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London public transportation

Everything you need to know about London’s public transport networks

By Kyra Hanson

Whether you’re here for a day, a week or longer, odds are you’re going to get acquainted with London’s transport systems. Try to avoid the rush-hour crush (7.30am-9.30am and 5pm-7pm) if you’re loaded with suitcases, but if you can’t, check out our five-step guide to travelling during peak commuting time. Whenever you’re on the move, the cheapest fares are available when paying by Oyster or contactless payment card and the handy Hopper fare means you can make unlimited bus or tram journeys within one hour at no extra cost. Here to party? The Night Tube means you can enjoy London after hours without needing to take a pricey cab ride home.

Here’s our handy guide to all the ways you can get around London.


Public transport in London

Tube ticket barriers
Tom Page/flickr

London Underground

London Underground (aka the tube) is a slightly sweaty yet essential way of navigating the city. Trains run along 11 lines, split into nine zones. Confusingly, what you pay depends on distance, time and which ticket you buy. Try to avoid messing around with pricey travelcards and opt for an Oyster card or use contactless payment instead. You’ll skip the queues and save money. Win-win. 

© Tom Page/Flickr

Overground seats
Rob Greig

London Overground

London Overground trains are generally roomier, brighter (obvs) and not as sweaty as the ones on the tube. Sometimes there are no barriers at the stations but don’t forget to tap in and out using your Oyster or contactless card or you risk a fine. If you're planning a night out near the Gingerline (no one actually calls it that) then you’re in luck as it now runs all night on Fridays and Saturdays through some of London’s best party districts, including Highbury & Islington, Dalston, Shoreditch and New Cross Gate.

© Rob Greig

London bus
Steven Hughes/Flickr


Riding on a London bus is the best way to see the sights while travelling from A to B. Buses accept Oyster or contactless payment only (no cash) and it costs £1.50 for a single journey. The swish new Hopper fare gets you unlimited bus and tram rides within one hour of touching in. And if you travel on certain routes, you’ll board one of the fancy new electric buses, equipped with digital route maps and USB sockets. 

© Steven Hughes/Flickr


Docklands Light Railway

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) carries London’s super futuristic driverless trains. Even locals are secretly disappointed when they don’t nab the ‘driver’s seat’ at the front of each carriage. The DLR is a good option if you’re exploring the hidden depths of east London, the Docklands area or the deep south – and the line also serves London City Airport. It costs the same as the tube, with the added bonus of enabling you to zip past skyscrapers like you’re in ‘Blade Runner’. 


Southern railway train
Flickr / Matt Buck


Rail services zig-zag across and beyond the city, ferrying visitors to airports and pockets of London that don’t appear on the tube map. You can use Oyster, travelcard or contactless payment on many of these routes. However, you’ll need to book separate tickets to use the Heathrow ExpressGatwick Express, Stansted Express, and a few other services. This is where a Railcard comes in handy, offering a third off train fares, which will also cut the cost if you’re planning a day trip from London.

© Matt Buck/Flickr

Flickr/ LFaurePhotos


What? You don’t know about London’s tram network? The Tramlink zips from Wimbledon, through Croydon (where there’s an Ikea if you’re suddenly overcome with the urge to buy flat-pack Scandi furniture) and into Beckenham. It costs the same as the bus, so £1.50 for a single fare with Oyster or contactless. Paper tickets are available to buy at tram stops for £2.60 for a single journey.

© LFaurePhotos/Flickr


Emirates Air Line cable car

Attractions Towers and viewpoints Royal Docks

The UK’s first urban cable car offers decent views of the City, Canary Wharf, the Thames Barrier and the Olympic Park. For that, you pay a higher price than on the bus or tube – £4.50 for an adult single trip or £3.50 if you have an Oyster card. It takes around ten minutes to cross the 1.1km stretch of river from the Greenwich Peninsula (where The O2 is) to the Royal Docks. Evening flights give you extra time to take in those great views of London’s night-time skyline.

© Emirates Cable Car

Thames Clippers Tate to Tate boat 3.jpg

River boat services

An alternative way to see London’s landmarks is to board a river bus. You can use your Oyster card on the Thames Clippers but a hop-on-hop-off day ticket could work out cheaper if you plan to make several stops. If you’re after a more leisurely way to see the city try one of London’s best river cruises. Or take the excitement up a notch with a ride on a Thames RIB Experience speedboat. 

© Thames Clippers

101 Things to do in London: Santander Bikes
Rob Greig

London cycle-hire scheme

Things to do Walks and tours London

Hire a Santander Cycle (also known as a ‘Boris Bike’ or ‘Sadiq Cycle’) if you want to have the freedom of travelling where you like, when you like. Use your bank card to pay for the initial £2 fee, and after that your first half an hour is free. Charges then start at £2 for up 30 minutes. There are plenty of docking stations around London with handy maps, while the new bikes have gel saddles and less cumbersome frames.

© Rob Greig 

Taxi (Flickr Creative Commons)
Raphaël Chekroun


Although it’s not the cheapest way to travel around London, sometimes a taxi is the most sensible option, especially if you have heavy luggage, are late or just fancy treating yourself. Hail an iconic black cab if the yellow ‘taxi’ sign is lit up. The meter will start running at £2.60. Or head to TfL’s website for a list of licensed taxi and minicab services. Uber still operates in London despite the threat of its licence being revoked.

© Flickr/Creative Commons Raphaël Chekroun


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