Let us tell you a little secret: we love the Tube. Not just because it's a handy, comparably inexpensive method of transportation around England's capital city (although that's certainly true) it's also a tourist attraction in its own right. Opened in 1863, the London Underground is the world's very first below-ground railroad and some of the original route can still be seen on the Hammersmith and City, Circle and Metropolitan lines. It's also a beautiful cross-section of London life, a chance to live as the locals do and an integral part of the daily routines of many.
So, how do you go about using this engineering wonder that is the modern Underground? What should you know before you board? Don't worry, we've got your underground journey covered. (Get it? Covered? We're hilarious.)
There are three major types of tube ticket: single journey, Travelcard and Oyster card. Which one is right for you?
Single Journey This offers you a single point-to-point trip (inclusive of transfers) for just over two GBP per adult. It's benefit is it's simplicity - a single journey for a price that is driven by the length of the trip. The downfall, multiple trips in a day can add up very quickly. Use the single journey ticket if:
You are making only one to two single zone journeys in a day.
You have a Travelcard limited to certain zones and you must travel outside that zone.
Travelcard Travelcards are sold by number of days and zones. Savings are found by limiting your travel to "off-peak" times (times when daily commuters are not typically using the tube), buying cards good for longer periods of time and restricting your travel to the smallest number of zones possible. Use the Travelcard if:
You plan to make a great many journeys per day over a period of seven days during your visit.
You are a long-term visitor to London for months or years.
Oyster Card Oyster Cards essentially charge the user per journey until you reach a daily cap. Money is loaded on a card that can be "topped up" at any time. Oyster Cards offer flexibility, ease of use and savings when used for multiple journeys per day. Visitor Oyster Cards cost three GBP and can be loaded with as much or as little money as you'd like. Go for this option if:
You plan on making a varied number of journeys during different days of your trip
You may travel at off-peak and peak times
Your plans include travel to multiple zones
The Tube Map
In addition to just being a fun thing to put on tea towels and t-shirts, the multicolored tube map is quite simple to use and very functional. Stations represented by the short "dash" are simply places where one can alight while stations represented by circles offer an opportunity to change lines. Each line is color-coded and signage will always feature both the line's name and it's designated color. Platforms tend to allow access to a single line going in a single direction (a few platforms are shared so look for the signage on both the trains and the platform if that's the case). This system makes it super easy to ensure you find the train going in the direction you need.
Some things to keep in mind about the tube map:
Stations May Be Closer Than They Appear Thinking of hopping the tube from Leicester Square to Covent Garden? Don't bother. It's a five minute walk and you'll spend more time getting in and out of the stations if you take the tube. Look at a street map to make sure the tube is, in fact, your quickest route from point A to point B. We recommend a handy A to Z guide if you don't have a smart phone.
All Stations Are Not Created Equal Some stations are brand new, others newly renovated and others still are pretty old. That means services offered at each can vary quite a bit including handicap access, shopping and vending. A general rule of thumb is the newer the station, the more amenities (including step-free platform access) on offer.
Changing Lines May Take Some Effort Sometimes a line change involves a simple stroll across the platform. At other stations (Green Park, we're looking at you) require you to walk up and down stairs, down hallways or even catch a series of elevators to get to other lines. Your pathway is always well signed but be sure to allot extra time in your journey to make necessary switches.
Oh, Covent Garden.... We love you, we really, really do. Your shops, your restaurants, your amazing theatre, your easy-access to both Holborn and Leicester Square...you're one of our favorite places in London. But let's talk about your tube station...it's bad. Slow elevators, small platforms and massive crowds make it really difficult to alight here. Consider using the nearby Holborn or Leicester stops and walking the last leg of your journey.
The underground is an inherently democratic place where rich and poor alike can travel across London for a reasonably low price. That means we all need to be good neighbors and behave appropriately on the tube. Here's how:
Ditch the Smelly Food For real. No one wants to smell your overcooked fish. That's gross.
Give Up Your Seat for Elderly Passengers... ...pregnant women, people carrying small kids, people managing more than one kid, people with physical disabilities...it's common sense. Just be nice.
Don't Shove You learned that one in primary school, yeah? Shoving on the platform can kill people.
Move Down the Platform Yes, the entrance the platform is a convenient place to stop and wait for the train but it totally screws the people backing up behind you on the staircase. Use all the available space. Plus, you stand a better chance of finding a less full car at the front or the back of the train...
If You See Someone Struggling With Luggage and You Can Help, You Should Help I cannot tell you how many times we have been those people trying to lug multiple suitcases down a fight of stairs at the Gloucester Road tube stop. Countless, lovely, helpful people have provided us assistance which is ridiculously nice and so very British. If you see someone else in that situation and you are physically able to assist, please do so.
Avoid Rush Hour If you've got to travel during peak times, by all means, do so. Just be prepared to see larger crowds and keep your patience-level high. If you can avoid traveling during the busiest times of the day, you should do that, too. Stressed commuters will thank you.
Know Which Line/Direction You Are Looking For Before You Enter the Tube Station Don't stand around the ticket machines, entrances to the platforms or tops of staircases debating whether you want the Jubilee or the Metropolitan line going south. You'll just annoy everyone around you.
Alright, you're ready to explore! And, please, always remember to mind the gap!