The first stop on any trip to London is not what you think.. Sure the architecture of Big Ben, the grandeur of Buckingham Palace and the glittering lights of the West End are on the list of must-do’s but first, first, first thing you do should be to stop into a train station and pick up an Oyster Card.
This little card is your key to freedom within the Old Smoke and you’ll quickly find out why.
For Londoners, the Oyster Card is a part of everyday life, you can pay quickly and easily for public transport with this golden ticket. Most locals have cards that are attached to their bank accounts and auto-debit monthly to cover travel costs.
The Oyster Card is essential for all public transportation in London. You CANNOT PAY CASH for the buses or trains in London. You can’t pay by credit card, you can’t barter or trade any form of livestock. You can plead with the driver for a free ride but you’ll probably get kicked off. There is only one cardinal way to pay for the Underground, Overground, big red buses or little red buses, and it is the Oyster Card.
Here’s what you need to know about London’s Oyster Card:
- To get an Oyster Card, go to any of the major train stations and choose “Visiting Oyster”
- You can pay with cash or credit card
- There will be a £5 deposit on the card
- The card never expires so if you’re planning another trip through London anytime soon, hang onto your Oyster instead of returning it to a machine for your £5 back
- You get your £5 deposit back if/when you return the card
- Fares top out at a max cap per day so if you ride public transport a lot, don’t worry that you’ll spend a fortune per day on transit
- Oyster is a touch card so you simply touch the pad to enter / exit the train station or to enter the bus
- You must touch in and touch out of the train stations in order to use the card properly and not potentially face a fine
- The card balance can be checked at any time with another machine
- In the city (Zone 1) the max is £6,8 per day of travelling, that means ~4 tube rides or 6 bus rides
- *You can also use a contactless debit card instead of an Oyster Card however I (the author) have never tried this method as my American cards are not contactless. There are more details on the differences between contactless and Oyster here: https://www.oyster-rail.org.uk/contactless-vs-oyster/
Use the chart below to find the daily fare caps for travel when you’re using an Oyster Card
In my opinion, the card seems a little flimsy so I recommend keeping it in the little plastic folding sleeve the nice people (hopefully) at the train station should give you when you take your card in the first place.
Here’s the beautiful London trail map for you too
London is an amazing city, most museums are free of charge to enter (yes, I know!!), the architecture is breathtaking and there’s an endless list of wonderful ways to spend your time.
Just remember to pick up an Oyster Card first!