ESSENTIAL London Transportation Guide

Madison Palmer
November 13, 2019

I never had much experience with public transportation before London, but I’ve now mastered turning a six-minute walk to the tube into a three-minute walk just to catch the next train. Here is a breakdown of the major types of transportation, a guide to using them, and any suggestions I have. I wish I had something like this before I came to London!

Oyster Cards

An Oyster card is essential for anyone planning to use public transportation in London. I’m not sure exactly why it is termed an “oyster” card and where that derived from, but I like to think that when using public transportation in London, you can go anywhere your heart desires. The world is indeed your oyster, and London will be your world for the next several months!

On the first day you arrive in London it is likely that someone from IES Abroad will walk you to the nearest Underground (tube) station, where you can purchase an oyster card. Oyster cards can be purchased at any underground station and can be used on buses, underground and overground trains, and national rail services. The card itself costs £5 and you can choose an unlimited weekly pass or pay as you go, where you “top up” how much money is on your card. It is about £40 for an unlimited weekly pass, but IES Abroad suggests that you purchase that for the first week before your student oyster card comes in. While unlimited passes are fantastic when you begin to travel, I used “pay as you go” for the first week in London and spent well under the £40 cost of an unlimited weekly pass.

IES Abroad will recommend that you register for a student oyster card because there are student discounts (30%) if you select a weekly or monthly pass. This is something that you will need a code from IES Abroad for, so, unfortunately, you will be unable to get your student oyster card before arriving in London. In my time abroad I have purchased 3 monthly passes on a student oyster card that allows me to travel unlimited within zones 1-2 (all you need). Each month costs about $120 US dollars.


Although it is my biased opinion, I can confidently say that CityMapper is the greatest app ever invented! Download, download, download! This app will make public transportation feel easy in a city as big as London. All you have to do is type in your destination/where you are coming from and the app helps you navigate your way to your destination whether that be by bus, underground, overground, or walking. I could not survive without this app!


Buses just might be my favorite form of public transport in London. I had no idea that they had ALL double-decker red buses. Do try sitting on the top deck in the first seat soon after you arrive in London. I think it’s better than a bus tour!

No matter how far the distance you travel on a bus, the cost will always be £1.50. CityMapper will help guide you to the right bus stop and tell you how far away the next bus is. You need to wave the bus down because if someone on the bus does not need to get off at that stop, then the bus may just drive right by you. 

You tap your oyster card ONCE when you get on the bus, and you do not need to tap it when you leave. When you have to get off at the next stop, press the “stop” button that will ding and alert the driver that a passenger is getting off at the next stop.

Oh, and bear in mind that as soon as everyone is on the bus the driver will start moving even if you are not sitting down! Hold on tight, especially if you are going up the stairs!

There are always some 24hour/overnight buses, so do not fret if you can’t make the tube!


The overground and underground trains are really the same things with one minor difference: one is overground and the other is underground. The underground is more commonly known as the tube. The first tube ride may be daunting if you have never been on a subway before, but CityMapper STILL makes it feel easy. You tap your oyster card when you walk into the station, and you will tap it when you leave because the price is based on the distance of travel. That is exactly why unlimited oyster cards are awesome!

My only advice here is to follow the signs in the station. Once at the platform, the screen above will show the next few trains so you can tell which one you need to get on. Oh, and on the escalator be sure to stay on the right if you are standing! If you want to walk past the people/are in a rush, go on the left side.


Yes, there are TONS of bikes in London. Don’t be tempted. You don’t want to ride a bike here.

Black Cabs

These are London taxis, but a bit pricier because it is pretty difficult to be able to become a black cab driver. There are rounds of tests and they can get you anywhere in London without a GPS!


Uber still exists. I was thankful for these when I had early morning flights and the tube was not yet running.

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Madison Palmer

<p>Hi I'm Maddy! I am a rising junior at Providence College and I am from a small town in central Massachusetts. I am the middle of five kids in my family, but I am the first to be studying abroad! I love to run and I think that's a great way to explore and learn a new place (not to mention it is some time in peace away from the chaos of a busy house!). I also love reading, writing, and all things makeup. I have been to very few states in the U.S. that do not touch Massachusetts, but I once made my way to Spain for ten days.</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
Providence College
Sutton, MA
Health Studies
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