London Travelcard: What it is and how it works

The London travelcard is a transport card with which you can travel an unlimited number of times on the London public transport network. Includes London Underground, Overground, Public Bus, DLR (Docklands Light Rail) and trains running within London Transport Zones (National Rail and TFL Rail trains amongst others).
What will you find in this article?

How the London Travelcard works

The London travelcard can be a paper travelcard, like the train ticket of a lifetime, or it can be incorporated into an Oyster Card, which is a plastic contact transport card.

The travelcard is designed for people who are going to use public transport a lot during their visit to London or for people who use transport every day to go to work, being a way to save on transport.

The London travelcard is unipersonal, that is, it is necessary to have a London travelcard per person.

To use a paper travelcard, you will need to insert it and collect it at the barriers when entering and exiting the London public transport system: tube, DLR, overground and trains within London transport zones, and when boarding public buses.
To use a travelcard embedded in an Oyster Card, you simply need to use the oyster card as normal, tapping it on the yellow reader when entering and exiting the tube, DLR, overground, trains and when boarding public buses.

What to consider when buying a London travelcard

When buying a London travelcard you have to take three things into account that will affect the final price of the travelcard:

1. The duration of the card:

You can buy a one-day, 7-day, one-month or yearly travelcard.

2. London Transport Zones:

You must choose which zones of London transport are the ones you need. If you are going to travel between zones 1 and 2, you will need a travelcard that is only valid for these two zones, but if you are going to travel between zones 1 and 5 every day, you will need a travelcard that covers zones 1 to 5. This does not really apply to traveling by bus, even if you buy a travelcard to use in zones 1 and 2 in London, you can use a bus to get to zone 3 or even zone 5 if you wish with the same travelcard without problems (and not will cost you more).

Most of London’s tourist attractions are in zone 1 of London, but some attractions are outside of zone 1, such as the Camden Town flea market which is in zone 2. In our article London transport zones we explain the areas in more detail. Obviously, if you are going to buy a London travelcard, take into account the area in which the hotel you have chosen is located.

3. Off – Peak or Anytime

The last factor that can affect the price of the travelcard is the time of day that you will need it. This only applies to the 1-day travelcard, and does not affect zones 1 to 4, so if you visit London you probably do not need to take this into account, since it is not usually necessary to leave zone 4 but it will depend on where your hotel is located. Just in case you need it, I’ll explain it below:

  • Off-peak (Outside rush hour): From 9.30 in the morning and until 04.30 the following morning from Monday to Friday; and all day Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
  • Anytime (at any time): Every day, any time. (Necessary if you are going to travel before 9.30 am).

London Travelcard Rates

Zones 1 day travel card 7 day travel card
1 – 2 £13.50 £36.10
1 – 3 £13.50 £42.40
1 – 4 £13.50 £51.90
fifteen £19.10 peak / £13.50 off peak £61.70
1 – 6 £18.10 peak / £13.50 off peak £66.00

Peak: Peak hour. Off peak: Outside rush hour.

What Travelcard to buy if you visit London

The normal thing is to buy a Day Travelcard (for one day) or a 7 Day Travelcard (for 7 days) for zones 1 -2 as long as your hotel is within these zones. If the hotel is in zone 4, you will have to buy a zone 1 – 4 travelcard for it to work.
In this way, with this card, you can use public transport in London as many times as you want.

1 day travel card

The price of the 1-day London travelcard for zones 1, 1-2, 1-3 and 1-4 is £13.50 for the year 2020. I really do not recommend using the 1-day travelcard as it is cheaper if you use an oyster card (London’s other transport card) as the Oyster Card has a maximum daily cap of £7.20 for zones 1-2, £8.50 for zones 1-3 and a maximum daily cap of £ 10.40 for zones 1-4. When you reach the maximum daily limit with the oyster card, the rest of the trips you make with the oyster card on public transport in London are free. For this reason, you would spend more money buying a one-day travelcard than using the oyster card.

7 day travel card

The 7-day London travelcard for London zones 1-2 for 2020 costs £36.10. Actually, when comparing prices, I only usually recommend the 7-day travelcard if you are going to use London’s public transport several times a day, for more than 5 consecutive days. For a visit of 5 days or less it is more profitable to use an Oyster Card.

For more information, I explain this in more detail in this other article: Choosing between London travelcard and oyster card.

Where can you buy the London travelcard?

It is possible to buy the London Travelcard at a London tube or train station or you can buy the travelcard online.

Buy London Travelcard at a tube station

It is possible to buy a London travelcard at any London Underground station. In the tube stations you can buy a London travelcard in the self-service machines, or at the window. When you buy a travelcard at a tube station you will get an oyster card with the travelcard built into it. So your oyster card is pre-loaded with the travelcard you have chosen, be it one day, 7 days, etc.

In this case, if you have chosen a zone 1 – 4 travelcard, all the trips you make within these zones will be included. But, if you need to go to zone 6, for example, you can also top up the oyster card with balance to pay what you need to go to zone 6. This is useful if, for example, you are going to arrive at Heathrow airport, which is in zone 6, and you are going to buy a 7-day travelcard for zones 1 – 4,. Buying a travelcard for zones 1 – 6 for 7 days will be much more expensive than using oyster balance for a trip from Heathrow to the center and another one back + travelcard for 7 days zones 1 -4.

Buy London Travelcard at a train station

It is possible to buy a London travelcard at any train station in London, as long as the train station is within the London transport zones.

It is not possible to buy the London travelcard at Stansted, Luton or Gatwick airport train stations, as these stations are outside the London transport zones.

Buy London Travelcard online

One of the easiest ways to buy the London travelcard is by buying it online. In this way, the travelcard you have chosen will be sent to your home, and it will be a paper travelcard. The price is the same as buying it at a subway or train station, but you will have to pay for shipping. Shipping can take 5-8 business days, but you can also choose express shipping to take 2-3 business days to arrive.

Buy Travelcard at Heathrow Airport

Yes it is possible to buy a travelcard at Heathrow airport. But it is important to keep in mind that Heathrow is in zone 6, so if you arrive at Heathrow and buy a travelcard there for your entire stay in London, let’s say you buy a 7-day travelcard at Heathrow, you will be buying a 7-day travelcard from zones 1 to 6, and this is not convenient for you at all since you will be paying a lot of money (and it is unnecessary, since you are not going to travel to zone 6 every day). It is better to travel to the center first, and buy the travelcard once you are in the center for zones 1 and 2.

Travel card for children

Children under 11 travel free within London transport zones, but for those over 11 it is also possible to buy a transport card. We explain it in detail in our article Transport in London for children.

More information

When you buy your travelcard at a national rail train station or order online, you will receive a paper travelcard. This paper travelcard will be valid for 2×1 discounts at some London attractions.

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