How to Survive Taking the London Underground

London's Transport Network can be confusing for new visitors to London. However, with a little bit of guidance, you can master it and avoid getting lost.


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    Plan your journey in advance before you set off. Taking the underground, particularly during the rush hour, can put you under pressure so knowing where you are going beforehand simplifies matters. If getting to your destination on time is important, planning an alternative back-up route in the event of a line going down is advisable.
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    Use the Journey Planner on the Transport for London website. This used to be notoriously inaccurate, but is now vastly improved. It will recommend the quickest route, tell you about any major delays and even provide you with a map of the area to print out. Using the advanced options you can specify which means of transport you are happy to take and to specify your walking speed, etc.
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    Check travel information at each station. The majority of London Underground stations have notice boards next to the ticket machines with reasonably up-to-date information on delays and issues on all lines, so check these for updates whenever you see one.
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    Look out for seats designated for disabled passengers. When the tube trains become full all the seats are taken and standing passengers are pushed together but remember disabled travellers and pregnant women should be given theses seats. So try not to sit in them or if you do be prepared to offer them to these people. Don't wait to be asked.
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    Getting on the tube train. In it considered good form to wait until those leaving the train have done so before jumping on. And it actually speeds up the time the train waits at the station.
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    Check that you are buying the correct ticket. The London Underground is broken up into six travel fare zones, with tickets priced differently and valid only within specific zones and certain times. Check which zones you are traveling in and make sure your ticket covers all of them. In addition, if you are traveling in the morning during peak time, make sure you buy a ticket valid for this period.
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    Make sure you check which platform you are headed for is the correct one. For example, Euston station has six platforms for just two underground lines! This may sound complicated but it really works quite logically. Which platform you are going to will depend on which direction you are traveling in (ie. Northbound, Southbound, Eastbound or Westbound) and, occasionally, which branch you are on (the branch will usually be named after a major station on the line). Take the time to familiarize yourself with the signs at the station if you are confused.


  • The cheapest way to travel on the Tube is always with an Oyster card. This is an electronic card which you can obtain over the counter at any Tube station, or buy it in advance over the internet ( Even if you don't live in the UK, you can now have it sent to you before you arrive in London ( By topping up your card at a station or on the internet, you can use it as a travel card or you can put a fixed amount of cash on it, from which your ticket price is deducted as you pass through the turnstile. Prices can be up to 50% cheaper with an Oyster card than with a normal ticket, and it saves all the trouble of queuing up to buy a ticket each time.
  • Zones (see an Underground Map for zones)
    • London has been divided into six zones radiating out from the centre. The more zones you want to cover on your Travelcard, the more you pay. The main sights and hotel districts fall within the central zones 1-2. Heathrow airport falls within Zone 6
  • Avoid using a seat for your bag. Especially during peak hours, or on the busiest lines. No one will want to stand when they take the tube.
  • A quicker way from getting from Waterloo to Bank Underground stations would be to take the Waterloo and City Line. This line is widely unknown to tourists and outsiders as it was built with commuters who work for the financial organisations in the City of London in mind, only has two stations (Waterloo and Bank) and can be hard to find on the Tube map. Taking this line between the two stations can save a huge amount of time and the journey only takes 4 minutes. The train will be very quiet and you will almost certainly get a seat - the Waterloo and City line is the least-used line on the network. It is coloured Turquoise on the Tube Map.
  • On the London Underground, there is no need to press the buttons that open the doors. The doors are controlled by the driver. Pressing the buttons to attempt to open the doors will only mark you out as a tourist. Just wait a few seconds after the train comes to a complete stop, then the doors will open automatically.
  • Be warned that the Piccadilly, Jubilee and Northern Lines in particular can be very busy (they serve various major tourist attractions in London, as well as its key business districts, and the Piccadilly Line also serves London Heathrow Airport). It is not uncommon for half the platform to need to wait for another train after the first arrival is filled to maximum capacity. When you board, the carriages at the very front and very back of the train are the best carriages to enter as they are less likely to be overcrowded than the other carriages.
  • If you're lost, first try to ask a commuter where to go to your destination. they travel on the underground everyday and sometimes know the tube of by heart. However, don't pester them for directions as Britons and Londoners are well known to complain, whine and moan at someone who is pestering etc...
  • When using your Oyster card, make sure you get a green light when you touch it on the reader. This tells you that your card is accepted. If it is not accepted you will have to pay a cash fare instead.
  • The London Travelcard and London Visitor Travelcard are the travel passes for visitors to London. The Travelcard is easy to purchase and as well as saving money also saves a lot of time obtaining tickets individually. The Travelcard pass covers:
    • The entire London Underground network. The entire London bus network. The overland rail network within London (not Airport expresses e.g. Heathrow Express). Docklands Light Railway (DLR). Trams. 33% discount on river services.
  • If you're really struggling to decide which ticket to buy, opt for a Travelcard, which can also be used on London Buses and Trams. This option will cover all London Underground stations, with the exception of some special zones, depending on where you buy it from, search the Internet for the latest information and up-to-date pricing. Cards can be purchased from underground stations and tourist information centers. There are also countless other ticketing outlets, such as newsagents, with a prominent sign in their window. If your stay in London is likely to be prolonged, then one of the high-tech Oyster Cards available from London Transport will be your cheapest and most efficient option. Search Internet for up-to-date information.
  • For most buses just show the driver your Travelcard as you board. For the Underground and DLR to gain access to the platforms, and to exit a station you have to pass through automatic barriers. You are allowed through by inserting your Travelcard ticket into a slot in the barrier.


  • If travelling with children, tell them that if they fail to get out at the station you get out at, to ride the train to the next stop and get off there. Tell them to wait on the platform. In inner London, the next train will usually be along within five minutes, so you can get on it and meet up with them.
  • It is very unusual to see beggars inside Underground stations - they're just not allowed. You may occasionally see them on trains, addressing the entire carriage with a loud and eloquent sob story about needing money to secure a place in a hostel. They're not generally the least bit aggressive, but the vast majority of Londoners will neither encourage them or give them money, and you, the visitor, should follow that example.
  • Do not stare at other passengers, some might feel uncomfortable with a stranger staring at them. It could bring trouble in the tube carriage with someone (mainly a commuter) having a go at you for staring at him/her for too long.
  • Take care on the escalators. Cool frequent users of the tube run down. Don't try this unless you are sure you can manage it.
  • If standing on the escalator, always stand the right hand side. The left side should remain free for faster travellers to walk up or down. This is a great system and a custom which is probably unique to the London Underground. If you do stand on the left by mistake, most Londoners, even if rushed, are quite polite and will simply say 'Excuse me!'
  • If there's a fire, don't use the lift. If the power's cut, you'll be trapped.
  • Priority seating is clearly marked by stickers on the walls of the trains. You should vacate these seats when needed by an elderly person who is less able to stand, a pregnant woman or anyone else who requires as seat for any reason, should there be nowhere else for them to sit in that carriage. On the Piccadilly line, you should do the same for people travelling to or from London Heathrow Airport with a lot of luggage, so they can keep their luggage near them. Note that the need for those seats might not be immediately obvious.
  • If the train is jam packed, avoid boarding and just wait for the next one. It'll be along in a very few minutes and could be less crowded. The front and back carriages are often the least congested.
  • When waiting for the tube train, use your common sense and stand behind the yellow safety line. Standing on the edge facing the track is a bit reckless. People all over the world fall in front of trains and London is no different to any other city around the world.
  • With the exception of the new trains on the Metropolitan, Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines, all other tube trains are not fitted with air conditioning (although they are in the process of having air con fitted). Even in the winter they can get very hot at peak times. In the summer you should always carry a bottle of water or other cold drink such as Coca Cola with you. Don't drink too much at once - there are no toilets onboard tube trains.
  • Do not smoke anywhere on the network. This is against the law and it is dangerous, as it carries a major fire risk and sets off a fire alarm.
  • At weekends there is engineering work being done on the tube. This involves replacement bus services. So make sure if you are travelling at the weekend your route is clear of work. Recently trains to Heathrow have stopped at Northfields, the buses have taken the passengers further. This will increase your journey time. Check before you travel.
  • The two electrically conductive rails fitted onto the track can kill! One is situated in the middle of the track, and the other away from the platform your standing on, so please don't be an idiot and try to trespass onto the tracks (even though on the deep level tube lines there are pits below the tracks and on the Jubilee line extension between Westminster and North Greenwich there are platform edge doors to stop people falling or being pushed onto the tracks). Being electrocuted with hundreds of volts DC (Direct Current) is nearly as dangerous as being hit by hundreds of tons of tube train. If you do not die you will be very badly burnt, will be in a lot of pain and you will have to phone 999 to call an ambulance to convey you to hospital.
  • Take your rubbish home with you or throw your rubbish in the bin. Many London Underground disruptions and delays are caused by litter on the track causing a fire and signalling and track infrastructure systems to stop working properly. Also remember to never leave any baggage behind, you will most likely not see it again if you do. This may also cause major security alerts.
  • If you think that a train looks full then most London commuters will probably think it looks half empty and at peak times they will push and shove to get on the train. This may appear rude but sadly the whole city would scrape to a halt if the trains weren't occupied at that maximum capacity. Use your own body to shield any children travelling with you or any delicate luggage you may have.
  • When a train pulls into a platform, it is expected that you stand back to allow people to alight first before getting on, even if its tempting to push to get that free seat!
  • Do not give money to unlicensed buskers at stations, many stations at the heart of the city now have special busking spots where buskers who have been licensed by the underground can busk legally. They are noticeable by wearing tags round their necks with their IDs and details telling the passengers that they are busking legally. If you give money to an unlicensed busker, you are encouraging unlicensed busking, which is considered anti-social and can be dangerous.
  • Stand on the right of the escalator. Frequent tube users can get a bit upset by people standing on the left of the escalator. Normally tube passengers never say anything to strangers. This is one place that they will say something.
  • Never switch from carriage to carriage by going through the emergency doors at the end of each car when the train is moving. This is VERY DANGEROUS INDEED. You could easily be at risk of falling and either get crushed by the carriages behind the one you're leaving or get electrocuted by the electric fourth rail. This does not apply if travelling on the new trains on the Metropolitan, Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines, as these trains are specially built so passengers can safely pass between carriages.
  • It is extremely dangerous to board or alight when the doors are closing. If anyone or anything gets trapped in the doors and the train starts to move, pull the emergency brake/alarm immediately.
  • If you drop something onto the track, make sure you tell a member of staff or use the help point. Don't try to retrieve it yourself. If you try to retrieve an item yourself, you are effectively trespassing, and this is dangerous as you could come into contact with an electric rail or be hit by a train. However, it would be dangerous to just leave it there, as it would cause a fire or cause a train to derail, so make sure you let someone know so it can be retrieved.
  • The Waterloo and City Line closes early than usual: 9:48pm on weekdays, 6:30pm on Saturdays and closed all day Sundays and Bank Holidays (it exists almost solely to transport people to work).

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Categories: Public Transport | London