If you are traveling to London you will, with out a doubt, need to familiarize yourself with public transportation while visiting. Using the tube is the easiest and most cost effective way to get around the city. The endless system of trains, the Underground and buses make it simple to get all over Central London and beyond. If you are traveling with a family, children under 11 travel free on the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway at all times. Child fares are also available for those under 16 and there may be discounted fares available if you are under 18. Having visitor Oyster cards is the only way to use the London public transit system. Here are important things to know for getting around London and saving the most money while doing it. This post contains affiliate links.
During the week, many trains stop running after midnight, and Sunday mornings they get going a little later than their usual 5am start. However, on weekend nights (Fri and Sat), most of the Tube runs through the night. If you are staying in Central London you can always find a good, clean bus if the Underground happens to be closed. The double decker buses all over the city are a fun way to get around town and see some sights. Rick Steves has recommendations of what bus lines to ride for sight seeing. Talk about a great way to acquaint yourself with the city for a steal! Here is the book with great bus and walking tours in it.
Here is everything you need to know about visitor Oyster cards and why you need one if you plan on getting around London any time soon.
WHAT IS AN OYSTER CARD?
Oyster cards are electronic smart cards that come fully charged with credit which you can spend as you travel on the Tube, DLR, Double Decker Buses and most National Rail services in London. These cards are easy to add money to as needed at any train station or online, and offer the cheapest fares on public transit. For example a single use one-way fare can be as much as double as the same fare when you pay with a visitor oyster card. That is a major savings!
WHERE TO BUY VISITOR OYSTER CARDS
Visitor oyster cards are easy to purchase at train stations and many other areas around town. Visitors can purchase Oyster cards at the following locations:
At the gates to enter the underground station, simply touch the card on the yellow card reader. At the end of your trip, touch the same yellow reader to let yourself out of the gates.
- At Oyster Ticket Stops in many newsagents in London
- At all Tube, London Overground and TfL Rail stations
- Some DLR and National Rail stations
- At Visitor Centres
You need to pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card, the deposit is refundable if you want to return your card when you are done with it.
HOW TO USE VISITOR OYSTER CARDS
At every gate to enter the underground station and on every bus you will see card readers. Simply touch the Oyster card on the yellow card reader. At the end of your trip, touch the same yellow reader to let yourself out of the gates, it’s that simple!
If you are traveling by bus, you only need to touch the yellow card reader when you get on the bus. Make sure you board the bus at the front, because this is the only place you will find a card reader.
FARES WHEN USING YOUR VISITOR OYSTER CARDS
The actual cost of your trip varies according to the time you travel. Peak travel times..those when commuters are traveling on weekdays…are more expensive than weekends and holidays. The card reader will automatically debit the correct amount from your oyster card based on the day and time of your trip.
IF YOU ARE TRAVELING AS A FAMILY and want to be able to take advantage of the kids traveling for free on public transportation in London, here’s how to use your visitor oyster cards: when you are using a train or underground, simply use the larger two fold gates designed for travelers with wheelchairs or packages. Have one parent swipe their Oyster card once on the yellow card reader and when the gates open, you and your children can walk through. Additional adults can use the single gates and meet you on the other side.
There are maps at every underground station, train station and bus stop all over the city, making it easy to find your way. Google maps is also incredibly helpful giving you recommended routes based on when you are traveling, as well as exactly what trains to take, where to change trains and how to get to each station. It makes it practically foolproof!
BENEFITS OF USING VISITOR OYSTER CARDS
A few perks of using an Oyster card…
- It’s more than 50% cheaper than buying single tickets with cash
- There is a daily price cap – once you have reached this limit, you won’t pay any more
- Thames Clippers river buses are a totally fun way to travel in London too, and you get a travel discount with your oyster card.
If you run out of credit on your Oyster card it is super easy to add more credit to it at locations all over the city, or to make things even easier you can refill, or as they say in the UK “Top-up” your Oyster card using the free TfL Oyster and contactless app
For more information and tips about using public transportation in London, including information about how to purchase your Oyster card ahead of your trip and have it delivered to your home, you can check out this link.
I hope that these tips about visitor oyster cards helps you to navigate London with ease. We found getting around London easy and I hope it is for you too!
We were fortunate to have so many amazing experiences in Europe. If you’re planning a trip and would like to learn more about about what we did and lessons we learned, you can see our family trip to Europe itinerary here,
If you’re heading to other places in Europe, here are some more posts you don’t want to miss! You can check out our entire Europe Travel Gallery to see all of our posts and helpful info.
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