The Ultimate Guide to Navigating London Public Transport

Have you arrived in London and want to explore the city on your own using public transport? No problem! With public transport in London, you can easily get from A to B and discover the city’s many sights and districts. In this guide, I’ll list all the different public transport options in London to help you plan and enjoy your trip.

Public transport in London

London is divided into nine fare zones, with zones 1 and 2 forming the city center. The zones increase as you move further away; for example, Heathrow Airport is in Zone 6.

The public transport network is operated by TfL (Transport for London), managing everything from roads and rail to ticketing and maintenance.

For paying for public transport, you have several options: buy a one-way ticket, use a contactless credit/debit card, an Oyster Card, a Visitor Oyster Card, or a Travelcard. Whether the Oyster Card or the Travelcard is better depends on your specific needs and travel plans.

London Oyster Card


How to Pay for Public Transport in London?

I always use my contactless credit card for the tube and buses in London. This can vary in cost-effectiveness depending on your bank, but I find it most convenient.

I also tried the Visitor Oyster Card, a convenient and inexpensive alternative if your bank charges high fees for card payments.

Now let’s take a closer look at the various options.

1. The London Underground: The “Tube”

The iconic London Underground, affectionately known as the ‘Tube’, is the oldest subway network in the world, having first opened in 1863. Today, the London Underground transports over one billion passengers a year through London’s public transport system, covering 270 stations and 400 kilometers of track.

A little fun fact on the side: although this is actually a subway network, less than half of the tracks are underground. As you explore London, you’ll soon realize that there’s a tube station within walking distance and a train arrives within 10 minutes or less – the stations really are everywhere!

London Underground

Most metro lines run from 5 am to midnight, and since August 2016, some lines also offer a 24-hour service. You can check the times and plan your journey online, and Google Maps is always helpful for navigation. Subway stations are easily recognizable by the characteristic London Underground logo, a red circle with the text “Underground” in a blue box.

The London Underground is part of the transport system of TfL, the national transport company for London. It operates in fare zones 1 to 6, which cover London in expanding concentric circles, with zone 1 in the center and zone 6 on the outer edge. In general, the more zones you pass through on your journey, the more expensive it will be.

If you want to get around the city quickly, the London Underground is the best option. The subway network covers the entire city and connects all the important sights and districts. You can conveniently use an Oyster Card or simply pay with your contactless credit card.


2. London Overground

The London Overground is similar to the London Underground, except that it runs above ground. Don’t ask me why this distinction is so strict, especially since a large part of the Underground also runs above ground. Those are the rules! However, the Overground is much newer than the Underground, having been founded in 2007 to fill some of the gaps in the Underground’s network.

The Overground uses the same fare system as the Underground and follows the same zone tariffs. Conveniently, you usually don’t have to check in and out again if you use an Oyster Card or contactless payment and switch between Overground and Underground services. Of course, there are always exceptions. The logo of the Overground is very similar to that of the Underground, except that the circle is orange and the title is, of course, different.

3. London’s Futuristic Docklands Light Railway

Let’s move on! The Docklands Light Railway, or DLR as most call it, is an automated rail system that specifically covers the Docklands area of London, located directly east and southeast of the city center. The main difference between this train system and the previously mentioned Underground and Overground systems is that the DLR is fully automatic, meaning there is no driver.

The DLR connects London City Airport to the rest of the Underground network, and you’re likely to use the DLR if you’re traveling to the east and southeast of London. For example, the DLR is the best and fastest option to get to ExCeL, which hosts many major trade fairs and events.

In terms of fares, the DLR is the same as the Overground and Underground, as it is part of the London fare zone system.

4. On the Road with the Red Double-Decker Buses

I have a little quiz for you: What do you think is the most common mode of transportation in London? Well? Many would probably guess the London Underground; and with over a billion passengers a year, that’s not a bad guess. However, the correct answer is the bus, as the number of journeys made on London buses is over two billion a year!

This is probably because there are so many bus routes in London, covering a huge area – you can get virtually anywhere in London by bus. Bus fares are also cheaper, with a fixed price of £1.75 (as of March 2024) for a single journey for Oyster users, regardless of distance.

You can also take advantage of the ‘Hopper’ fare option with Oyster and contactless cards, where every bus journey you make within the first hour of checking in is included in the price. This allows you to change buses without having to pay more – although you still have to check in when boarding the new bus to have a valid ticket.

London Public Transport: Buses

To use the public buses in London, all you have to do is hold your Oyster or contactless card up to the large yellow card reader when you get on the bus – you don’t have to do this when you get off the bus, as the fares are fixed. Many bus routes run around the clock, so in many cases, you can still get home by public transport at night.

Buses are cheaper but usually a bit slower than the tube/train as they have to compete with traffic, which is often terrible in London. One advantage, however, is that there are usually no stairs and no long distances to walk as there are in the subway system.

In addition to the public buses, it is also possible to use hop-on hop-off buses. Although this is not an official form of public transport, it can be a great way for you to get around London as a visitor. These hop-on hop-off buses cover all of the city’s main attractions and even offer commentary on the city’s history along the way. You can easily buy hop-on hop-off bus tickets online, and some of the city passes for London also include tickets for these red double-deckers.

5. Relaxed Transportation in South London with the Trams

If you’re traveling in south London, specifically from Wimbledon to Croydon to Beckenham, you’ll probably use the streetcars, also known as London Tramlink. The tram system has four lines, making it a modest network compared to the Underground and Overground. However, the tram is still a popular means of transportation in the area!

The tram works similarly to the bus in terms of payment – there is a fixed charge per journey, and you simply need to check in with your Oyster card or contactless bank card to validate your ticket when boarding. You don’t have to check out when you get off. Click here for more information. Click here for more information.

6. Discover London from the water: Thames Clippers

My favorite way to explore London is on a boat trip on the Thames. In addition to cruises, which you can usually book for one or two hours, Thames Clippers also offers a public transport service on the Thames, operating four different routes from the west to the east of London. These routes start in the very west of the city in Putney and extend to Woolwich in the east, essentially taking you from one end of London to the other. I was surprised when I talked to people on board who told me that the boats are actually used daily by commuters to avoid the busy traffic jams on the roads and enjoy a relaxing ride along the Thames. Naturally, the peak times around 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. are somewhat busier than usual.

As with other TfL public transport services in London, the easiest way to pay is by contactless card or Oyster card, checking in and out as you board and alight. Alternatively, you can buy tickets online and print them out, or purchase them quickly at the pier. The last option is the most expensive – contactless, Oyster, and online ticket purchases are the cheapest.

Note that Thames Clippers are slightly more expensive than the tube or buses, but the point-to-point service, relatively fast speed, and of course the unbeatable views of London can justify the price in my opinion. All further information can be found on the Visit Britain website.

7. With the City Bike through London

Since 2010, London has had a new public transport option – the bicycle! With public bike stations throughout the city and a growing network of cycle paths, bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. However, London is quite large in terms of area, so I recommend using a bike for shorter distances.

Me with a Santander Cycle in London

Hiring a bike is easy: for £1.65 you get 24 hours of access to the system, including 30 minutes of actual riding time. Each additional 30-minute period costs £1.65 (as of March 2024). If you plan to use the bikes frequently, a membership is available for £20 per month, which allows unlimited rides of 60 minutes each. After the 60 minutes have expired, each additional hour costs £1.65.

To use the bike rental system, all you need is a credit or debit card. As the system is secured against theft, Oyster cards are not accepted. You pay your activation fee with the card and can then rent a bike at the hundreds of stations in the city. Find out more here.

Even though cycling in London may seem complicated at first glance, I have actually had good experiences. The British city may not be Amsterdam, but I was pleasantly surprised by the cycle paths!

8. The legendary black cab in London

London is undoubtedly known for its iconic modes of transportation, from the famous red double-decker bus to the Tube. Perhaps the best known of all, however, is the legendary black cab. London’s Hackney Carriages have a history dating back to 1662 and have been transporting people around the city for over 350 years. Drivers need to master the famous ‘Knowledge’ – a detailed understanding of London’s streets and landmarks – to navigate the city efficiently without relying on maps or technology.

London Taxi

Taking a black cab in London is an experience. Fancy going for a spin? You can easily hail a cab by giving a simple hand signal. If the cab sign is illuminated, the cab is available, and the driver will hopefully stop to give you a lift.

Like everything in London, cabs are expensive, so be prepared for some pretty steep prices. Also, note that cabs do not accept Oyster cards, so you will have to pay in cash or by credit card. Fares are calculated at the end of the journey and are based on distance and time measured by the taximeter in the vehicle.

How to get from the airport to London

Here are the main airports you can find in London:

  1. Heathrow Airport (LHR): The largest and busiest airport, located to the west of London. It handles many international flights.
  2. Gatwick Airport (LGW): Located to the south of London, it’s the second busiest and also serves numerous international destinations.
  3. Stansted Airport (STN): Situated to the northeast of London, it primarily handles budget and European flights.
  4. Luton Airport (LTN): Located to the north of London, it also serves many low-cost carriers and European destinations.
  5. London City Airport (LCY): Found in the east of London, it’s the closest to the city center and mainly handles business and short-haul flights.

We have some articles focusing on how to get from most London airports to the city center:

With these tips, your London adventure should run smoothly. Enjoy the ride and have lots of fun exploring this fascinating metropolis!

Profilbild Laura Haig
About the author


I love traveling in Europe and I am passionate about writing about my travels. The cultural peculiarities of each region always fascinate me. I enjoy exploring and discovering the best-kept secrets of each town or village. I love road trips as much as city breaks; I love visiting an art gallery and also the magic of musicals or discovering new delicacies in a street market. In this blog, I write about all my travel adventures and my best tips and tricks! Auf Loving Travel schreibe ich über alle meine Reiseerlebnisse und gebe euch meine besten Tipps und Tricks!

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