If you’re gearing up for an unforgettable trip to the Big Smoke (that’s one of London’s 19th-century nicknames) and are planning to hop on the iconic double-decker buses or zip around on the underground, there are a few handy pearls of knowledge you should tuck into your back pocket. Understanding London’s public transport and grasping the ins and outs will make your trip a much easier one, which is why we’ve written this article about important things to know before using London’s public transport.
You can use an Oyster card, but contactless is easier
You have the three main choices mentioned above for transport payments. You can pick up Oyster cards at the airport, at specific train stations and at convenience stores around the city. They’ll set you back seven pounds to buy, and you can top up your card with credit as many times as you need to, which you can then use to travel around the city via bus or train/tube.
While Oyster cards are an option, contactless payments using your card or phone are often quicker, and you don’t need to worry about topping up. Just tap and go – easy. The contactless payment methods are for those with a credit or debit card with a contactless form of payment; you can check this with your bank or look for the contactless symbol on the card (it has four curved waves and looks similar to the Wi-Fi symbol). Simply tap your debit or credit card on the yellow card reader at the ticket barrier or the front of the bus beside the driver – you only need to tap at the start of your journey on buses and when you start and end a trip on a train – and your fare will be automatically calculated according to your travel route.
It’s also worth knowing that there’s a daily cap for journeys made on London’s transport. You can make as many trips as you like (using the same card to tap in and out), and when all your fares add up to a certain amount, you won’t be charged any more. There are different caps for the times of day you travel (peak and off-peak) as well as the transport you use, and the different zones you travel in. You can see a breakdown of the cap prices on the TFL website.
Kids under 11 travel for free
If you’ve got pint-sized travellers in tow, You’ll be happy to hear that kids under 11 travel for totally free on London’s Tube, DLR and London Overground, as long as they travel with a paying adult. You don’t need to get them an Oyster card, and up to four children can travel at once with one paying adult. You can also use the wider ticket barriers to take kids through, which we elaborate on more below.
Kids aged 11–15 travel half price
For the not-so-little ones aged 11 to 15, there’s the Young Visitor Discount, which gives them 50% off their tube and bus fares for up to 14 days. To get it, they’ll need a topped-up Oyster card, and then ask a staff member at any tube or train station to add the Young Visitor Discount to the Oyster. Just make sure the youngster is with you when you ask for it.
Make use of the wide barriers if you need to
At most stations, there are rows of ticket barriers that you can come in and out of when you tap your Oyster or contactless card. So, one important thing to know before using London’s public transport is that if you’re travelling with luggage, a pushchair, a wheelchair, or anything a little bulkier than your standard shopping bags, you might want to use the wider barriers. These are usually located at the end of the row of barriers and are a blessing for anyone needing that little extra room.
Peak travel times mean the buses and trains will be busy
If you’re all about a chill travel vibe or just want to avoid crowds of people, try steering clear of peak travel times. Peak times typically revolve around the morning and evening rush hours when people are commuting to and from work. The morning peak hours are generally from 7:00 am to 9:00 am, and the evening peak hours are from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Opt for the more laid-back off-peak times when the crowds thin out a bit. Keep in mind the exact peak hours might vary depending on the mode of transport and the route you’re taking, as well as the fact that peak travel times also cost a bit more than off-peak.
Always stand on the right if you’re waiting on an escalator
Perhaps one of the most important things to know before using London’s public transport
involves escalator etiquette – something taken very seriously amongst Londoners. Whatever you do, never find yourself standing on the left side of a moving escalator, that’ll make you very unpopular with others. Throughout London, the norm is to stand on the right, ensuring a smoother flow. Those who want to ascend or descend can cruise up and down on the left instead of standing still.
One last tip: if you’re waiting to get on a tube, make sure you stand back and wait for everyone to disembark the train before you hop on board.
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