How do I buy a London Underground ticket?

Oyster card London Underground ticket

Getting around London can be a daunting experience for a first-time visitor. The London Underground (aka the Tube) has 270 stations over 11 lines, not to mention a dizzying array of travel zones and fare types. But although it might look complex, once you know what you’re doing it’s actually very easy to navigate. One of your first challenges will be to figure out what ticket you should get. Here’s an at-a-glance breakdown of all your London Underground ticket options, how to buy them and what they cost. But really, our advice is simple: just buy an Oyster Card as soon as you arrive. It really is the cheapest and simplest option for visitors to the city.

Related article: Essential tips to navigate the Tube
Related article: Which London airport should I choose?

What are my London Underground ticket options?

1) Oyster Card:

  • Cheapest London Underground ticket option, offering discounted fares
  • Can be purchased and refilled at Tube stations
  • There is a £5 deposit for a new Oyster card; getting a refund is complex
  • Can be registered online so it automatically reloads with credit
  • Daily fare deductions for all TfL modes are capped at a fixed amount; after you reach the cap, all rides are free.
  • You can purchase 7- and 30-day fares, plus 3- and 6-month and annual fares online
  • Oyster cards never expire

2) Paper tickets

  • Sold from ticket machines at London Underground stations
  • Good for one ride
  • Users pay the highest fares

3) Single-day Travelcard

  • Paper versions sold from machines at stations
  • Good for various combinations of zones
  • Valid on all TfL modes

4) Contactless

  • Some credit/debit cards work like Oyster cards

5) Mobile Pay

  • Use your mobile phone to pay if you are set up for Apple Pay or Android Pay – just tap on and off like with an Oyster card

What are the London Underground fares for adults?

Some London Underground ticket fares have separate prices for peak (weekdays 6:30-9:30am and 4-7pm) and non-peak (all other) times. Note: TfL fares have been frozen at these rates from 2016 to 2020.

Oyster cards, contactless and mobile pay Tube fares

All times Non-peak only
Single trip Zone 1 £2.40 £2.40
Single trip Zones 1 & 2 £2.90 £2.40
Single trip Zones 1–6 £5.10 £3.10
Daily fare cap Zones 1 & 2 £6.80 n/a
Daily fare cap Zones 1–6 £12.50 n/a
7-day Zones 1 & 2 £34.10 n/a

Paper ticket Tube fares 

All times
Single trip Zone 1 £4.90
Single trip Zones 1 & 2 £4.90
Single trip Zones 1–6 £6
Travelcard Zones 1–4 £12.70
Travelcard Zones 1–6 £18.10

Should I choose Oyster or contactless?

We recommend Oyster cards for overseas visitors. You’ll need to purchase an Oyster card and put money on it, but, generally speaking, Oyster cards are the simplest option. Contactless doesn’t support all foreign issued cards, and visitors may be hit with foreign transaction fees. They also cannot be used for child fares. The only real benefit of contactless is that while Oyster cards and contactless both have daily caps, contactless also has a weekly cap, which could save you money if you’re travelling regularly every day over that period. (Our tip: if you’re planning on travelling this much, load a 7-day travelcard onto your Oyster for similar savings).

If you do want to make contactless payments, you’ll need a contactless-enabled credit/debit card or a mobile payment system such as Google Pay or Apple Pay. Make sure you touch on and off on the yellow Oyster readers, just as you would with an Oyster card.

What are child fares on the London Underground?

Child fares on the London Underground are reduced or free.

  • Ages 11–15 can pay reduced rates with special Oyster cards available at Tube station info windows.
  • Children aged 10 and under travel free when travelling with an adult paying the regular fare.

How much does a one-day travelcard cost?

One day travelcards are issued as paper tickets and cost £12.30 (zone 1–4). Day Travelcards aren’t available on Oyster – but the Oyster Card daily capping is always better value than buying a Day Travelcard.

The only real reason to buy a one-day travelcard paper ticket is because it can get you discounts to attractions, such as the Tower of London, on the day of travel. However, you must purchase your ticket at a British Rail vending location (not a Tube station) for this to apply.

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