Well connected by rail, road and river transport, London has no dearth of public transport for visitors who wish to explore. While we all understand that hiring private vehicles is definitely an expensive proposition, there are plenty of options lined up to cut down some expenses in London. The city hosts a large span of transport options that are easy on the pocket and help you discover the city as a local. Read on for an elaborate overview of London's network of public transport.
The London Public Transportation System: The Basics
London has 32 boroughs and it is very easy to cover the city with its excellent public transport system.
Let's start with The Tube, the most convenient way to travel to and from Central London. The Overground Rail sprawls across the city, beyond the Tube network.
The Docklands Light Railway a unique, driverless railway line which also connects with the Tube at various junctions. The areas that are not covered by Underground or Overground are covered by the Rail Services.
The iconic Red buses are extremely convenient and cost-effective to travel across London. Trams are equally convenient- buy a pass that covers both bus and tram travel.
Try the Emirates Air Line cable car for panoramic views of River Thames. If you want to travel between Greenwich and Putney, take the Thames Clipper. Wondering about hailing a taxi cab? A pricey affair, but you cut down on travel time.
Scroll Through London's Public Transportation Options
Getting To London From The Airport
On your visit to London, you’re probably going to begin figuring out your journey from the airport itself. While your journey will vary according to the airport you’re landing at, there are several ways to shuttle between the city and the airport itself. While London Airport, Gatwick and Stansted have special train services to central London, London Heathrow and City Airports are well connected with the Tube. Apart from these, there are also coach services run by National Express, Greenline and Easybus which run for 24 hours a day and can be booked for as low as £2!
Heathrow Airport is situated west of central London, and it is located 24 km away from Downtown London.
- It is well connected to central London by The Heathrow Express trains, which are the fastest mode to travel to and from central London.
- The Piccadilly line is one of the most convenient modes to travel to the city centre, and they are also cheaper when compared to other modes of transport.
- You can opt for the oyster card or buy tickets for cash. However, Oyster cards work out cheaper as they can help you save on peak time fares.
- All taxi services are available 24/7 and can be booked on arrival.
- National Express coaches run 24/7 from various terminal points and are sign posted for easy getaway. These coaches take you to various locations in the city.
Gatwick Airport is the second largest international airport of the city, and it is located 47.5 km South of London.
- The train services are accessible easily at Gatwick South Terminal. If travelling to and from North Terminal, there is a free shuttle service provided by the airport. The Gatwick Express Service has a frequency of 15 minutes.
- National Express buses leave almost every 20 minutes from the lower level of the North Terminal. From the South Terminal, you can catch a bus from the lower forecourt. It is easily accessible by escalators, lifts as well as ramps.
- Taxis are available at both the terminals 24/7. They can be booked in advance as well.
Located to the north-east of London, Standsted airport is located 64 km away from London and is connected to the city via two routes.
- The Stansted Express Train which starts every 15 minutes and departs for London Liverpool Street, and the National Express bus which starts every 15 to 30 minutes and leaves for London Liverpool or Victoria Coach Station.
- There are also Terravision and easyBus services available to shuttle between the airport and the city with convenience.
Pick up tickets here:
London’s Luton International Airport is located to the north-west of the city and its good connectivity makes it one of the easiest airports to reach by train. It is about 55 km away from Downtown London.
- Take the shuttle service from the airport to reach Luton Airport Parkway station which takes about 10 minutes to reach.
- There are frequent trains to London. Also, various trains belonging to different companies leave for central London and other places. There are 6 trains leaving Luton every hour during the day and 1 train per hour at night.
- Luton Airport is also well connected to London by buses run by National Express which runs about 75 buses per day. EasyBus and Terravision are the other service operators to run buses between the Airport and various points in London city. Located outside Bay 7 is Greenline 757 bus which will take you to London Victoria.
- Apart from everything else, you will find taxis queued up at the terminal. Make sure to check with the driver of the taxi about the fares before boarding the taxi.
London's Public Transportation Deconstructed
Hot tip: Remember to wear a face mask while using London's public transportation, or you could get fined £200!
1The Underground "Tube"
The Underground, or 'The Tube’ is the oldest underground metro network in the world. Although named Underground, more than 50% of its tracks are actually above the ground! It covers as many as 270 stations in total and is the quickest and best choice for travellers, as it keeps you away from the hurdles of traffic and signals. It is very easy to recognise the Underground stations with its iconic red and blue logo outside the venue. While tickets can be purchased from the entry point at the machines or at the ticket offices at the station, purchasing the Oyster card is a smarter way to plan your journey.
As the name suggests, the Overground runs completely above the ground, as unlike the Tube. The Overground services are a comparatively newer addition to the city, and hence its run parallel to The Tube. Priced similarly, this mode of transport, too, can be accessed using an Oyster card, which can be easily topped up at any station. While you don’t need to touch in and out if you’ve opted for an Oyster contactless payment, there may be some stations which require otherwise. Distinct and easily identifiable, the logo of the Overground is almost the same as The Tube, except that the red is replaced with an Orange coloured circle.
3Docklands Light Railway
The DLR is an automated rail system that specifically covers the Dockland areas of London. It goes from Tower Gateway or Stratford to Isle of Dogs and Greenwich. This type of transport is mainly useful if you have to go towards Stratford Airport or travel to certain outskirts of London. When using the Oyster or contactless payment, it won’t be necessary to touch in or out when travelling from Underground to DLR but it is necessary to remember that DLR stations do not have a barrier and is recommended to have a valid ticket at the start and end of your journey.
Yes, there’s one more! Besides the ones we have mentioned above, there’s also Rail Services that London swears by. These are the faster ones that link London to its suburbs and to some of the distant places in the country. While there's a direct train connection to the airports of London, Heathrow, Gatswick and Stansted, there are also trains going outside of London which are not in the Transport for London umbrella. For these, you may have to book tickets from the station ticket window or the machines as Oyster or other cards will not be functional here. However, there are certain exceptions in this case (such as suburban trains in zone 1 to 9), some trains going towards Heathrow are covered under the Oyster card.
The iconic Red Bus of London is the most popular mode of transport and ferries over two billion passengers every year! There are many bus routes plying throughout London, and it is therefore a very convenient and preferred way of travel. With or without an Oyster Card, it is also extremely affordable for daily travel. It only costs £1.50 by Oyster card for however long the journey is in an hour. There’s also the Hopper system on the Bus where in an hour you can choose to change any number of buses. Most go London’s bus services run 24/7, so you don’t have to worry about missing the last one.
You will find the trams in the areas of Wimbledon, Croydon, Beckenham and New Addington. The services that run on four lines are frequent and easily accessible. In fact, the ‘step-free’ trams are easily accessible to the old and disabled. Trams are treated as a part of the bus service in London, which is why the standard fare of £1.50 is applied here as well. Payment for the same can be made through Oyster cards or contactless, and Travelcards are also valid for this service. Trams in London function between 5am in the morning up to 1am in the night.
7Emirates Air Line Cable Car
The Emirates Air Line runs between the Greenwich Peninsula (by the O2) and the Royal Docks. If you’ve had enough of the rail travel, you may experiment with a slightly different mode of transport — the cable car — which is deemed as the only urban cable car service in the UK. This is not only a sure shot way to avoid traffic, but it is also a wonderful way of getting stunning, panoramic views of the city during transit. The cable car is a disabled-friendly space, and also allows cyclists to ferry across the river.
8Uber Boat by Thames Clippers
With Thames running through the heart of the city, London’s River Boats, or ‘clippers’ make an integral part of its public transport network. Getting on board one of these can ferry you to your destination with convenience and on time. River boats in London are greatly preferred and they cover five routes along with its destinations from Putney onwards to Royal Woolwich Arsenal. It is extremely easy to book your tickets for this at a ticket office on the pier, however travel and Oyster cards are welcome at this service, and you may also avail the pay-as-you-go benefit for this mode of transport.
Another iconic mode of transport, the London taxi is easily available for hire at any given time of the day. London’s Hackney Carriages have been known for their rich history that dates back to 1662. Carrying people to and fro ever since, today this mode of transport is synonymous with convenience. These black cabs of London can be flagged down by waving at them on the street. A typical cab on hire would have a sign that is illuminated until engaged. What makes these cabs even more sought after is that they’re obliged to take on any journey for 12 miles, or up to one hour duration.
Apart from every other mode of transport, Londoners still prefer the traditional cycles that steadily gained popularity across the city. Available at a bike bay on almost every street, this is an affordable and eco-friendly way to get around the city. There are more than 750 docking stations and 11,500 bikes to hire around London. After accessing the bike, one can use it for 30 minutes for free, after which an additional segment would begin with a £2 charge. While the cycles do not fall under travel or oyster cards, it is very easy to activate a cycle using apps.
Best Way To Get Around London
With a plethora of transport facilities available at your fingertips, it can get confusing to choose the one that fits your needs the best. However, by making sure you know your neighbourhood well, you can select a mode of transport that is not just cheap, but also convenient for the distance you want to travel.
Cheap Public Transportation?
Get yourself the Oyster Card and get access to the Tube, Overground and Bus services in London for cheap. Each of these modes connects fairly well within the city, and keeping your card handy will fare you well.
Fastest Mode of Transportation?
The Underground Tube is London's fastest mode of transportation. It is comparitively inexpensive (especially if you have an Oyster Card with you), climate-controlled, and offers flexible routes.
Stops At Tourist Destinations Conveniently?
The iconic red double-decker buses are your best fit. Another mode of transportation that will fit the bill is the riverboat (Thames Clippers).
Convenient Mode of Transportation?
London's iconic black cabs with the yellow "taxi" sign are pretty popular. All cabs are metered and wheelchair accessible. They even carry assistance dogs at no charge. They are on the pricier side, however, booking a minicab would be a cheaper alternative.
Wheelchair-Accessible Mode of Transportation?
Buses, DLR trains, Thames Clippers' boats, trams, and taxis are all wheelchair accessible.
Top 3 London Transport Passes
The London Explorer Pass is ideal if you want to visit multiple locations, attractions and places at reduced rates. Visitors could choose upto 3 to 7 attractions from the 20 that are available on the list, and avail ticketless entry. Some of these attractions include Coca-Cola London Eye, Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours, Madame Tussaud’s and many others.
Similar to the London Explorer Pass, the London Pass gives you a choice to access over 80 attractions around the city. Valid for upto ten consecutive days, this pass requires you to merely scan the mobile ticket or voucher at the gate before entering. You can also choose to upgrade your London Pass to London Pass + Travel to include an Oyster Travel card, which would help greatly during your transit across the city.
A visitor’s Oyster card is a super cheap alternative that can be used to save both time and money in London. The card, that includes journeys on DLR, Buses, Overground as well as Tube, is the most sought after card due to its convenient nature. Considered as a handy item to carry around, the Oyster card is now moving to contactless payment cards for an even more user-friendly experience.
London Public Transportation Tips
- Choose a hop-on hop-off bus, which will not only drive you across the city at a nominal cost, but will also make sure you get acquainted to most of it with the help of an audio guide.
- Download applications like Citymapper or Tube Map Underground to keep a check on the line you’re travelling on.
- Choose to cycle around, which is not only cheap, but also eco-friendly and convenient.
- If you’re someone who prefers stopping by the scenic routes, take a cable car or the Thames Chipper for beautiful views of the city skyline.
- Make sure you’re always standing on the right on the escalator, as that is considered as a sign of politeness.
- Plan your day in a way that allows you to travel off peak hours.
- Make sure you check your map for the distance, as some of these could be easily travelled by foot.
- Uber is a great way to escape an unwanted situation, keep the app handy for the times you lose your way.
Ready to Explore London?
Fancy heading out to some other must-visit London attractions? Take inspiration from our list of the best things to do in London here. Use our comprehensive London Travel Guide to explore the rest of London in a hassle-free fashion with all the need-to-know information in hand.
Here are a few more attraction guides that could come handy.
FAQs: London Public Transportation
The Tube is London's fastest public mode of transportation.
Taxi cabs are easily available from all airports in London. However, it is the most expensive mode of transportation between the airport and London.
If you are staying in London, it is definitely advisable to buy an Oyster Card. You can travel on trams and buses for discounted rates.
Some of the popular travel apps in London to use are Visit London, TfL, AccessAble, Santander Cycles, etc.
The cheapest modes of public transportation in London are buses and trams. Both start at £1.50.