How to use London public transport

One of the best ways to get around London is to use the public transport system – the London Underground trains and the bus network. The traffic in London is very heavy and if you are not walking then taking the underground is often by far the quickest way. Here’s a quick summary of the best tickets to buy, how to use the system and plan your route.

What are the best tickets to buy for using London transport?

The best value type of ticket to buy is an Oyster card. These are plastic cards that you can pre-load with any amount of money. They are intelligent cards and will always work out the best and cheapest fare for your journey. As you enter the underground network you ‘tap’ a yellow card reader and tap a card reader again on the way out. The Oyster card then knows the journey you have made and deducts the correct amount of money from the balance on your card. A journey using an Oyster card is much cheaper than buying a one-off paper ticket.

It is even simpler on a bus. London buses no longer take cash so you need an Oyster card. Each bus journey has a flat fare of £1.50. It doesn’t matter how far you go. As you get on the bus, tap your Oyster card on the yellow reader pad. No need to tap when you get off the bus.

London buses don’t take cash, so you need to use an Oyster card instead

Travelling in and out of the underground or on buses all day long? Then the card will cap the price you pay. It will know when it would have been cheaper to buy a day travel card and at that point it will stop taking any more money for your journeys that day. Easy.

London-transport overground train
The London transport network has both underground and overground type trains

You can buy the cards when you arrive from any London underground station. But more efficient is to apply online to have a Visitor Oyster Card sent to you before you leave home. Then you have it ready to go as soon as you arrive. You find out even more about them and buy them online on the Transport for London website.

Apply for a Visitor Oyster Card to be sent to you before you leave home

Advantages of getting an Oyster card?

  • No need to worry about which ticket to get
  • No need to worry if it would have been cheaper to buy a day ticket
  • No need to worry if you have paid for a ticket that you don’t use
  • Get your card before you even arrive in London.
  • It lasts forever. Never expires. Take it home with you to pass to a friend for their visit to London. Or keep it for your own return visit.

Working out your route

There are a number of travel apps that you can download to smartphones to help you get around London. My favourite is Citymapper.com. Enter your starting point and final destination. Then it will show you all the different options for your journey, which underground trains to get, approximate time of journey, what the journey might cost in an Uber or how long it would take you to walk. And it keeps up to date with any disruption. It works in several major European cities – including Paris. So if you are heading on to Paris you’ve already got your travel app to hand.

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