Today we will deal with a purely practical subject that we always need to take into account when planning any trip: transportation within our destination. In particular, on this entry we will comprehensively describe transportation possibilities in the capital of the United Kingdom –London. For reasons that we will explain later, the underground will become your main means of transport, although there are other interesting means of transport for travellers. Likewise, Londoners and residents in London also use the subway to move around, due to its affordability and speediness that allow them to travel long distances.
We have focused on the options for tourists and short-stay travellers, but there are other options for those who permanently reside in London, depending on their status as students, minors or retired, for instance. We recommend the official website of transport for London for any questions, since, as they have proved for some time now, the British are exquisite to offer clear and specific explanations on administrative, labour and statutory topics. You only need to have a quick look at the HM Revenue & Customs website to realise what we mean. However, we will leave this topic for some other occasion.
On the official website of transport for London we can find out the cost of a journey between any two stations. A random search throws a result of £ 4.90 for a single ticket. I invite you to do a small test and you will soon realise that buying a ticket for each journey on the underground or the bus is not cost-effective at all. Therefore, we decided to discard this option completely, especially after you find out about the wonders offered by the Oyster card. But please be patient!
Another possibility offered by all ticket machines in London is to purchase a daily paper ticket (Day Travelcard). For £ 12.70, this ticket allows you to travel as much as you like, as often as you like, for a day within zones 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is valid on tube, bus, tram, and train. In addition, you will benefit from a discount when buying a ticket for the River Boat, which is also part of the transport network of London. However, being valid for one day only, it will be necessary to buy as many tickets as days spent using the public transport. For tourists, this means at least two days, that is, £ 25.40. It does not seem so valuable anymore.
Following the saying “When in Rome do as the Romans do”, we noticed that no Londoner or resident in London ever uses a paper ticket, but carries a plastic card that looks more like a credit card. This is the Oyster card, which was born some years ago and which has made transportation cheaper, allowing us to save a good amount in travelling. This document published by the official website of transport for London offers a compilation of the Oyster card features. In summary, you can obtain an Oyster card at any tube station (and in more places, as well as on the official website) and it is pre-loaded with pay as you go credit for you to spend on travel. You can choose how much credit to add to your card: £10, £15, £20, £25, £30, £35, £40 or £50. On the subsequent top-ups, you can choose to add credit from £ 5. The credit on your card never expires – it stays there until you use it. We were surprised to find out that our remaining credit from 2015 was still available on our last trip to London in 2018!
What is the main advantage of an Oyster card? Capping is a feature of pay as you go which allows you to make a number of journeys in a single day but limits the amount you pay for your travel. Each time you make a journey whether on a bus, tube, tram, train or river boat, you are charged a fare. Once the total cost of all your fares reaches a certain amount you won’t have to pay for any more journeys for the rest of the day. This is called a cap. When it comes to tourists, who do not usually leave zones 1 and 2, this daily limit is £ 6.50. That is to say, we will only pay £ 6.50 a day, even if we make fifty journeys in any of the available means of public transport. It sounds rather good compared to a paper ticket that would cost £ 25.40 for two days, which would be reduced to £ 13 with our Oyster card.
On top of that, it is possible to use our Oyster card to travel on the river bus- you can check the stops here. Please note that you only need to touch in with your Visitor Oyster card on the yellow card reader when asked to do so by a member of staff and remember to touch out again at the end of your journey.
Transportation from the airport
On the other hand, you can use your Oyster card to get to London from some airports, although the fare will be higher because you will be traveling from another zone different from zones 1 and 2. Specifically, you can travel from Gatwick airport by train with your Oyster or Travelcard, for a minimum fare of £ 8 off-peak. From Heathrow Airport, you can take the Piccadilly line or the train: Heathrow Connect and Heathrow Express, but the Oyster or Travelcard is not valid there. From Stansted airport, you will have to take the train and purchase a specific ticket, although you can get part of it as a refund on your Oyster card. At Luton airport, you cannot use our Oyster card either; so you will have to get a bus or train ticket.
If you travel with your family, you may want to know that children under 11 travel free on buses and trams. Children under 11 also travel free on Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and some National Rail services when accompanied by a fare-paying adult (up to four children per adult).
As we mentioned before, in a short stay to visit the City of London, museums and other historical sights and emblematic buildings, it will be enough to move between zones 1 and 2. The opening hours of the underground should not be a nuisance, since most of the lines are open between 5am and midnight from Monday to Saturday, with a slightly reduced timetable on Sundays.
During your stay in London, you may read or hear about “peak time” and “off-peak time”. It basically means that they charge higher fares at the busiest times of the day, that is, between 6:30 and 9:30 and between 16:00 and 19:00 pm, Monday to Friday. There is a refund system that allows you to save in the long run, thus aimed at frequent travellers.
In summary, even for a one or two-day stay, you will always benefit from purchasing an Oyster card that will allow you to move freely around London, as well as to get a refund for any unused credit before leaving London. You will also get your £ 5 deposit back upon returning your card. In addition, the Oyster card has a capping system that limits your daily expenditure. Once achieved, it will allow you to continue traveling without paying more for those journeys for the rest of the day.