If you are planning to use public transport during your stay in London – and that is likely given driving around the capital is not straightforward and parking can prove difficult in the central areas – then you need to make sure you get an Oyster card.
This pre-paid travelcard means you can use the city’s extensive network of Tube, National Rail, bus, tram and river bus services without too much hassle and it offers cheaper fares.
What is an Oyster Card?
An Oyster Card is a little reusable plastic card that can be loaded with credit and allows you to travel around the city’s public transport network without having to use cash.
You can purchase a card for a small deposit and then you just need to put the card close of one of the many terminals across the city to be able to get on a tube, bus, boat, tram or bus.
The use of the cards has played a key part in reducing congestion to the major transport hubs and many of London’s buses are already completely cashless so the Oyster Card is a must.
They were first introduced in 2003 and have transformed how residents, commuters and travellers access London transport, plus they also offer discounted fares – so perfect for those holidaying on a budget.
Maximum daily fees apply to minimise costs for people who make multiple journeys throughout the day. Once you reach the daily fare cap, there are no further charges for travel on that day.
How to buy an Oyster Card
You can purchase an Oyster Card from most London stations or ticket stops during normal hours. You can add credit when you purchase the card, using a debit/credit card or cash. They also come in a special wallet so you can protect the card and it makes it easier to swipe at the relevant terminal spots – you don’t need to remove it from the wallet to do so.
There is also the option to purchase an Oyster Card via the internet before you arrive in London. So if you prefer to be organised, head to the Transport for London website and follow the Get an Oyster Card link. The card can then be posted directly to your address – if you sign up to an online account, it is also possible to top-up the card via the internet.
Tips for travelling on the London Underground
Remember it isn’t just Oyster Cards that help improve travelling on the London transport network and it can help to follow a few simple guidelines to make your journey as smooth as possible.
Avoid the peak times
If you really don’t need to travel at peak times then try to avoid it, especially if it is your first time travelling by tube. As one of the major ways for Londoners to travel to work, it does become very crowded between 7.30am and 9.30am, then between 5pm and 7pm in the evening.
Travelling in peak times also means you may end up paying more for your journey, with fares dropping after the morning rush period.
It is also worth noting that many tube trains do not run 24 hours a day so make sure you know what time the last train is, or you could be forced to rely on the night buses that do operate longer hours. Of course, you can use your Oyster Card on all night bus services.
Keep to the right
It is an unwritten rule that when travelling on an escalator you should keep to the right. This gives anyone wanting to rush for their train a clear path and means you aren’t going to get in anyone’s way.
It is also common courtesy to allow people to get off the train or tube before getting on board. There is no point trying to get on the carriage if fellow passengers want to leave – it will just cause a traffic jam, so step aside and make sure things keep moving.
When you do make it down to the platform, it is advisable to move along to prevent bottlenecks at the entry points. If you walk right along the platform you may be able to get a seat, as carriages are often emptier towards the front and rear of the trains.
Remember to check the travel news
Maintenance work is common on the London transport network, although it is usually kept to weekend and night times. However, it can often overrun, so it is vital to check for any travel problems before setting off. The Transport for London website or smartphone app is a good place to double-check for updates and if needs be, you can search for an alternative route. It is also a good idea to keep your ears open when travelling on the network, as often there will be announcements letting you know of any problems or delays on the system.