It’s no secret that London has one of the most expensive public transport systems in the world with tourists paying around £21 a day on local transportation. So, we’ve created this useful collection of top tips to help you find the cheapest way to travel in London, letting you keep your money for the fun stuff.
How to travel cheap in London
1. Get an Oyster card
As you move around London you will spot locals tapping something against a yellow card reader at the underground turnstiles, on buses, trams, and even on the Thames Clipper Uber boat. This is an Oyster card, and it is an incredible 50% cheaper than buying single tickets or a paper travelcard. Check the Transport for London website to get an Oystercard.
There’s also a special visitors Oyster card available. You can order an Oyster card online before your trip or pick one up from any TfL Visitor Centre, Oyster ticket shop, or mainline rail station. Just put as much credit on your card as you feel you’ll need, and you can use it on public transport throughout the city. It’s important to remember to tap the card at both the beginning and end of journeys to ensure you pay the right fare, but if you forget, don’t worry. You may be eligible for an Oyster refund.
2. Go contactless
Our second insider tip is to ditch the cash and go contactless. Unlike Oyster cards, your contactless debit, credit or pre-paid card won’t run out of credit unexpectedly. This is a good choice if you are unfamiliar with London and aren’t sure how much to pre-load your Oyster card with. Using contactless payments means you can take advantage of the same pay-as-you-go-capping system that Oyster cards use, ensuring you only pay the lowest possible amount.
3. Know where you’re travelling to
Being spontaneous is fun, but not more fun than saving money, right? To work out the cheapest possible route, plan your trips in advance and use the Citymapper app or the TFL Journey Planner to know where you’re going.
London is divided into nine zones, which spread out from its historic heart covering areas such as the West End and Waterloo. The further you travel, the more expensive your fare becomes.
Transport for London (TfL) fare caps
The table below was accurate from March 1st 2022. Please keep in mind this applies to the tube, DLR, TfL Rail, the London Overground, and selected National Rail journeys, not buses.
|Zones||Cap for Monday-Sunday||Cap for One Day|
|1 and 2||£38.40||£7.70|
|1, 2, and 3||£45.20||£9.00|
|1, 2, 3, and 4||£55.20||£11.00|
|1, 2, 3, 4, and 5||£65.70||£13.10|
4. Avoid travelling during peak hours
For those wondering how to travel cheaply in London, an easy answer is to never travel during peak hours. The morning peak time runs between 6.30 am, and 9.30 am, and the afternoon peak time is between 4 pm and 7 pm. Did you know that travel during peak time is often twice as expensive as off-peak?
5. Take the bus for long distances
Those big red buses are synonymous with London. They are also of the few things that are cheaper in the Big Smoke than anywhere else in the country, with a single fare costing less than a Starbucks latte at just £1.65, and this is the case no matter how long or short your ride.
You can make further savings if you take our advice and use either an Oyster Card or pay contactless, as a day’s unlimited travel costs £4.95. With buses running over Tower Bridge and other scenic routes, it’s a great way to combine transport with sightseeing.
6. Take advantage of the Hopper fare
While an all-day ticket is far from hard on the wallet, the Hopper Fare is another penny-pinching option for frugal travellers. This deal lets you make unlimited bus and tram journeys for just the price of one single, so long as it is within one hour of first tapping in. All you have to do is make sure you use the same card each time.
7. Rent a bike when it’s sunny
Take advantage of the Santander bikes located around the city. There’s no need to book. Head to the nearest docking station, sign in on the terminal and ride away. You’ll find the CityMapper comes in handy here, allowing you to locate the nearest docking station. Bikes only cost £2 for every 30 minutes of use, and you can return them to any docking station with space. With plenty of new cycle roads and car-free areas popping up throughout the city, cycling in London has never been easier.
8. Walk wherever possible
With so many public transport options available, it’s easy to forget the simplest and cheapest way to travel in London, walking! For practical examples, here are some of the most popular routes in London which are cheaper and easier on foot.
- Instead of taking the tube, walk from Covent Garden to Leicester Square. It will only take you 4 minutes.
- Going from Trafalgar Square to the Thames? Don’t take the Bakerloo line, they’re only a 5-minute walk apart.
- In London for a shopping spree? Walk between Knightsbridge to Sloane Square in about 10 minutes.
If you’re worried about getting lost or arriving late, there is no need to panic. Use TfL’s Legible London map for walking routes and estimated travel times.
Cheap airport transfers in London
9. Avoid express trains
Express trains headed straight for London’s airports may be speedy, but they certainly aren’t easy on the wallet. Frugal travellers would be wise to avoid these options. London offers a range of buses, coaches, and underground journeys for cheap airport transfers.
10. Take the Piccadilly line to go to Heathrow airport
Allow yourself a little more time, 46 minutes to be precise, and save yourself money by hopping on the Piccadilly line. It will cost you just £3.10 when you use your Oyster or contactless card. Compare that to a whopping £22 for an off-peak ride on the Heathrow Express!
11. Consider your options
There are 6 airports in London (Stansted, Southend, Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick and City) and there’s a range of affordable train services to get to them. One cheap option is to hop on a bus or a coach at Victoria station. Direct buses to all airports are available except for Southend.
It’s cheaper to use your Oyster card than to buy a paper ticket, but be careful, you can’t use it to go to Luton, Southend or Stansted airports as they’re outside of the London travel zones.
If there’s a group of you, you might be surprised to find that sharing a taxi is cheap and convenient. With average airport transfer fares between £17-£40, a taxi can still work out a lot cheaper than the express train. Last but not least, the tube and Docklands Light Railway provide routes to City and Heathrow airports that cost under £5 with an Oyster card, that’s less than the price of a fancy London sandwich!
Cheap airport transfers London
|City||N/A||£2.80 with your Oyster 40 minutes||Approximately £3 with your Oyster 110m to Piccadilly Circus||£17-£40, minicab, 30-40m|
|Gatwick||£10.90 to London Bridge with your Oyster. 47 minutes.||N/A||
£2-£11 to Victoria.
£10.90 to Paddington (not the Heathrow Express).
|£3.10 with your Oyster. 46 minutes.||
£5-£10 to Victoria.
|Luton||£13.80 to St Pancras, 23-44 mins (4)||N/A||
£2-£12 to Victoria
|Southend||£11.70 to Stratford 44-46 mins, £13 to Liverpool Street, 53-55 mins||N/A||N/A||£61-£66, 70-85m|
|Stansted||£19.40 to Liverpool Street, 46-47 mins||N/A||£5-£14 to Victoria, 100m||£44-£55, 70-80m|
Cheapest ways to travel outside of London
12. Get a 16-25 railcard
If you’re between 16-25 years of age, you’re in luck because you can get your hands on a 16-25 railcard. This offers a third from the price of train tickets. It costs just £30 for a years’ pass, so you’ll make your money back in just a few journeys.
13. Book your tickets 12 weeks in advance
Train tickets are cheapest when booked twelve weeks in advance. The early bird really does catch the worm here, with advanced bookings leading to potential savings of 80%.
So now you know how to travel cheap in London, with all the insider secrets for getting around like a local, you’ll need to source some cheap, cheerful accommodation. Hostels are always a great shout, allowing you to socialise with like-minded travellers from around the world and friendly staff who can point you in the direction of the city’s hidden gems.
Book a room at Clink78 Backpackers Youth Hostel in Kings Cross or Clink261 Budget Hostel in London for a memorable stay. We offer free walking tours and a 24-hour reception team, so somebody will be on hand to help you whenever you arrive.