Cheap travel: how to get about London and not break the bank


Let’s be honest, when you’re visiting somewhere (especially if you’re coming from overseas), the greatest expense of your trip will likely be travel. And, depending on where you go, that can definitely include traveling about once you’ve actually arrived in your destination. Unfortunately, despite its many enormous attractions as a hugely exciting, vibrant and culturally essential capital city, London has a reputation for being expensive travel-wise. And this is a reputation that’s not entirely unfairly earned.

However, it is possible to hunt down and implement relatively cheap ways to get around London – at least compared to those employed by the majority of the people making up the city’s hustle-bustle around you. So what are these travel tricks then? Generally, they’re a cross between making the most of the system and network that’s in existence and knowing how to get about as efficiently as possible. First things first though, before anything else you need to familiarize yourself with the Oyster Card – and fast…

Oyster Card

As far as traveling’s concerned, London is divided up into six separate zones by Transport for London (TfL), the official body that oversees its public transport. Zone 1 is located in the centre, with Zone 2 the next farthest out and so on. In which case, if you’re traveling across London, it’s best to try and avoid Zone 1 – if at all possible – because it will save you some serious money.

Covering travel on the London Underground (the Tube), buses and TfL boat routes throughout all six zones, the Oyster Card has become essential. A contact-less electronic pay card, it works via a pay-as-you-go method, which means you can top it up as and when you need to in any train or Tube station in the city.Pretty much every traveler (especially commuters) swear by the Oyster Card because it helps keep travel costs down for the vast majority of them criss-crossing the capital – for instance, with an Oyster Card, the cheapest bus fare is around £1.50; without it, you could pay as much as £4.70 for a single journey. Yes, really.

You can order an Oyster Card online or in a Tube station. Note: people with disabilities may be eligible for a Freedom pass; providing them with free travel throughout London.

Maps and apps

After an Oyster Card, the second most important thing on the London transport network is a map – or, nowadays, its digital equivalent. Quite simply, you should always have a Tube/ cycling or bus map on you so you don’t get lost and can work out non-time- (and non-money-) consuming journeys – especially if you’re not familiar with the city’s various travel methods or routes. This is critical to try and ensure you keep your London transport cheap.

There’s no guarantee of it, of course, but should you be visiting London from overseas you might be lucky enough to have online access via a Smartphone or (perhaps more likely) where you’re staying – many good hotels near Piccadilly Circus have decent Wi-Fi access. If this is the case, then you’ll be able to check the Journey Plannerpage on TfL’s website (or download the handy City Mapper to your Smartphone) so you can plan your journey, one step at a time, from start to finish – you’ll be able to work out your quickest and/ or cheapest possible route on any form of transport.

Top tips

Peak hours – if you can, on weekdays avoid the hours 6.30-9.30am and 4-7pm on the Tube, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR), as the prices will be a lot higher and the network’s jam-packed full of commuters then

Going to the airport – you won’t be able to use your Oyster Card to do this, you’ll have buy a specific ticket instead; ask a Tube employee about it

Seven-day Travelcard – should you be staying in London for five days or more, this will work out cheaper than buying a simple pay-as-you-go Oyster Card

Nights out – the Tube is not (yet) open 24-hours-a-day so after around 12.30am you’ll have to find an alternative way back to where you’re staying; black taxi cabs are always expensive if you’re traveling alone, but coming back from a night out are affordable when shared with three or four others or more

Go by bike – pound-for-pound the cheapest way of getting around London is to use a bicycle; TfL’s own bike scheme is affordable, but London’s a very busy city to ride around in so it’s not for novices

South London – use London Overground, the Tube and DLR when possible as they’re all cheaper than National Rail south of the river.