Each time people ask me “how does the public transport in London work?” a shiver runs down my spine. It’s actually more complicated to explain than it is to understand. I reckon it’s a very clever system, a bit expensive, but efficient.
During your stay you’ll either use the tube or the bus and, according to the length of your stay you might go for single tickets or passes, either in paper form or on a Oyster Card. Let’s see in details how it works and what suits you better.
Tube, Bus, Overground
With the exception of the Thames clipper and the Greenwich cable car, these are the means of transport that will carry you around London:
The oldest underground system and probably the most famous with its iconic “mind the gap”, the Tube has recently turned 150 years old and survived the millions of Olympic visitors. You can take the Tube to the most famous places, including Heathrow airport.
It’s the quickest way to get across the city, but also the most expensive. If you’re in London for a visit you’ll probably be limited to the zones 1-2 in case you were wondering what that means when you try to buy a ticket or a pass.
The world famous double decker buses are one of the most representative symbols of London, and they can be found in key-rings and on fridges all over the world.
They recently retired the good ol’ routemaster and replaced it with a brand new one, with a futuristic design, that can be found on the routes 38, 9, 11, 390, 24 and many others.
A ticket or a bus pass will cover all the 6 zones, with no time limit, but if you have to change don’t forget that you will be charged (in case you have a pay-as-you-go oyster) a fare on each bus.
In the unlikely event the weather is rough, you just missed your bus, and you want to know if you have time for one more drink before the next bus, check this very accurate website: countdown.tfl.gov.uk
Follow this link for a full bus map.
Technically there’s nothing different from the above buses but these are real life-savers. Some lines run on 24 hours, some they just slightly change the route and add a ‘N’ before the number. Wherever you’re going to spend your night the night buses will take you home (unless you fall asleep and wake up in a deposit or in the middle of nowhere).
A urban train network, the Overground is often underestimated. However it’s very useful to cross the city west-east. It’s been recently extended to cover many areas where the Tube doesn’t go, especially where the “east line” were supposed to be, crossing the east end and connecting popular areas such as Hoxton and Shoreditch. The Overground trains are not included in the TFL passes and you will be charged on your pay-as-you-go money.
Tickets and Passes
The memories of my first visit in London will always start with me arriving in Stratford (way before the Olympics, it was still pretty rough), getting the tube to St. Paul’s and being charged £4. Five stops, nearly £1 per stop. Lesson learned: never buy a single ticket unless you can’t really avoid that. To know how much is a tube ride from A to B click here. It might happen to buy a single ticket for a bus, you can usually do that on board or at the automatic machines that can be found at some stops. The bus ticket is £2.50 and can only be paid via contactless, no cash accepted.
If you seek peace of mind and you want to take any necessary mean of transport without worrying about the maths, the daily pass is your choice (unless you stay for more than 4-5 days):
- Daily travelcard tube + bus: £12.00 (zone 1-4)
- Bus daily pass: £5.00 (travel the day of purchase up to 4.29am the following day)
If you’re staying for longer than a weekend and you want to make your life even easier, or you want one more souvenir to take back home, then go for an Oyster Card. It can be obtained at any tube station and requires a £5 deposit that you will get back once you won’t need it any more. You’ll need to top it up, and you have pretty much two options:
Pay as you go
If you have a laid back approach and no schedule, if you don’t know whether you’re going to barely take a bus a day or if you’re going to spend more time on a tube than actually at ground level, this is your option.
Top your Oyster up and touch it on the reader each time you get in the tube or on a bus. Each access will deduct a single fare, that’s way cheaper than buying tickets:
- Single access to Tube with Oyster: £2.30 (£2.90 peak: 6.30-9.30 / 16.00-19.00 Mon-Fri)
- Single trip on bus with Oyster: £1.50
What if you take the Tube 100 times in one day? You won’t be charged £230, as there is a limit, that equals the cost of a daily pass:
- Price cap tube + bus: £6.40 (£2 cheaper than in 2014!)
- Price cap bus: £4,40
To know the exact amount of each fare you can use this this service.
Weekly and Monthly pass
On your Oyster you can also put a weekly or monthly pass, available for tube+bus or just bus. At this stage you can be considered an advanced user, so you can read the price tables easily:
Many people don’t know that pass and pay-as-you-go can be on the same Oyster at the same time, which is the beauty of this system. For instance you can have a bus pass some credit, so that when you take your occasional tube or overground train, which are not covered from that pass, money will be deducted from your allowance. If you really want to know more enjoy the TFL website: www.tfl.gov.uk
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