Visitor Oyster Card London Tours
If you’re heading to London, one of the best bits of travel kit you can get is an Oyster card. Similar to Hong Kong’s Octopus card, the Oyster is a prepaid tap-and-go smartcard used on public transport throughout London.
The cheapest way to travel around London on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services is to use a smartcard ticket.
It covers the extensive London Underground or Tube network, the London Overground and most suburban stops on the National Rail lines (to be specific, stations in Zones 1 through 9 – download the London Rail & Tube Map to get your head around the travel zones.
You’re also covered for buses and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which goes out to the financial centre in Canary Wharf and to London City Airport.
The Oyster is also accepted in some cafés and newsagents where you can make small-value purchases with a quick swipe of the card instead of digging around for change.
If you need some more reasons to pocket an Oyster, consider that it can be more than half the price of paying for your Tube or bus fares in cash.
There’s also a daily price cap, which for instance lets you zip around Zone 1 in the heart of London and pay no more than £8.40 ( Click here For latest price) no matter how often you travel.
But in true British fashion, the rules and regulations are a bit complicated – so here’s our guide to getting and using an Oyster card in London.
How to buy an Oyster card in London
Oyster cards are for sale at all Tube stations, including Heathrow Airport’s Tube stations – although there’s quite often a queue to buy them at Heathrow.
Although you can’t use Oyster cards on the Heathrow Express, if like most London-bound travellers you take that high-speed train from Heathrow to Paddington you can pick up your Oyster card when you arrive at Paddington Station.
The card itself carries a refundable £5 deposit and can be loaded with up to £90 over the counter or using automated machines which take credit cards and cash.
Oyster FAQs: which card to buy?
- An Oyster card may be the most cost-effective option if you are only visiting for a few days.
- A 7 Day Travelcard is a good option if you are visiting for a week and only plan to visit central London.
- You can also use contactless payment, which has both a daily and weekly fare cap. This may work out cheaper than a Travelcard.
- A Visitor Oyster card can be delivered to your home before your visit, or Oyster cards can be purchased in all London airports along with stations.
- Visitor Oyster card holders also enjoy a range of special offers and discounts across the city.
Read our guide to make sure you buy the right ticket for your exploring London.
What are the pros and cons of a Visitor Oyster card vs. a paper Travelcard?
A Visitor Oyster card is one of the cheapest ways to pay for single journeys on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London.
If you plan to stay in London for a couple of days and make two to four journeys a day, or want to travel to the outskirts of the city, then a Visitor Oyster card may be the cheapest option. It is delivered to your home by post before you arrive in London saving you time when you arrive.
There are a range of great value special offers and discounts available to Visitor Oyster card holders at leading London restaurants, shops and entertainment venues, plus discounts on Thames Clippers river buses and the Emirates Air Line cable car.
If you are in London for a week and plan to travel only in the Central London area (e.g, zones 1 to 2 or zones 1 to 4) on a daily basis then a 7 Day Travelcard may be the most cost-effective option. You can buy a 7 Day Travelcard online from the TfL Visitor Shop.
Alternatively, you could get an Oyster card, which looks a lot like a Visitor Oyster card and is used in the same way. You pay a £5 refundable deposit to get an Oyster card. The advantages of an Oyster card are that you can top up your credit online and add an electronic 7 Day Travelcard onto the card.
You can also get an Oyster card before you arrive in London if you live in the UK.
If you do not live in the UK, you can still get an Oyster card but only when you arrive in London.
You can also pay for your travel with a contactless payment card.
When and where can I purchase a Visitor Oyster card?
You can buy a Visitor Oyster card online before you travel to London. It will be posted to your home address. This means you arrive in London with your travel ticket ready to start exploring the city. You cannot buy a Visitor Oyster card when you arrive in London.
Can I get an Oyster card in London’s airports?
You can get an Oyster card at all London airports.
- Heathrow London Airport – exit the airport and follow the signs for the Underground. You can buy an Oyster card at the airport Tube station cashier window.
- Gatwick London Airport – exit through Customs and buy an Oyster card at the Concierge outlets in Gatwick North Terminal or Gatwick South Terminal, at the Skybreak Service Centre in both terminals or at the Gatwick Airport train station.
- Luton London Airport – buy an Oyster card from National Express at the airport or in the Onward Travel Centre.
- Stansted London Airport – you can buy Oyster cards at Stansted Airport train station, before continuing your journey into Central London with the Stansted Express.
- London City Airport – exit the airport and follow the signs for the Underground. You can buy an Oyster card at the airport DLR station cashier window.
Alternatively, you can buy a Visitor Oyster card before you visit London. It will be posted to your home address.
Do I need separate Oyster cards for my children?
If your children are 11 years old or older, you will need to buy a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or Travelcard ticket for each child. You can get a Young Adult discount (half adult rate) added to a Visitor Oyster card or Oyster card at Heathrow Airport Terminals stations, zone 1 Tube stations and TfL Visitor and Travel Information Centres.
Can more than one person share a Visitor Oyster card when travelling together?
No, adults cannot travel together on a single Visitor Oyster card.
Do I need to buy a Visitor Oyster card if I buy a 6-day London Pass?
If you buy a 6-day London Pass with travel included, you don’t need to buy a Visitor Oyster or Oyster card. If you buy a London Pass without travel included, you will need to buy a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or 7 Day Travelcard ticket separately.
Are there any special offers and discounts available with a Visitor Oyster card?
Yes, Visitor Oyster card holders can enjoy a range of special offers and discounts at more than 25 leading London restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. In most cases, all you need to do is show your card to take advantage of the offer.
Will the Visitor Oyster card have my name on it? And do I need to provide a passport photo to buy a Visitor Oyster card?
No, this means you can lend your card to family and friends to use when they come to London too.
I am coming to London for a long weekend. How much credit should I get for my Visitor Oyster card?
Visiting London for two days? Start with £20 credit on your card for unlimited off-peak travel in Central London.
Visiting London for four days? Start with £40 for unlimited travel in Central London.
Can a Visitor Oyster card or Oyster card be used in other cities like Bath, Edinburgh, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and Cambridge?
No, it is only eligible for travel on public transport in London.
I am going to live in the UK soon. When should I get an Oyster card?
If you are moving to live in the UK and are planning on opening a UK bank account, we recommend you buy an Oyster card when you arrive in London.