Looking to get around London? Whether you’re navigating getting around London as a tourist for the first time or just need a brush up on the London transportation system, here’s how to navigate the London public transport system like a pro — from a Londoner!
Travelling to London can be a daunting experience, especially if you’re unfamiliar with getting around the city.
With its sprawling metropolis and countless attractions, getting from A to B in London can seem like an impossible task. But don’t fret!
Over the years I’ve learned the ins and outs of London transport (and may or may have gotten on several wrong tubes along the way). Seven years later I can proudly say getting around London is a breeze, but there’s definitely a learning curve.
This London transport guide will provide all the information you need on getting around London using public transportation. From the tube, buses, trains, the infamous black cabs and more — here’s everything you need to know to make your way around London as easily as possible. Let’s dive in!
How to Get Around London: Your Ultimate Transport Guide to the City
How London Zones Work
Before you dive into the world of London transport, it’s important to know how the transport system is set up.
The zone system divides up London into nine circular zones that extend out from Zone 1 (Central London) to Zone 9 (the outskirts of London).
As you can see on the London transit map above, these zones are used by many forms of public transport in London in order to calculate fares and determine which areas are served by each service.
So for example, if you’re travelling within Zone 1 by tube, as of 2023 it would cost you £2.50 on your Oyster Card.
But if you’re travelling from Zone 1 to Zone 3 by tube, it would cost you £2.90 on your Oyster Card.
Knowing how the zone system works can help you make sense of getting around London quickly and efficiently. So know it well!
P.S – If you’re just getting around London as a tourist you’ll most likely be staying in ‘Zone 1-2’ during your trip (unless you’re going somewhere like, for example, Kew Gardens in Zone 3 or Hampton Court Palace in Zone 6).
The Best Transit Apps for Getting Around London
Before bracing yourself for the mighty world of the London transport system, you’ll want to have an app or two handy, or in my case, just one. Citymapper.
It’s a public transit app that started in 2011 (in London actually!) and is hands down the best way to get around the city.
I’ve used it for years without a glitch, but if in doubt Google Maps or Apple Maps will work too.
How Do You Pay for Public Transport in London?
The easiest way to pay for your rides on London public transport is by getting an Oyster Card or using your Contactless Payment Card.
Both cards use the same ‘tap-in’ payment system, that you’ll use on most public transport in the city.
The Oyster card is a physical card that you top up with money at any Tube station or online — and it’s always best if you plan ahead and pre-load your card before travelling.
You can purchase an Oyster card at most airports (except London Southend), or any Tube or National Rail station in London as well as most newsagents and convenience stores throughout the city. It’s also possible to purchase an Oyster Card online through the official Transport for London website.
Once you have your card, simply top it up with money, and you’re ready to start getting around London quickly, safely and conveniently!
Alternatively, contactless payment cards are linked directly to your bank account and allow you to tap into stations and buses without having to worry about topping up beforehand. Contactless payments can be made using debit or credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, or other mobile wallets such as Samsung Pay.
The best thing about using your Oyster and contactless card are the pay-as-you-go daily and weekly caps.
These were made to limit the amount that London tourists and locals alike pay on transport every day and week, with a daily cap of £7.70 between Zone 1-2 and £38.40 weekly for Zone 1-2 (meaning you’ll never pay more than this for unlimited travel within these zones), for London buses the daily cap is £4.95.
The cap amount depends on what zones you’re travelling to that day and your passenger type, so be sure to check what your cap fare would be here.
What about Travelcards and Visitor Oysters?
You may have also heard of something in London called ‘Travelcards‘.
When purchased these enable unlimited travel within certain zones, however unless you’re travelling non-stop in London the cost of Travelcards usually isn’t worth it in comparison to using your Oyster or Contactless card.
Visitor Oyster Cards on the other hand are designed specifically for visitors who need short-term access to transportation services in the city and also come with special discounts to various London experiences and restaurants.
Overall, unless you’re eligible for discounts on the Oyster card or want to make use of the discounts on the Visitor Oyster Card, the easiest way to pay for London transport will be your contactless card as you can use it instantly straight from your phone as soon as you arrive in London (as long as you have your Apple Pay or Google Pay set up).
How Much is Public Transport in London?
The price of public transport London varies depending on the method of transit you use as well as the distance you’re travelling to between Zone 1-9.
The tube and Overground starts from £2.50 a journey and the bus from £1.65. But to get a realistic number on what your journey will cost I highly suggest using the TfL Fare Calculator so you can price your journey beforehand.
P.S – Citymapper will also tell you how much any journey you take will cost!
Discounts on Travelling in London
Like most things that involve London life, getting around the city can get expensive. So here’s a few ways to save on transport in London.
Hopper Fare: This gives you unlimited journeys within one hour on all TfL buses for £1.65 and works automatically
18+ Student Oyster: Any student in London (even international) can save 30% on bus & tram journeys
16-25 Railcard: 1/3 off train travel and 1/3 off single off-peak pay as you go fares on the London Undeground and DLR (Docklands Light Railway)
26-30 Railcard: Same discounts as the 16-25 Railcard
16-17 Zip Oyster: 50% off travel on most London transit
11-15 Zip Oyster: Free travel on London bus and 50% off most fares
Children Under 11: Free travel on most London transport services for up to 4 children accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket
60+ London Oyster: Free travel if you’re over 60 living in London
P.S – For more free and discounted options for public transport in London make sure you check out TfL’s official website!
What’s the Best Way to Travel Around London?
The best way to travel around London will depend on your specific journey, but my favourite way is walking.
London has SO many beautiful hidden corners that you’ll simply miss on public transportation.
My love for walking in London aside, in general, using the London Underground or the London buses will be the best way to get around the city.
The tube (London Underground) is usually very reliable, even with the recent TfL strikes over the past year, along with the London buses which are a great way to experience London like a true local.
Both also have incredible connections to almost an place in the city, unlike the Overground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), River Boat or many other London transport options we’ll run through in a bit.
10 Ways to Get Around London
The London Underground (a.k.a. the Tube)
The Tube is the most iconic form of public transport in London (and for good reason). It’s been around since 1863, and today it’s a vital part of getting around the city.
The Tube consists of 11 lines that cover 270 stations over 402 kilometres (250 miles) of track and can take you to nearly every corner of the capital, making it one of the best ways to get around London.
London Tube Lines:
- Bakerloo Line
- Central Line
- Circle Line
- District Line
- Hammersmith & City Line
- Jubilee Line
- Metropolitan Line
- Northern Line
- Piccadilly line
- Victoria line
- (NEW) Elizabeth Line
If you’re getting around London as a tourist, you should be able to get to the majority of places on your itinerary through the tube alone (although I still highly suggest taking a ride on the London buses and walking if your location is close enough).
Before you take your first ride, I suggest having a look at the tube map and familarising yourself with the lines.
To catch the tube to your destination you’ll need to know which line and which direction you’ll need to take (Eastbound or Westbound or Northbound or Southbound), followed by the branch of the line (i.e the end destination of the line).
So, for example, if I wanted to from Leicester Square to Hampstead, my directions would say I need to get the ‘Northern Line’ going ‘Northbound’ on the branch that’s going towards ‘Edgeware’.
Step-by-step here’s how you would get there on the tube once you have the directions:
- Walk to Leicester Square station
- Tap in with your Oyster, Visitor Oyster or Contactless card on the yellow reader
- Follow the signs to the Northern Line
- Go to the platform that says ‘Northbound’ on the Northern Line
- Look at the digital display board on the platform screen and make sure you’re getting on the tube that is going towards the end destination listed on your directions
- Get off at Hampstead
- Follow the signs to the exit
- Tap out with your Oyster, Visitor Oyster or Contactless card on the yellow reader
- Give yourself an internal high-five for figuring out the London tube system
- Explore Hampstead!
Mimic these steps for any journey you’re taking on the tube until it becomes like clockwork!
Safety is a also top priority on the Tube network with CCTV cameras located throughout all stations and on every train carriage. Emergency help points are also positioned at regular intervals along each platform with constant monitoring to make sure any potential problems are quickly identified and dealt with. If you’re ever feeling lost the TfL staff is also more than willing to help you get back on your route.
There’s also a night tube service on the Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines if you’re coming home late from a night out in London.
P.S. – Don’t forget to read my tube etiquette guide!
With over 8,000 buses operating in the city, getting from one place to another on public transport in the city has never been easier.
Buses are a great way to explore all that London has to offer as they provide access to some of the city’s best attractions and views of the capital (check out the best bus routes for sightseeing in London!).
Like I mentioned before, you’ll also get unlimited rides on any London bus journey within an hour through the Hopper Fare, so for example, if you take 3 buses across the city in one hour, it’ll still be £1.65.
To use the bus — simply load up the directions to your destination and catch your correct bus from the bus stop (for example, ‘Bus 148 to White City, leaving from Stop P).
When you get on tap your Oyster, Visitor Oyster or contactless card on the yellow reader near the bus driver and take your seat (you won’t need to tap-out like you do on the tube).
Although taking the bus usually works out longer than taking the tube, it’s a great way to see London from a new perspective and get to more secluded areas in the city.
P.S – Try getting the top left or right seat on the double-decker buses for the best views!
DLR (Docklands Light Railway)
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a light rail network in London, connecting parts of East and South East London.
It operates using driverless automated trains, with easy-to-understand route maps that make getting around this part of the city much smoother.
The DLR is fully integrated with other forms of public transportation too, including the Tube and bus services, so you may end up using it as part of your journey from time to time. Like if you’re going from Central London to the beautiful Greenwich!
This makes getting around this part of London easier than ever before, as you can easily switch between transport networks while using the same payment card and ticketing system.
Unlike the Tube or bus, it also runs above ground on its own tracks, meaning that it has no traffic congestion to delay your journey and no waiting for traffic lights, with great views along the way. From the ExCel Centre to Canary Wharf, Greenwich and more, it’s a lovely way to get from point A to point B when needed.
The London Overground is a suburban and inner-city network that services many locations in the Greater London area.
It covers a large part of Central London and includes lines like the East London Line (ELL), North London Line (NLL), West London Line (WLL) and more. These lines also lead to popular neighbourhoods such as Shoreditch High Street Station, Camden Town, Angel Islington, and Old Street Station.
Getting around on the London Overground is very easy and follows the same ‘tap-in, tap-out’ system as the tube. Trains don’t come as often as the Underground so you may find yourself waiting a bit longer, they also move a bit slower too — but of course as it’s the ‘Over’ground, this means London views!
The National Rail services in London play a key role in getting around the capital. The National Rail network consists of over 2,500 stations and more than 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometers) of track across Great Britain…that’s a lot of rail services!
Lucky for you, in London there’s only four main ones to rememeber — The Southeastern Railway, Thameslink, The Southern Railway and The Southwestern Railway, i.e the major railway networks in the city.
These offer frequent services from many points in the city in addition to destinations across the entire UK and many London airports.
For rail journeys within London you can use your Oyster card or contactless, but you’ll need to purchase a seperate physical or digital ticket if you’ll be taking a train from London to elsewhere in the UK.
You can save 30% on all train travel in the UK if you’re 16-25 or 26-30 by getting a Railcard.
You’re also likely to use a train if you’re coming from the airport to Central London, but other than that you won’t be using the train often if you’re getting around London as a tourist.
If you’re looking to do a few London day or weekend trips away from the city, I’d suggest catching the train from Paddington, Waterloo or London Bridge station. Make sure you use Trainline to find the cheapest train tickets!
River Bus Services
For a more unique way to get around London, try a river bus!
London has one of the largest networks of navigable waterways in Europe, which includes the famous River Thames and other small streams, rivers and canals.
This network is both picturesque and practical, providing public transport in London for passengers like no other.
The most popular river boat services in London are run by Thames Clippers, who operate regular daily cruises from Embankment Pier to many locations along the Thames such as Tower Bridge, Greenwich, Canary Wharf and Woolwich. Prices vary depending on how far you’re travelling along the route but it’s generally quite affordable for tourists; single adult fares cost about £5-£7 per journey or £9-£15 return tickets and they accept Oyster and contactless cards.
Thames Clippers also offer various combined tickets which provide discounted prices when travelling on multiple boats or getting off at multiple stops – they even have an Oyster card reader installed on their ticket machines so you can top up your card while onboard.
Apart from Thames Clippers there are loads of amazing river cruises in London that will allow you to experience the city from a new perspective, in style!
P.S – Due to their slightly higher price point in comparison to the tube, London buses etc. you won’t often find locals using river boats for their daily commutes, but if you live here it’s a great option if you’re ever looking to mix things up! You can check out more TfL river bus services here.
London’s black cabs are also a popular (and expensive) way of getting around the city, offering a convenient and reliable transport service for both locals and tourists alike.
Black cab drivers must pass extensive tests known as ‘the knowledge’ in order to get their license, so they are highly experienced in getting you from A to B with minimal fuss.
There are two main types of black cabs in London, the traditional TX4 and the newer LEVC electric models — both offer a spacious interior for up to 6 passengers with plenty of room for luggage or shopping bags. Most have built-in payment terminals accepting credit/debit cards and Apple/Android pay options; but you can pay in cash if preferred.
Black cabs can be hailed on the street by flagging them down or you can use apps like Uber or Gett to hail one from the app.
The cost of a journey varies depending on how far you’re travelling, but generally speaking every mile is about £6.50 to £11.20 (roughly 6-13 minutes) and prices are 10% higher in the evening.
It’s also worth noting that while getting around by black cabs is usually very safe, I always recommend checking the driver’s ID badge before getting into your ride.
London is a great city for getting around by bicycle, with a huge network of dedicated cycle lanes and bike paths for cyclists (although we’re no Copenhagen yet).
If you’re new to London or just getting into cycling then the best place to start is to understand the Cycleways which comprises hundreds of miles of dedicated cycle lanes throughout London. You can also download and plan your route ahead of time.
To rent a bike simply find a Santander Cycles station near you or check out other options like Lime’s E-scooters and E-bike rentals.
London drivers can be a bit unforgiving, so make sure you know the Highway Code while you’re out on the road. For example all cyclists must keep left unless they’re passing another cyclist; and pedestrians always have right of way (even if they don’t look like they’re paying attention!). This is particularly true in busy pedestrian areas such as Oxford Street or Trafalgar Square.
Overall cycling around London is a fantastic way to explore the city and save on travel, with bike hires starting from less than £2.
Getting around London on foot is a great way to explore the city and experience its sights, sounds and culture.
Walking allows you to take in your surroundings at a leisurely pace (something that let’s just say the tube doesn’t always allow…), getting up close and personal with the bustling metropolis that makes up London. Plus getting around by walking is one of the most cost-effective ways to get from A-B — no tickets or fares required!
When getting around London by foot it’s important to plan your route carefully beforehand so you know exactly where you’re going. With apps like Citymapper you can find the best routes and the estimated time it’ll take to reach your destination.
If you’re exploring Central London, you’ll also find most locations are in walking distance from each other. For example, walking from Soho to Covent Garden will take you just 15 minutes! And we all know Big Ben to Tower Bridge is just an excuse to do a lovely walk along South Bank.
Just make sure to pack your comfortable shoes!
P.S – I’ve got plenty of custom London walking tours if you’re looking for an interesting route
Read More: Ultimate London Packing List: What to Wear in Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Bonus: Cable Car
The newly renamed IFS Cloud Cable Car offers a unique way to get around London while getting stunning views of the city and the River Thames.
Spanning across the river between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, it’s an incredibly efficient, low-cost and convenient form of transport that can take you on a stunning journey across London in a matter of minutes.
You can pay for your ride via your Oyster card or contactless and ride with up to 10 passengers at a time. Although the ride is only about 10 minutes, there’s plenty of Instagram opportunities and breathtaking views to take in along the way, including the likes of the O2 Arena, Canary Wharf and iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge and the City Hall if you look close enough.
I’ll admit, this isn’t a London transport option you’d use on a daily basis, but if you’re looking for a new way to see the city, this is it!
Accessibility & London Transport
Although using London’s transport network is an incredibly convenient and straightforward way to get around the city, it can be more difficult for people who may require extra assistance or support. Fortunately, London is getting more accessible every year.
The majority of London’s public transport offer wheelchair access, as well as other facilities such as ramps, lifts and audible announcements. All buses in London also feature low floors which make getting on and off easier for wheelchair users.
Additionally, most tube stations have been redesigned to include new tactile maps, Braille signs and audio-visual systems to help passengers find their way around with greater ease.
You can also use the TfL website to plan your accessible journey and find out more.
Final Tips on Using Public Transport in London
- Always ‘Mind the Gap’ when you’re on the tube and stick to the right side of the escalator for standing and the left side for walking
- Don’t forget to check how close two destinations in London are to each other — or you may miss out on a lovely walk!
- Stick to exploring 1-2 areas of London at a time to save on your transportation costs and time
Whew — that was LONG! But hopefully now you feel more prepared than ever to tackle the London transport system.
Like I said, once you do it a few times you really do get into the swing of things. And we all know getting around London by public transportation is the only way to be a true Londoner (at least if you ask me!).
- Ultimate London Packing List: What to Wear in Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
- 5 Etiquette Tips for Taking the Tube (from a local)
- The Best Bus Routes for Sightseeing in London (for £1.65!)
- Top 10 London Attractions: 10 Famous Places to See & Visit
- 10+ Unique Experiences in London You Have to Try for Yourself
- 10 Tips for Tourists in London (Tourist Mistakes and How to Avoid Them)
- The Best Affordable Afternoon Teas in London