2024 Tourist Guide: London Public Transportation on a Budget

Written by Kali Todd

Budget Travel Guides & Tips

October 23, 2023

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you.


London is a vibrant tapestry woven with history and culture. From the iconic Big Ben to renowned markets like Camden Town, the city offers a diverse array of attractions for every traveler to explore. To truly experience the essence of London, utilizing the public transport system during your stay is essential. Though it might seem a little intimidating for tourists, rest assured there’s nothing to worry about with my guide! 

Check out my guide on 75+ unique things to do in London here

London is a large city with 9 transportation zones:

Zone 1: London City Center with Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, etc
Zone 2: Camden Town, Notting Hill, London Zoo, Regents Park, etc
Zone 3: Kew Gardens, Wimbledon, Horniman Museum, London City Airport, etc
Zone 4: Wembley, RAF Museum, Richmond Park, Eltham Palace, etc
Zone 5: Twickenham
Zone 6: End of the line for Central, District, Thameslink, Heathrow Express, Elizabeth, Metropolitan, Overground, and Piccadilly
Zone 7: Chiltern Open Air Museum, Bushey Rose Garden, etc
Zone 8: London outskirts
Zone 9: London outskirts

A Google Map of zones can be found here:

What is the easiest way to pay for public transportation in London?

Contactless Payment is the answer. The easiest and most cost-effective way to travel around London is to use the tap-to-pay feature on your credit or debit card, with mobile payments such as Apple and Google Pay included. 

Paper tickets for single journeys are incredibly expensive – more than double what it would cost to use contactless or an Oyster card in many instances. Do not purchase single-journey paper tickets at the kiosks.

With contactless, there is a daily cap depending on the zones you travel. The amount paid is automatically calculated and charged to your card the next day. If you don’t hit the daily cap, less than the zone cap is charged. Along with a daily cap, Transport for London has a weekly cap. This cap is calculated from Monday to Sunday each week and is equal to the cost of the 7-Day Travelcard (prices below).

What about the Oyster Card?

Contactless is charged the exact same rates as the Oyster Card minus the nonrefundable set-up fee of £7. For adults, there is no need for an Oyster Card – save the £7!

Adult Fares (16+):

ZonesDaily Anytime Cap7-Day Travelcard
Zones 1-2£8.10£40.70
Zones 1-3£9.60£47.90
Zones 1-4£11.70£58.50
Zones 1-5£13.90£69.60
Zones 1-6£14.90£74.40
Zones 1-7£16.20£81.00
Zones 1-8£19.10£95.60
Zones 1-9£21.20£106.10

How do I use tap-to-pay on London public transport?

When taking the Underground, Overground, or Uber Boat (Thames Clippers) tap when entering the station and tap when leaving. When taking the bus or tram tap only when getting on. 

Uber Boat (Thames Clippers) does not count towards the daily or weekly cap. This mode of transportation is an additional charge.

What if I am traveling with others?

Only one card can be used at a time per person. This means that if you are traveling with others, each person needs to use a different card or a different form of tap payment. You cannot tap your physical card 4 times over to cover yourself and your family.

You can tap your physical card, Apple Watch, Apple Pay on your iPhone, and Google Pay on your Android to cover your family of 4 and it can all be linked to the same card. The Transport for London (TfL) system recognizes the device used and not the card number. 

Do I need to use the same card?

Yes, you need to use the same card and method of payment! If you use a physical credit card to tap into a station, you must use the same physical card to tap out (when using a bus or tram you only need to tap when getting on). Do not use a physical card to tap in and out of a route but later in the day use Apple Pay to tap in and out of another route. Keep the same form of payment for your entire stay so daily and weekly caps are followed.

What if I have children?

Children under 11 years old travel on TfL for free (without a ticket) on buses, trams, Underground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), and Overground with a fare-paying adult. On National Rail services, children under 5 ride free while most services offer 50% for children 5-11 with a fare-paying adult.

Children aged 11-15 years old get a little tricky. Instead of confusing you with several overwhelming options, I recommend the Young Visitor Discount via an Oyster Card or a Kids Travelcard via the in-person kiosk which offers a day card and 7 day card. The number of days you plan to spend in London will determine which ticket is the best option. Prices are listed below for each.

Children Ages 11-15 Fares:

ZonesDaily Anytime
Young Visitors Discount (Oyster)
Daily Anytime Travelcard 7 Day Travelcard
Zones 1-2£4.05 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee 
Zones 1-3£4.80 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee  
Zones 1-4£5.85 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee  
Zones 1-5£6.95 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee  
Zones 1-6£7.45 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee  
Zones 1-7£8.10 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee  
Zones 1-8£9.55 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee  
Zones 1-9£10.60 +
£7 Oyster One-Time Setup Fee  

*The Young Visitors Discount is added to the Oyster Card at a manned station. This discount reduces fares 50% as well as the daily cap for 14 days. The daily cap is shown in the chart above, in the Daily Anytime Young Visitors Discount (Oyster) column.

Children 16 and older are considered adults on TfL.

How do I know how much I’ve spent?

You can track all stops and their charges by registering your contactless with TfL here. You will not be charged more than the Daily Anytime Cap shown in the Adult Fares chart above when using contactless, though.

What if I missed tapping in or out?

Download the TfL app or go to tfl.gov.uk to add details of your trip if you missed tapping in or out of a station. The charged amount will be adjusted once you add the necessary journey details but in the meantime, you will be charged the maximum fare for the journey.

How can I find the best route to take?

Google Maps contains live public transport information, even informing you of when there are delays. Put in your destination, select ‘Directions,’ then the train symbol to see all public transport options. 

Final Thoughts

Understanding London’s public transportation system is essential for your budget. By utilizing contactless payment, tourists can seamlessly travel across the city while keeping expenses in check. With my tips and insights in mind, you’re all set to navigate London’s bustling public transport system. Enjoy your adventure in this enormous, vibrant city!

Don’t forget to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, such as the Capital One Venture X.


1 Comment

  1. tianna

    Great information on using public transportation in London, all the information you need in one article.


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