How To Ride The Tube In London 2014

Welcome to the London Underground

Photo credit: Andre Bulber (andrijbulba)via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
As you descend into the deepest, darkest recesses of the London Tube system you enter into a secret world frequented by up to 4 million passengers a day.

Everyone is packed together and yet strangely alone, focused entirely inwards.

There is nothing they care about but the journey.

It's as if the sudden loss of daylight somehow flicked a switch in their evolutionary subconscious, kicking in a primeval survival instinct.

Look closely you can see it; a little twitch of the head here, a nervous flick of the eye there.
Watch them as they squirm and jostle their way to their destinations.

Photo credit:
Jared Tarbell(jared) viaFlickr. CC BY 2.0
All busy.

All only concerned about themselves.

And mostly sweaty...

This guide tells you how to make the most out of the London Underground, how to survive it and how to even enjoy it.

How to Ride the London Underground

Although it can confuse, navigating the London Underground is relatively easy.
Use the little London Underground Map that is provided free at all the stations.
There are 11 different lines that make up the London Underground Network. Each is coloured coded and has a name. For example the Piccadilly Line is coded Dark Blue and the Central Line is Red. All the interchanges between stations are clearly marked with a black circle on the map.

As well as the 11 lines the Docklands Light Railway and the Overground Line (the old North London Line) now form part of the network.
All you need to do is work out how to get between the station you are at and the station you wish to go to, making a note of where you need to change Lines if there is no direct route.
In this manner you can plan a route. For example, look at the London Underground Map on the Transport for London website. If you want to go from Piccadilly Circus to St. Paul's all you have to do is:
1.    Find your starting point -Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly Line, Dark Blue)
2.    Find your destination - St. Paul's (Central Line, Red)
3.    Note the nearest interchange where the two lines intersect -Holborn
And off you go!
Just follow the colour coded station signs to the correct line and platform, hop on an eastbound Piccadilly Line train, travel 3 stops to Holborn, change to the Central Line and travel 2 stops to St. Paul's.
Photo credit: Kevin Gessner via Flickr.
CC BY 2.0 
Often people can get confused about which direction the trains are going in. The platforms are all marked with maps so you can check, but a good tip is to make a note of the station at the end of the line and compare this with the train information on the digital display on the platform. In our example above we need to take an eastbound Piccadilly Line train towards Cockfosters and when we change at Holborn we want to take an eastbound Central Line train to St. Paul's, so we want an eastbound train going to Epping. If it says West Ruislip or Ealing Broadway on the platform board, it's going the wrong way, as these two destinations are on a separate branch of the Central Line.

Photo credit: Annie Mole via Flickr
.CC BY 2.0
If in doubt ask a member of staff, they're a friendly bunch. No, they are, really....

London Tube Planner

Access the The Transport for London Journey Planner hereIt is a great tool and can be used to plan trips to and from prominent landmarks as well as from Tube Stations. You can also plan your Journey from your Hotel or Postcode (Zip code).

How Much Does it Cost to Ride the London Tube?

Photo credit: Annie Mole via Flickr.
 CC BY 2.0
Limited Edition London
Underground 150th Anniversary
Oyster Card.  
The London Underground is divided up into 6 Zones from the centre of London outwards and the fare you pay is dependent on how many zones you pass through. Nearly all the major sights and attractions are in Zone 1, as well as the major hotels. The Tube is not cheap, with a single journey within Zone 1 costing £4.70 ($7.90). There are various cheaper fares available if you use Oyster Cards or Travelcards which can reduce the amount you pay substantially. A table of the main fares is set out below:

London Tube Prices - As of 19th Jan 2014

Photo credit: Annie Mole via
. CC BY 2.0
There's a £5 returnable deposit
on an Oyster Card, but why
not drop it in the charity
box when you leave town.
The Railway Children is an
international children's
charity that fights for
vulnerable children who live
alone at risk on the streets,
where they suffer
abuse and exploitation.        
Travel Zone  Adult Single  Oyster Peak  Oyster Off-Peak
                          Fare              Single          Single     
Zone 1 only       £4.70              £2.20          £2.20
Zone 1-2            £4.70              £2.80          £2.20
Zone 1-3            £4.70              £3.20          £2.70
Zone 1-6            £5.70              £5.00          £3.00

Oyster Cards on the London Underground

The Oyster Card is a great way to get around London by tube or bus and makes sense if you're in town for a week or so. It is a pay as you go ticketing system that works out the cheapest fare for any journey and deduces that amount from your card. It is a smart-card that offers substantial savings on the cash price of the ticket and also works out the cheapest fare for all your journeys in one day including offering daily price capping. For example, the Oyster fare for a peak time journey within Zone 1 is £2.20 with a peak price cap of £8.40. This is the maximum amount that you can be charged however many journeys you make in Zone 1 on any given day. It is also valid on the London overground and bus network as well as the Docklands Light Railway - all are fully integrated - so you can travel around all day in full knowledge of how much you will pay.

How Can I get an Oyster Card?

Photo credit: Hakan Dahlstrom via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
An visitor's Oyster Card costs £3 and then you can fill it with credit and keep it topped up at any Underground Station from either the ticket office or the machines which take debit and credit cards.Oyster Cards can be brought at any Underground station and are also available from newsagents, petrol stations and shops all over London.

See more about Transport for London's Visitor's Oyster card.  
If you live in the UK you can order an Oyster card on-line and if you live abroad in anyone of 58 designated countries - including the US, Canada, Australia, India and China - you can buy your Oyster card on-line and have it sent to your home address before you travel.


Photo credit: Hugo Cadavez via Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Another great way to make use of discounted travel while in London is to get a Travelcard that allows unlimited travel. One day peak, one day off-peak, weekly and monthly Travelcards are available to ease the strain of on your wallet. You can also incorporate a one day Travelcard into the cost of your over-ground train journey into London if you live outside of, or are staying outside of London and are travelling in on a day trip to do a bit of shopping, sightseeing or paying a visit to the theatre. Just ask at the ticket office at your local station when you purchase your ticket.

How much do Children pay on the Tube?

Children up to the age of 10 travel for free on the London Underground as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket. Up to 4 children can travel with each fare paying adult.
Photo credit: Annie Mole
 via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
Children aged 11 to 15 require an Oyster 11 -15 Photocard to get child rates but you can purchase a one day Travelcard or pay the child fare for the journey. Travelcards of more than one day require a photocard.
Children aged 16 and 17 require a 16+Oyster card to travel at child rates.
Full details of all London Underground child rates and fares can be found on the Student and Children section of the Transport for London website.

Using the London Tube

Photo credit: Chris Brown (zoonabar) via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
Ticket Barriers.
Next to the ticket office in any station you will find automatic machines able to sell you tickets as well as machines that allow you to top up your Oyster Card. These machines take debit and credit cards as well as cash and using them can often be quicker than waiting at the ticket office.
To pass through to the platforms or to exit the station you have to pass through an automatic barrier. For paper tickets, including Travelcards, put them into the slot on the barrier; it will be returned if still valid. Single tickets will be retained when you exit the system. If you have an Oyster card, simply swipe it over the yellow pad on the top of the barrier.
Do not try to go through a gate that is clearly marked with a big red X. This is for people coming the other way.
If you have lots of luggage, a pushchair or other bulky items, then you will find an access gate to the side of the barriers. Ask a member of staff for assistance to let you through.

A Few Handy Hints for Riding the Tube

Like all things the Tube can be intimidating to the visitor the first time they travel. Here are a few handy hints:
Photo Credit: Annie Mole via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
There used to be an old joke about how you
could tell the Swedish students on the Tube.
The answer was they were the ones standing on
the left hand side of the escalator with
their backpacks on, blocking the way...
They've obviously learnt their lesson!
  • Move right along the platform as far as possible. If you stop when you enter the platform all you do is prevent others from entering.
  • Do not obstruct or hold the train doors open. All this does is prevent the train from leaving and makes the driver have to come and check all the doors. Remember even bag straps or coats can cause a problem.
  • If the train looks too crowded, leave it. There will be another along in a few minutes.
  • Allow people off the train first. Let everybody get off the train before you enter the carriage.
  • Don't hang about at the bottom of the escalator. Move out of the way.
  • When travelling on the escalators stand on the right. Leave the left hand side free for commuters in a hurry.

Tube Opening Hours

Photo Credit: ell brown via Flickr
 CC BY 2.0

Don't miss your last train!
Remember the Tube is not a 24 hour service. In general the first trains start running at about 05.00 hrs and the last trains depart at about midnight. For exact times please check the Tube Timetables.
London does however provide an excellent Night Bus Service.

Safety on the London Underground

Although busy, the Tube is generally a safe environment to be in. Just be as sensible as you can and follow a few simply rules:
Photo credit: Annie Mole via Flickr.
CC BY 2.0
. Help Point at Hammersmith.
  • Stand behind the yellow lines on the platforms.
  • In hot weather make sure to carry water with you.
  • Remember there are over 2,500 London Transport Police watching out for you.
  • Thieves and pickpockets love crowded spaces. Keep your valuables secure and don't keep your ticket or Oyster Card in your wallet or purse. Fumbling about for it in your bag or pocketbook will only encourage the bad guys.
  •  Take extra care at known pickpocket sites. The five worst stations are Victoria, Leicester Square, Oxford Circus, King's Cross and Piccadilly Circus. 25% of all crimes take place at these stations.
  • Most thefts occur on the trains themselves. In fact 70% of all thefts on the London Underground occur on the trains and not in the stations.
  • There are Help Points at most London Underground Stations.  

WiFi on the Tube

Free WiFi is now available at 120 Tube stations - meaning you can connect to the Web from deep underground. Leaflets with full instructions are available at Tube stations. 

Harry Beck and that Famous Map

Photo credit: Public Domain via
Wikimedia Commons .
1908 Tube map.
The higgledy piggledy Underground
 map before Harry Beck got
his hands on it.  
The iconic London Underground map was designed by Harry Beck in 1933. It is diagrammatic and functional and does not reflect the physical geographical locations of the stations at all. Beck realised that all passengers wanted to know was how to get from A to B and where to change stations. He was paid 5 Guineas (£5 and 5 shillings) for his genius which was inspired by the electrical diagrams he drew for his day job at the London Underground signals office.  
This kind of diagrammatic map in now standard for every global mass transit system in the world from New York to Paris and Shanghai to Moscow, while Harry's original little map has been printed on all types of merchandise from socks and T-shirts to to mugs and ironing board covers.

Amazing Tube Facts

Photo credit: Alexander Baxevanis
via Flickr. CC BY 2.0

A picture of an old Tube signal.
The Tube is currently
undergoing the biggest upgrade in
its 150 history which will increase
capacity by 30 %. However to do this
without shutting the system down is
difficult and engineering works
cause frequent disruptions at
weekends. But the multi-billion
pound scheme to upgrade rails,
trains and signals is essential.
There is one signal on the
Bakerloo Line at Edgeware Road
that has been working without
a day off since 1926!
  • 249 Miles of Network
  • 270 Stations
  • 426 Escalators
  • 19,000 Staff
  • 1863. The year the first part of the Tube opened
  • 525. The number of trains in operation at peak times
  • 1.1 billion. The number of passenger journeys per year.
  • 43,000,000 miles. The number of miles the Tube trains cover in a year.  

Ghost Underground Stations

Photo credit: Julian Osley
via BY-SA2.0

The facade of Down Street station, London.
The British Government was once run from
the basement of this building...
Which explains a lot.

There are 40 disused or abandoned Tube stations dotted about the network including the Aldwych, Brompton Road and Down Street. During the Second World War Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet briefly used Down Street station as an air-raid shelter. It is between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner stations on the Piccadilly Line. The building still exists at street level and is now a newsagents. The bricked up entrance is still visible. There is talk of opening up these tube stations as sort of interactive museums/tourist attractions to be run by The Old London Underground CompanyThe idea is a long way off but had been agreed to in principle by the Mayor of London.

Photo credit: Jaanus Silla (j_silla) viaFlicka. CC BY 2.0
Blow my man, blow.

Music on the Underground

Long gone are the bad old days of crummy music on the Tube. These days buskers are all licensed and even have their own designated spots to play in. The scheme is highly regarded and highly competitive. The result? Excellent music for everybody. Over 100,000 hours of music every year. The official scheme has attracted some big names including Julian Lloyd-Webber and Seasick Steve.

Art on the Underground

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
Big Ben (2012) by artist Sarah Morris at Gloucester
Road Tube station. 
Art on the Underground is a programme designed to present art in an engaging way to the customers and staff of London's Tube network. Its aim is to, "Provide a world-class programme of contemporary art that enriches the Tube environment and our customers’ journey experience; and continues the long-standing tradition that excellent art and design is at the core of London Underground's identity and services." Support for the project is provided from many different sources.

Mind the Gap

Photo credit: Laura Bittner (wolfsavard) via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
"Mind the Gap."
"What? That gaaaaaaappppppp?"
"Yes. That gap."
You will see the phrase "Mind the Gap" printed along the edges of most London Underground platforms. You will also hear repeated safety announcements telling you the same. There can be as much as an 8 inch gap between the edge of the platform and the train. The gap is most pronounced at platforms that are curved.

London Underground Line Colours

  • Bakerloo Line - Brown
  • Central Line - Red
  • Circle Line - Yellow
  • District Line - Green
  • Hammersmith and City Line - Pink
  • Jubilee Line - Silver
  • Metropolitan Line - Magenta
  • Northern Line - Black
  • Piccadilly Line - Dark Blue
  • Victoria Line - Light Blue
  • Waterloo and City Line - Turquoise

London Underground Mobile/Cell Phone Apps

  • Tube Exits. iPhone app. Save time and beat the crowds. Tube Exits gives savvy commuters the inside track on how to get one-step ahead of their fellow commuters and get a speedy exit off the Tube. Travellers can save around 10 minutes on the average journey during peak hour travel.
  • London Underground Tube Map. Classic Transport for London Underground Map with live service information. Fully licensed with official map.
  • Transport for London Journey Planner. Not an app, but a link to the mobile phone/ cell phone version of Transport for London's journey planner, the most useful tool you can have to help you get around London.

For a Great Day Out, Visit the London Transport Museum

Photo credit: John Curnow via Flickr.CC BY 2.0
  • Visit the London Transport Museum. The museum's collection originated in the 1920s when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve two Victorian horse buses and an early motor bus for future generations.

Way Out

Photo credit: Andy Burgess via Flickr. CC BY 2.0