In London, all Underground trains, Buses, some railway services, and even some boats on the river, are operated by the same company: Transport for London (TfL). This means that a single ticket can be valid on a variety of transport.
In reality, TfL has largely been moving away from old-fashioned paper tickets in favour of contactless forms of payment. If you have a credit card with the ability to make contactless payments, you should be fine. If not, you’ll benefit from planning ahead.
If you have a credit card with the contactless symbol on it, you should be able to use it to pay for public transport in London (check here for details on cards issued outside the UK). Just look for the card reader which looks like this:
When travelling by bus, you simply have to touch your card to the reader when you get on. All bus journeys are the same price, so it doesn’t matter how far you go.
Underground journeys cost more the further you travel. For this reason, you have to touch your card to the reader at the station where you start your journey, and also at the station where you finish your journey: so-called “touching in and out”. This is usually easy to remember in Central London as the stations have barriers which won’t let you pass without touching your card to the reader. It’s important to remember, though: failing to “touch out” at the end of the journey will result in a maximum journey charge and, possibly, an additional fine. Also, if you have multiple cards with contactless capability, remember to use the same card for both ends of the journey, or you may be charged more than you should.
More information about using contactless cards on London public transport, including details of how to create a login account so you can access an itemised list of each journey you take, along with its cost, can be found on the TfL website.
Visitor Oyster Card
If you don’t have a contactless credit card, you can buy a “Visitor Oyster Card” from the TfL website. An “Oyster Card” is the usual pre-paid contactless smart card that Londoners use to travel. This version is specifically designed for people just visiting the city for a short stay.
The card costs £3 (plus postage) plus a minimum of £10 credit that you will use to pay for your travel. Note that the card cannot be bought in London. You have to order it from the website and have it delivered to your home address before you travel.
More information about purchasing the card, and how to obtain a refund of any unused credit at the end of your stay, can be found on the TfL website.
You can find lots of information about public transport fares on the TfL website, though the vast majority of journeys will be covered by the following information.
The cost of journeys on the Underground are calculated using a “zone” system (you can see the zones on most Underground maps). Zones 1 & 2 cover the vast majority of central London and most of the major tourist sites. A single journey within zones 1&2 will cost £2.40 using a contactless credit card or an oyster card, and £4.90 if paying with cash.
The cost of a bus journey is £1.50 with contactless or oyster card. If you make a second bus journey within an hour of “touching in” on the initial bus journey, your second journey will be free. You cannot pay for individual bus journeys with cash.
Apart from cheaper fares, contactless and oyster cards also benefit from a daily “cap”. If you only travel by bus, the price you pay for fares will be capped at £4.50 per day. Any further journeys will be free. Travelling on the Underground increases the daily cap to £6.60 (for zone 1&2 travel) but, again, any further travel will be free.
It’s important to continue to use the card readers when travelling, even when you’ve exceeded your daily fare limit. TfL will record your journeys and calculate the appropriate amount to charge to your card automatically.