
Remember thought that you will need to purchase this card in advance before coming to London.
Also, the deposit is non-refundable for the Visitor Oyster Card and you cannot upload a weekly travel card on it. But you can get the £5 deposit back and upload a travel card on the standard Oyster Card.