|Paying train fares with an Oyster Card||Paying train fares with a Visitor Oyster Card|
|Paying train fares with a contactless card||Paying train fares with a travelcard|
The ticket price is based on how many zones your journey passes through. The more zones you pass through, the higher the fare.
Most underground maps will show the zones as a series of concentric grey/white rings. The ring at the centre of London is zone 1. The majority of tourists will spend their entire holiday inside zones 1 and 2.
Some stations are in two different zones at once. Earl’s Court, for example, is inside zone 1 and zone 2. If you disembark at one of these stations then the fare will be based on your direction of travel. It will count as zone 1 if you came from the direction of zone 1, and it will count as zone 2 if you came from the direction of zone 2.
Each underground line has its own special colour:
Bakerloo Central Circle District Hammersmith & City Jubilee Metropolitan Northern Piccadilly Victoria Waterloo & City
These colours are shown on the tube map, which you will find pasted up at every station. Here is a small part of it:
Stations which only serve one line are shown by a little stub protruding from the coloured line. Like Covent Garden, for example, which only serves the Piccadilly (dark blue) line.
Stations which serve two or more lines are said to be ‘interchanges’, and are shown by a large white circle. Like Blackfriars, for example, which serves the Circle (yellow) and District (dark green) lines.
Stations which include a blue wheelchair symbol inside the circle have step-free access between the train and the street. If they have a white wheelchair symbol then they only have step-free access between the platform and the street.
This will depend on which Underground line you’re using and the day of the week you’re travelling, but a good rule-of-thumb is every 5-10 minutes in zone 1, going up to every 2-5 minutes during peak time. Trains outside zone 1 can be anything from 10 to 30 minutes. Some of the busier tube lines operate for 24 hours a day:
Central – Night service runs roughly every 10 mins between White City and Leytonstone, every 20 mins between Ealing Broadway and White City, and every 20 mins between Leytonstone and Loughton/ Hainault. There is no night service between North Acton and West Ruislip, Loughton and Epping, or Woodford and Hainault.
Jubilee – Night service runs roughly every 10 mins.
Northern – Night service runs roughly every 8 mins between Morden and Camden Town, and every 15 mins between Camden Town and High Barnet/ Edgware. There is no night service on the Mill Hill East branch or Bank branch.
Piccadilly – Night service runs roughly every 10 mins between Cockfosters and Heathrow T5. There is no night service on the T4 loop, or between Acton Town and Uxbridge.
Victoria – Night service runs roughly every 10 mins.
The other lines typically operate between 5 AM and 00.30 AM (Mon-Sat) and 7 AM to 11.30 PM (Sun).
You can print off paper timetables at tfl.gov.uk.
You can also get paper timetables at a Travel Information Centre. There are six of them in London, at Euston station, King’s Cross station, Liverpool Street station, Piccadilly Circus station, Victoria station and Heathrow airport.
Platforms are labelled by their direction of travel. So if you want to travel from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus on the Bakerloo line then you will need to look for signs that say Bakerloo Northbound. If you are returning in the opposite direction then it would say Bakerloo Southbound. You can also get trains that head Westbound and Eastbound.
Sometimes a line will split into different branches and have more than one train heading in each direction. All you have to do then is look for the last stop on the line. If you want to travel from Westminster to Kew Gardens on the District line, for example, then you will need the District Westbound to Richmond, because that’s the last stop on the branch that serves Kew Gardens. If you boarded the District Westbound to Wimbledon then that would be the wrong one, because that branch doesn’t go to Kew Gardens.
Large parts of the Underground are very old and a surprising number of stations don’t have lifts. A lot of them don’t even have escalators. So the odds are pretty high that you will find yourself facing a long flight of stairs at some point. Luckily there are two websites that can help you.
The first one is the official Transport for London website: tfl.gov.uk. This allows you to search for a journey with extra options like “I need step free access” and “I can use stairs but not escalators”. They also have a handy map that shows which stations have stairs, escalators and lifts: content.tfl.gov.uk.
The second website is called Direct Enquiries: directenquiries.com. This website shows you the exact route between the platforms and the exit, including all the stairs, escalators and lifts.
Non-folding bikes are banned on large parts of the Underground. There’s a handy map showing which stations are okay ohere: content.tfl.gov.uk. Generally speaking the Circle line, District line and Docklands Light Railway are okay during off-peak hours, but all of the other stations should be avoided if they’re inside zones 1 or 2.
Get information about a London tube station (zones 1-4):
Plan a journey between two different tube stations:
National Rail tickets are notoriously expensive if you leave it until the same day as travel (sometimes by as much as three or four times). The best thing to do is plan ahead and order them online, because the prices drop considerably if you buy them at least three weeks in advance. If you haven’t left enough time to get them posted to your home address then you can usually print them out at the station on the day (but this will depend on who you book with).
There are actually lots of different companies that operate National Rail trains: Chiltern Railways, East Midlands, First Great Western, Great Northern, Merseyrail, South West Trains, Thameslink and Virgin Trains, to name just a few, and each one will have their own individual website, but we recommend using the official National Rail website at nationalrail.co.uk, or thetrainline.com, because they sell all the different companies together.
Here’s a list of the main National Rail stations in central London, together with some of their most popular destinations. All of them have London Underground stations attached.
|For trains heading north|
|City Thameslink||Luton Airport, St. Albans|
|Euston||Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Watford|
|King’s Cross||Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham, York|
|St. Pancras||Brighton, Eastbourne, Eurostar, Gatwick Airport, Luton Airport, Nottingham|
|For trains heading south|
|Blackfriars||Ashford International, Brighton, Luton Airport|
|Cannon Street||Ashford International, Margate|
|Charing Cross||Canterbury, Dover, Hastings|
|Farringdon||Brighton, Luton Airport|
|London Bridge||Brighton, Canterbury, Hastings|
|Victoria||Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Gatwick Airport, Margate|
|Waterloo||Bournemouth, Canterbury, Cornwall, Dover, Hastings, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Southampton|
|For trains heading west|
|Marylebone||Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester|
|Paddington||Bath, Cornwall, Heathrow Airport, Oxford, Plymouth, Wales|
|For trains heading east|
|Liverpool Street||Stansted Airport|
If you have a pay-as-you-go Oyster card and stay within zones 1-6 then you will definitely be okay. But there are also some within zones 7-9 that are okay as well. You can check which train stations are within the Oyster zones here: content.tfl.gov.uk.
If you have a travelcard then it all depends on which one you buy. If it only covers zones 1-4 then obviously you will only be able to travel as far as zone 4.
If you’re aged between 16-25, or a full-time student over 25, and you have a UK driving licence or valid international passport, then you can get a 33% discount on rail fares with a 16-25 Railcard.
It will reduce the cost of off-peak pay-as-you-go Oyster fares, and zone 1-6 travelcards. Be aware that a minimum fare applies for all journeys made between 4.30 AM and 10 AM on Monday to Friday, which makes it useless for daily commutes. And it doesn’t work with season tickets, Eurostar tickets or First Class fares either.
If you’re planning on travelling around the UK then you can save money with a BritRail Pass. They have passes that cover the south-east of England, the south-west, central Scotland, the whole of Scotland, and the whole of Britain.
You can get them for a range of dates spanning 3, 4, 8, 15 or 22 consecutive days, or one month. You can also get flexi-passes with cover any 3, 4, 8 or 15 days within one month.
Note: They are only for sale outside the country. UK citizens can’t buy one.