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I'm visiting London for a couple of days, and planning to use public transport while there.

What kind of ticket(s) would it make most sense to use? Do I get the most value out of single tickets, day travelcards, an Oyster card, or something else? (I'm guessing the Oyster card is more geared towards residents of London, but I'm not sure.)

I'd mostly move around in central London (within zone 1) with accommodation being located a little further away (zone 2). Most probably I'd take several trips each day (some of which might be during rush hour).

Bonus question: while I would surely be using the tube the most, are the same tickets generally valid for buses too?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 24 down vote accepted

If you're only going to be travelling within London (i.e. not starting outside of London, and not visiting outside of London), then by far and away your best bet is an Oyster Card.

TFL have a very good website on the Oyster Card, with details of how to get one. They also have a dedicated Visitors to London section including a handy intro video.

One of the great things about an Oyster card is that it'll start out in Pay As You Go mode, then if you happen to spend enough in one day that a travel card would have been cheaper, then it'll cap the cost at the travelcard fee for the rest of the day. It's valid on the tube, on buses, on trains within London, and the DLR.

If you're starting from outside London each day, then it may make sense to buy a travelcard as part of a train ticket to London. Depends if you're going to be doing lots of travel in London or not that day. However, you can't buy a ticket that's (Somewhere) -> London, returning the next day, with travelcards both days, you can only get a travelcard valid for a day return ticket. So, if you were to be doing a trip in, travel round London for a few days, then a return, you'd be better off with Oyster.

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Thanks, nice answer! On previous visits I've used day travelcards and single tickets, but those can get rather expensive, so good to know Oyster is cheaper and for visitors too. Also, sounds neat that you can just use the card and it automatically selects the optimal "mode". –  Jonik Sep 12 '11 at 20:58
    
Follow up: if I visited London again later on, for a slightly longer time, I presume I could use the same physical card, and reload it with, say, 7-day or monthly Travelcard (as listed here)? Or are visitor Oyster cards more limited in these options than regular ones (if there is any distinction, that is)? –  Jonik Sep 12 '11 at 21:05
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Oyster cards don't expire, so you can come back a year later and continue using the same card (including any credit on it). –  Gagravarr Sep 12 '11 at 21:23
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Paper tickets for single journeys cost more than doing the same journey on an Oyster card, so there's your first one. Secondly, an Oyster card will start the day as doing single journeys, then magically turns into a day travel card when you spend that much, so you don't need to decide in advance which is going to be cheaper. Finally, they're easy to get, and don't expire once you have one –  Gagravarr Nov 7 '11 at 21:31
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@Jonik, somedays you can save money with a Oyster card, as your single tickets may add up to less then the Travel Card. The great think about the Oyster card, is that you don't need to decide if you will buy single tickets or a day's Travel Card, it always changes you the cheepest option. (So no need to pre-plan all your trips). However a 7 day travelcard can work out cheaper then "pay as you go" –  Ian Ringrose Nov 10 '11 at 14:27

I'd recommend getting an Oyster Card.

You can order one in advance and have it sent abroad as well. It does take 5 to 8 work days for EU countries, and up to 12 for others. Note that only a few countries are supported -- mostly Schengen area, US, and select Asian countries. The card activation fee is 3 GBP, and you are also required to put in at least 10 GBP credit initially which you can later use.

This is by far the most flexible way to travel in London, especially since you'll be staying for more than a day or two. Check the website for conditions and fares.

The best feature is that you don't have to plan ahead your journeys for the day to get the cheapest daily fare overall (there is a ridiculous number of tickets you can purchase, depending on the number of zones you travel through, the time of the day, the phase of the moon etc.). In the end of the day, you will always be charged the least possible amount for all the journeys you made.

As far as travel passes go, there are a few which allow for unlimited journeys during a single day in one or more than one zones, and usually break even at around 5 trips.

You can recharge it online with a credit card, or at every tube station with cash/card. If this is your first visit, I'd say go for it.

Note that the price for individual fares is exactly the same if you purchase them directly, so if you are able to plan well, you might not need it at all.

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Thanks a lot, that sounds interesting! –  RoflcoptrException Jan 11 '12 at 8:46
    
You don't need to buy an Oyster Card in advance, you can buy it at any train station from ticket machines (if you have a chip-and-PIN bank card) or from staffed counters. –  Ankur Banerjee Jan 11 '12 at 10:25
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Actually not quite accurate the last bit - the price for individual fares is far less if you pay with an Oyster card than if you purchase them directly. Bus tickets are HALF! :) –  Mark Mayo Jan 11 '12 at 10:47
    
Things must have changed since my last trip to London, it seems. I will read up and change my answer accordingly. –  mindcorrosive Jan 11 '12 at 10:48

Well you'll want an Oyster card.

Now this works in three ways:

  • Option A - Prepay. Top up a card, and then basically everything is half-price. Buses, trains, tram, etc.
  • Option B - Bus pass. Unlimited bus use, all zones, for a week.
  • Option C - Travel Card. This is unlimited bus use, and unlimited other transport just in specified zones (usually 1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-3, 1-4, or 1-6, although there are other options).

Given the length of time, I'd personally go for a Travel Card. It means you just don't need to worry after that. You can still top up with some extra prepay for when you go out of zones, or just use the bus for the bits that your zones don't cover. Easy.

You can read all about it on the TFL website.

It's worth noting that Heathrow is Zone 6. You could get a 1-4, which includes Richmond, and just put 5 pounds on pre-pay to cover your Heathrow rides. Also, you can buy and top-up Oyster cards at Heathrow airport, and return it to get your deposit back at the end. Heathrow and the tube work very well in tandem - assuming the tube is running, of course ;)

For more information, see another question we have on this.

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Note to future readers: this answer was originally posted to another question and that question has now been combined with this (which is why it talks about Heathrow and Richmond etc). –  Jonik Jan 11 '12 at 11:03
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+1 for more details about how the Oyster Card works –  Jonik Jan 11 '12 at 11:07
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Just to clarify: If I for example order a Oystercard with 30 pound credit, but only use 20 of it. What happens with the rest? –  RoflcoptrException Jan 11 '12 at 18:21
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When you return it to the TFL office, you get your card deposit refunded, as well as any outstanding balance. Similarly, if you have a negative balance, it comes off your deposit ;) –  Mark Mayo Jan 11 '12 at 18:25

The big advantage for me of the Oyster card was that I could top it up with a credit card. I found London very cash-oriented and never seemed to have cash when I needed it. The card could be refilled at any station using my Visa card.

I was staying with a family friend who keeps a card in the house for visitors - it had about 5 pounds on it when I arrived and I made sure to leave it a little fuller than that when I left. But on a future visit I wouldn't hesitate to buy one if I was staying a week or more. It takes the guesswork out of the process.

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