London is notoriously known to be an expensive city, but don’t let that deter you from visiting its many beautiful parks and gardens, amazing cityscape, and even attempting to spot the British royal family! So, as a first time traveler to London, how do you navigate seemingly confusing zones and various modes of public transportation? Above all, how do you travel around London more cheaply? That’s when the Oyster card comes in! Most Londoners travel around with an Oyster card and as a visitor, you’re also able to get an Oyster card. How, you ask? You’ve come to the right place. Read on!
What is an Oyster card?
An Oyster card is a prepaid, pay-as-you-go transportation card Londoners use to travel via bus, tram, Tube, London Overground, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), the Transport for London (TfL) Rail, River Bus and most National Rail services in London. This one-transport-card-for-all makes traveling super easy and hassle-free!
But wait… there’s also a Visitor Oyster card?
While both the Oyster card and the Visitor Oyster card work similarly, the Visitor Oyster card has a range of special offers and discounts at leading London restaurants, shops and entertainment venues, as well as discounts on the Thames Clippers river buses and the Emirates Air Line cable car. For the Visitor Oyster card, you’ll need to buy it before you arrive in London, whereas the normal Oyster card could be purchased at any ticketing machines in London.
Why do I need an Oyster card?
It’s more economical! The fare for one single journey on any public transportation in London is discounted and can be reduced to at least half the normal price if you use an Oyster card, which means major savings on your trips. This reason alone should be enough to make you want to use an Oyster card, especially if you’re planning to move around London via public transportation as it covers most networks. Besides, buses in London run on cashless system, which means you can’t ride on the bus if you do not own an Oyster card.
How much does an Oyster card cost?
An Oyster card costs £5 and is pre-loaded with pay-as-you-go credit for you to spend on travel. You can choose the amount of credit to be loaded to your card in the following nominals: £10, £15, £20, £25, £30, £35, £40 or £50. If you’re visiting London for two days, we’d recommend that you start with £15 credit, or £30 credit for a four-day visit in London.
The Visitor Oyster card also costs the same, but do note that you’ll have to pay for the postage fee as well. Prior to buying the card, you may also decide the amount of credit to be loaded.
Best thing is, the credit on your card never expires — it stays there until you use it. Perfect if you’re making return trips to London (or lend it to friends or family who’ll be visiting London!)
Where do I buy an Oyster card?
You can get an Oyster card at:
- At Oyster Ticket Stops in many newsagents in London
- At all Tube, London Overground and TfL Rail stations
- Some DLR and National Rail stations
- At Visitor Centres
- At the Tramlink Shop in Croydon
For the Visitor Oyster card, you can only buy it online on the Travel for London website. They will mail the card to your doorstep so it’ll be ready when you arrive in London (postage fees apply).
For both cards, you need to pay a £5 deposit. The deposit is refundable when you’re leaving London. You can get a refund at most Tube station ticket machines or Visitor Centres and once you request the refund, your Oyster card cannot be used anymore.
Can I use the Oyster card from the airport?
Yes, you can! Starting 19 February 2019, you can use the Oyster card from Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport to central London.
On Heathrow Express:
- A single journey costs £25 during peak hours and £22 during off-peak hours.
On train services from/to Gatwick Airport:
- A single journey on Gatwick Express costs £19.80.
- A single journey on Southern or Thameslink train services to/from London terminals costs £15.10 during peak hours and £8.30 during off-peak hours.
Note: Peak fares apply Monday to Friday (not on public holidays) from 6.30am to 9.30am and 4.00pm to 7.00pm. Off-peak fares apply at all other times, including weekends. So, if you want to save even more, avoid traveling around these times!
How do I use the Oyster card?
On the Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail or any National Rail:
Tap your Oyster card on a yellow card reader when you enter a station to start a journey. At the end of your journey, tap your card on the yellow card reader again at the entry barrier so that you’ll be charged the exact fare for the journey you’ve taken. Pro tip: Remember to tap your card as you exit or you’ll be penalized with the maximum fare!
On bus and tram services:
Tap your Oyster card only once on the yellow card reader when you enter a bus, as a flat fare is imposed on all journeys, regardless of distance. Don’t tap your card when you get off a bus or tram, or you will be issued with a penalty fare.
On the Thames Clippers River Bus services:
Tap your Oyster card on the yellow card reader when asked to do so by a member of staff, and remember to tap it again at the end of your journey.
I have kids with me, can they travel with the Oyster card too?
If your kids are under 11 years old, good news! They can travel for FREE when accompanied by a fare-paying adult (up to four children per adult). If you’re travelling with children aged 11-15, you need to get the Visitor Oyster card and when you arrive in London, you can add a Young Visitor discount to your Visitor Oyster card. You can do this at most Tube stations, visitor centres and the Victoria National Rail station ticket office. The Young Visitor discount gives your child 50% off the fares that adults pay, and the discount is valid for 14 days.
Wait, there’s also the London Travelcard. Help, which one should I get?
If you’re in London for four days, the Oyster card is sufficient to cover your travel needs in the city. However, if you’re in London for a week and plan to travel only in the Central London area (zone 1 and 2, or zone 1 to zone 4), you should get the seven-day Travelcard as it is more cost-efficient. Do note that you should buy the London Travelcard online BEFORE you travel to London.
Now that you know everything about the Oyster card, check out what you can do in London during the summer. As the Brits say it, cheers and see you in London!
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