Traveling through the city of London might seem daunting at first, but it’s actually quite easy to get the hang of, thanks to its beloved underground rail system. The London Underground, revered fondly by Londoners as the ‘Tube’ since the 1980’s, is known worldwide for much more than just the shape of its tunnels. The most impressive thing about the Tube, aside from the obvious feat of engineering, is its iconic map that “revolutionized design” and made traveling the city infinitely easier for locals and visitors alike.
But, before you dive into the map and head toward your platform, there are a few things you should know…
1.) Which Rail Card Should I Get?
There are a couple of options you should be aware of when it comes to purchasing your ticket for the Tube. The first option is the Oyster Card, a plastic card you can load up with money. You can also purchase a paper ticket called a Travelcard, which can be bought for one day or a full week of unlimited access to the Tube. Depending on the length of your stay, select the type of ticket that will reflect the frequency of your underground travel. If you’re only in town for a weekend, it would make more sense to purchase the unlimited all-day paper Travelcard each morning. However, if you will be staying more than just a few days, the Oyster Card might be more beneficial for you.
2.) Why won’t my Credit Card work at the Ticket Machine?
The ticket machines may look like they accept credit card payment, but don’t be fooled. Unfortunately, they only accept Smart Cards which have a distinct microchip that is popular in Europe. To reload your card with regular credit or debit cards, you must go see one of the in-person attendants.
3.) Have your card ready!
To enter and exit the underground you need to feed your card through the ticket reader. There will be loads of people behind you busting to get past the readers, so be ready with your ticket and don’t hold up the line. If your card isn’t reading correctly, don’t worry. An attendant will be standing nearby and they will manually let you through as long as you show them your valid Travelcard/Oyster Card.
4.) Keep Right, Pass Left
When using the escalators going up or down from the Tube, you must stand on the right and pass on the left. People are going to run you down on the left side of the escalator if you aren’t making your best effort to hustle up or down the stairs. Standing on the right and placing your bag beside you on the left is just as bad as standing on the left… Most people will be in a rush and will probably end up knocking your bag over to get past you. If you stand on the left side you might as well have “ROOKIE” written on your forehead… Don’t be that guy.
Okay, one more time: Stand on the right!!
5.) Which line should I take?
Right. Now that you’ve got your ticket and made it down to the platforms, you need to make sure you get on the right line. The Tube maps are labeled and color-coded, which makes it quite easy to find your way. Just look for the dot marking the station where you are and the dot marking the station you need to get to, and you will be able to see which line will get you from point A to point B. You might need to switch lines, so make note of which stop you need to get off the Tube and where you have to get back on.
Pro-Tip: The map isn’t drawn to scale so be careful that you don’t accidentally take a longer route just because it looks shorter on the map. (Google is very helpful in quickly finding the fastest route for you and/or your family.)
When you’re sure of which line to get on, check to make sure you go to the platform that’s heading in the direction of your destination. Once you’re on the train, there are maps inside that show you all of the stops on the line you’re riding as well as all of its connecting lines so that you can see how many stops away you are from where you need to be. Read carefully and trust your inner Londoner. You got this!
6.) Watch for people coming out!
The Tube comes and goes almost every minute or so, which is very convenient if you’re in a rush and have just missed the last one. When the train arrives, wait for everyone getting off to exit before pushing your way in. At the busiest time of day (rush hour/dinnertime) you might have to wait for 2 or 3 Tubes before you find one that has room for you to get on. Since the Tube’s turnover is so quick, make sure you move fast getting onto the car as soon as all of the people exiting have come out. You’ll only have about 30 seconds to get inside before the doors close.
7.) Hold on tight!
Once you’re inside, grab one of the loop handles hanging from the ceiling or hold on to one of the poles, tightly. The Tube moves very fast and it will make you lose your balance if you’re not holding on. Trust me… You’re not better than the Tube. The Tube will win. Every. Time. So unless you want to be jolted into an innocent stranger or thrown against the wall (or both), hold on. Tight.
8.) It’s HOT.
The Tube gets very crowded and once the doors are shut it can be a little overwhelming. It gets hot and steamy almost instantly. Wear layers you can quickly take on or off…Or expect to sweat it out for the entirety of your ride. If nothing else, at least mentally prepare yourself to be uncomfortably warm.
That’s it! You are now ready to take on the great city of London (kind of). Keep in mind that the city is A LOT bigger than you’re expecting. Plan your day accordingly and don’t try to cram in too much, because one missed Tube stop will throw a wrench in your schedule if you didn’t allow any time for hiccups. But you don’t have to worry about that, right? You’re a proper professional.
(FYI: If you’re planning on riding the London Eye, buy the FastPass. Just do it.)
***Here are some FUN FACTS about the Tube that I found interesting (including the birth of Jerry Springer in East Finchley station).