Updated: Apr 11, 2021
Are you visiting or moving to London soon? Probably one of the most asked questions when it comes to visiting or moving to a new city is how to get around. For a city as big and busy as London, it can’t be more crucial to know the best way to travel.
In this blog post, you’ll find some of the things, or more like A LOT of things, you need to know regarding travelling around London! Such as how London is sectioned, the fares of different transport systems, and the various stations and lines in London’s transport network.
Most importantly, we got you some critical information and top tips on commuting around London!
Let’s get started.
1. Fares and Zones
The city of London is divided into 9 zones and so are the fares. The fares also vary depending on the time you travel:
Peak fares - Monday to Friday (not on public holidays): 06:30 am - 09:30 am and between 4 pm - 7 pm.
Off-peak fares - at all other times. If you travel from a station outside Zone 1 to a station in Zone 1 between 16:00 and 19:00, Monday to Friday.
There are several transport systems that make up the Transport For London (TFL):
a. Train Or better known as The Tube. The overall pay as you go fares* for adults within Zone 1-2/3 (i.e. but not Zone 3) is £2.50. However, it will normally increase by around 50p when it’s at rush hour. You can find the exact pay as you go fare you need to pay between one tube station to another here.
WFF tips: When using contactless payment, always use the same card or device for your transport to make sure your transport fares are cap. If you use your card today but your device tomorrow, the price won’t be capped.
b. Buses If you’re looking for a cheaper option, taking the bus might be for you - £1.55 per trip. For buses, London introduced The Hopper system in 2016 which means once you tap in, it will be valid for an hour. So, for example, you’re on a 45 minutes journey and you have to change from bus number 100 to 135. When you tap in to transfer to bus number 135, it won’t charge you again.
Click here to find out more about the bus fare.
c. Tram It runs between Zone 3-6 and currently only available in South London. To be more specific, from Croydon to Wimbledon, Beckenham Junction, Elmers End and New Addington. Here is the map - green line.
Getting the tram would cost you £1.55. There is also The Hopper system for trams just like the bus.
d. London River Service (LRS) The prices range from £3.5 - £21.30, depending on the type of trip and zones. We will talk more about it later. For more information, click here.
e. Cycle Hiring a Santander bike will cost you £2 for unlimited journeys with a maximum of 30 minutes. The price will increase by another £20 for the next 30 minutes. However, the Santander bike is free for the first 30 minutes.
*Pay as you go is the normal fare you pay per journey you make.
2. Payment method
The two easiest payment methods to use are the Oyster card or a regular contactless debit card. There is a price cap that limits the total amount of money you pay on all of your daily or weekly travel.
Oyster card is a smart travel card used to travel around London’s tubes, buses, most National Rails, and river buses (boats). The Oyster card will cost you £5 but this fee can be refunded once you return your Oyster card. You can make Oyster card in several places such as:
All Tubes and London Overground stations.
Most TFL Rail stations
Some DLR stations
Oyster cards machines
Some off-license shops
Online at TFL Website (i.e. by creating an Oyster and contactless account here if you live in the UK).
After buying it, the Oyster card can be topped up at almost all tube stations.
There are several types of Oyster cards:
Visitor. If you’re just visiting London (e.g. tourist, etc), this is the card for you. However, this card can’t be registered to the TFL app.
Apprentice. Price cap, here.
18+ Student. If you are a full-time course student, don’t miss out on the 18+ Oyster card to get a 30% discount on both travelcards and bus & trams pass season tickets. Click here to see more details on the fares.
16+ Photocard. It’s the Oyster for those who are around 16-18 years old. There’s even a larger fares discount for the 16+, you’ll have 50% off for bus, Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail (excluding between West Drayton and Reading) and most National Rail services in London. For further details on the fares and cap, click here.
WFF Tips: Don't forget to always tap in and out when using the Tube, Overground, and DLR! Otherwise, you'll be charged the maximum fee.
Except for the Visitor Oyster Card, all Oyster cards can be registered to the Transport For London (TFL) Oyster and contactless app whereby you can ‘control’ everything you need to. From topping up, checking your journey history, manage seasonal tickets (i.e. Travelcard), etc. It’s especially important to register your card in case of refunds or card replacements. Otherwise, you can’t perform these actions.
For each type of Oyster card, you can also buy and apply a Travelcard season ticket on top of it. Travelcard prices vary depending on the zone coverage and period of time it’s valid (i.e. 7 days, monthly, 3 months, 6 months, odd period, and annual). The longer the period, the greater the discount.
WFF tips: Download the TFL app! Do what you need in the reach of your fingers (i.e. topping up, get live updates on all tubes, buses, etc.)
Commuting in London is definitely not the cheapest thing and it’s not unusual for people to look for ways to save up some quid. A lot of people think that the easiest and safest option to travel cheaply is to buy an annual travelcard. While that is largely true, it’s worth calculating your personal average journey. Sometimes it could be cheaper to travel only with pay as you go fares and without the travelcard. Generally, if you use the tube daily more than two times, it is worth buying the monthly, or longer, Travelcard.
Look here for further information regarding Travelcard prices.
Another way to save up your commuting fares could be through Commuter Club whereby you can buy annual travelcards but pay monthly at a low cost. Some people save over £300 per year.
3. Get to know the stations and lines
No one really likes travelling on jam-packed public transport but it is often inevitable. However, you can still mitigate this by choosing quieter stations, train and bus lines, and the time you hop on. Some lines (e.g. DLR and overground) and stations are generally not as crowded. But the best way to avoid crowds is to choose time wisely. London’s public transports are generally quiet between 08:15-16:00 and after 17:30-18:30 on weekdays and on weekends before noon and after 18:00.
Thankfully, London has A LOT of tube stations which means you can easily walk from one station to another if one is too crowded.
4. Ways to commute in London
The most popular option to travel in London is probably by train. There are several types of trains.
a. London Underground
The Tube is the oldest metro system in the world and today it has 11 lines covering 402km and serving 270 stations throughout the 9 zones of London. The Tube is possibly the most popular travel option for a lot of people/Londoners. It handles up to five million passenger journeys a day. At peak times, there are more than 543 trains whizzing around the Capital.
WFF facts: A lot of people don't know that, actually, more than half of the Tube is overground!
b. London Overground
The Overground is often confused and referred to be part of the Tube. Although the Overground is part of the same TFL map as the Tube, it is different. The Overground consists of a group of six routes serving many areas of the Capital.
The Tube map is also available in a lot of other languages like German, Chinese, French, Hindi, Italian, Spanish, etc.
(Left to right; Tube and Overground)
c. Dockland Light Railway (DLR)
It is designed to improve the train system in the east part of London. The DLR stretches from Bank and Tower Gateway to Stratford, Beckton, Greenwich, Lewisham, London City Airport and Woolwich Arsenal. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is a driverless and computerised system.
d. TFL Rail
It runs from Paddington to Heathrow Airport and Reading, and Liverpool Street to Shenfield. Some might mistakenly think that TFL Rail is the same as the National Rail but don’t be tricked - it’s not.
There are around 9,300 vehicles operating across 675 routes. If you prefer to walk less, commuting by bus might be the best option for you because their stations are normally closer to destinations.
Although London isn’t really a tram city, there are some trams operating between Zone 3-6.
(Left to right; London bus, DLR, and Trams)
g. London River Service (LRS)
LRS have 8 piers in London and 2 different services, River Buses and River Tours. You can see some of the most iconic places in London by the River Buses which you can see here. If you ever go to London, you should try using this service at least once! It’s not the cheapest transport option but it’s worth the experience - and view.
London is a crowded city of 9million people which means, public transport can get really packed at times. Therefore, it’s not unusual for Londoners to search for an alternative method to travel faster and more efficient. Cycling is possibly one of Londoners favourite travelling hacks. The most common bicycle provider in London is Santander which you have to start and end at the bicycle docks provided by them. You don’t have to return it to the same dock you took the bike from.
You might worry about cycling in London as it is also a city full of various vehicles to and fro. Luckily, London has a designated route for cyclists called the ‘Cycleway’. London is also building another 450km new Cycleway by 2024.
WFF tips: Don’t forget all your safety gears when cycling!
You might or might not expect it but, London is one of the best walkable cities in the world. Not only that London has great pathways but by walking, it will never cease to amaze you how rich in history London is. Think about those aesthetic narrow alleyways that have some of the most amazing shops and some even lead to a ‘secret’ beach!
5. Top tips on commuting in London
A lot of times, changing train lines matter more than the distance. Transferring line is often more tedious because you need to walk and sometimes it’s quite far. It might especially be not fun when you’re travelling at peak hours.
Leave 10-15 minutes earlier. In case there’s a delay in the public transport because of some reasons. Better be safe than sorry, innit?
Always check your journey beforehand. Especially when it’s weekends! Sometimes, there is a planned engineering work going on which will shut down some lines for a day or more.
WFF Tips: Citymapper is a great all-in-one app to assist you in your journey!
Don't forget to always check the weather before going out! Every Londoner will tell you that the only certainty about London's weather is its uncertainty - yep, you read that right. Download the Met Office weather app and save yourself from the rain.
Avoid ‘touristy’ train stations as much as possible. By ‘touristy’ we meant stations that are close to popular landmarks or places. Stations like Covent Garden, Kings Cross, Oxford Street, and Leicester Square could be really crowded at peak hours and also around Christmas time.
Always always always stands on the right side of the escalator because the left side is for those who want to walk up the escalator. Londoners follow this rule religiously.
Remove your rucksack and place it by your feet when you’re on the train. Especially when it’s crowded. Keep an eye on it though! This will not only give more space to other people but also help you keep your belongings safe.
That's all for now! London is a big city to explore and if you get a chance to live here, count it as a blessing twice! However, if you're still trying to get your head around London, check this out. We hope this commuting guide helps you to travel around and enjoy London to the fullest.
Also, if you're looking for accommodation in London and want to know the do(s) and don't(s), we got you a London housing guide too! And if you're wondering how is living in London through a Londoner's eye, check out this honest review.