London’s Oyster Cards Explained

2010
01.28

Oh the intricate world of transportation tickets.  It’s easy to deal with for the locals but for the visitors, adjusting to a different system in each city can be quite a task. Here’s an explanation of the London’s Oyster cards:

Oyster Cards basically are a fancier version of paper tickets.

Oyster card

They are available at most tube stations in London and several other locations, such as corner stores. You can use it in the Underground, buses, DLR, Overground, Trams and some of the National Rail service within the Greater London area.

Before you buy a ticket, you need to check how many zones you need to cover - most visitors will only need zones 1-2, which covers central London. The more zones you purchase, the more expensive the fare, the further you can go (zones start from 1 and go up to 9)

Now, about the titles. There are two types of transportation titles you can load up on your Oyster card:

  • Travelcards: these are permits to travel at different times and zones, depending on what you’ve chosen. You can choose daily, weekly or monthly passes.

The daily Travelcards have a twist: you have the option of “anytime” and “off-peak”, the former meaning you can travel at any time of the day and the latter after 9:30AM (talk about one advantage to sleep late).

This type of title is more expensive to buy but is essential if you plan on using public transportation several times during your stay.

  • Pay As You Go: pretty self-explanatory and works just like a top-up mobile. You load money in it and travel around the network as you like, paying the full fare for every journey. There is, however, such a thing as daily price capping for PAYG users, which is the equivalent of a One-Day Travelcard.

This type of title is much cheaper and flexible than Travelcards and it’s made for the users that only plan to use the public transportation every once in a while during their stay.

Lastly, and most importantly, the fares. They will change depending on the distance, the type of transportation, the title, the time of the day and the mean of payment. Phew, I know. But once you’ve figured it out, it’s not big deal. For all the details on the different fares, check out TFL’s website.

Personnally, I would rather use Pay as You Go and walk for most of my stay. If I must take the public transportation, I usually opt for buses, which are much cheaper and allow me to do some sightseeing while giving my legs a break.

FAQ: What do I have to buy if I land at Heathrow and spend my week in London?

That one requires a bit of strategy. Heathrow being in zone 6, it wouldn’t make sense to buy a Weekly Travelcard for zones 1-6. What you need to do is buy three titles – a Weekly Travelcard zones 1-2 for your daily journeys, and two single tickets zones 1-6 for your journeys from and to the airport. That’s the most cost efficient option.

Ready to go? Check out Transportation for London’s excellent journey planner tool over at TFL’s website.

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