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London Tube Tips: 12 Ways to Navigate the City’s Underground

Riding public transportation can be intimidating, and that was definitely the case for me when first using the London Underground (aka: the Tube). All the colorful lines of the map, different sides of the tracks and the passenger etiquette made no sense at first. There was also the added fear that I wouldn’t be able to navigate my way to the hotel, the London Eye or, even worse, to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace But, after hopping on and off dozens of times I became a semi-pro or at least adequate enough to list these London Tube tips to make your life easier.

1. Buy an Oyster Card

It’s official: traveling with the Oyster Card is a breeze! The Oyster Card is a reloadable smartcard that is filled with as much or as little money as you’d like to put on it. Though you do have to pay a £5.00 fee on new Oyster cards, it is typically much cheaper using it than just buying single tickets on the tube to each of your destinations. The bonus is that the card can be used on more than just the Tube. Its good for buses, trams, TfL Rail and much more!

2. Only Smart Cards Work at the Ticket Machine

A Smart Card is like a regular credit card except it contains an embedded microprocessor. They’re more popular in Europe and this American gal tried many times to reload my Oyster Card using an ordinary credit card on the ticket machine, but can’t understand why it won’t work. Until I figured out that I have to use a Smart Card, which I didn’t have at the time. Instead, I reloaded my card with the help of an in-person attendant.

3. Watch Out for Oncoming Traffic

The London Tube is the most practical (not to mention affordable) means of transportation, so A LOT of people use it. Whenever a train arrives, it unloads dozens, if not hundreds of people. So, remember this Tube tip: Step aside and do not block their way!

4. Have Your Card/Ticket Ready

Keep in mind that you need your card or ticket with you when you enter the train platform, so when you approach the gate barrier, make sure it’s already in your hand or pocket. This way, you won’t have to look for your ticket or card in front of the gate and risk holding up the line. Don’t forget: you also need your card when you exit!

5. Check the Underground Line Map

I cannot stress this hard enough: always double-check your destination on the Line Map. You don’t want to get lost and find yourself in the middle of nowhere. The stop in bold is where you’re at. Look for the stop you’re going to and the color of the line it’s on. If you’re still unsure, you can always ask the friendly staff around the station.

If you are like me and would feel more comfortable studying the map ahead of time, you can find it here.

Check the London Underground Line Map

6. Stand to the Right

Stand to the right side when riding escalators. The left side is usually for those people who are in a rush and would like to walk (or run) going up or down. My husband got caught on the left and that is not a place you want to be unless you intend on getting shoved, nudged and bumped. Absolutely, under no circumstances, stand to the right and leave your luggage on the left.

7. Check that You are on the Right Side of the Tracks

You may be on the right line, but are you on the right side of the tracks? This is as important as checking the right line to take because you might end up in the opposite direction of where you intend to go!

8. Mind the Gap

Wherever part of the world you are, as long as you’re riding a train, minding the gap is one of the most important underground tips you have to remember. “Mind the Gap” has been my favorite London terminology because of the way the conductor speaks it with his English accent to remind the passenger to be aware of the few inch gap between the train door and the platform.

9. Stand Behind the Yellow Line

The yellow line marks the place where every passenger should stand which is a safe distance from the tracks. You do not want to fall onto the tracks! Standing here also gives the arriving passengers a safe way to get off the train. However, some folks have no patience and shove their way forward even when people are still getting off.

10. Pay Attention to the Signs

The signs will help you know which trains that are arriving at the station. You have to be mindful of it because there may be a lot of trains that pass through the track that you’re on but goes to a different destination than the one you want. Just because you’re on the right line and side, doesn’t automatically mean that the train that passes is the right one you should take.

11. Do NOT lean on the Poles

I’m not going to lie, this was one of the Tube tips that I had a hard time abiding with. The poles inside the train are meant for holding on to, not for leaning against. Since there is only a limited seating capacity on the train, some of the passengers would just stand and the poles are there for support in case of bumps or sudden stops.

12. Watch the Signs Before Exiting

After you successfully find the right line, side, and train, the next challenge is to exit at the right station. There are diagrams inside the train to indicate the station, but for extra safety when the train stops, look out the window before exiting. There will be large signs that tell you the name of the stop you are at.

Whether you’re headed for a stroll at Hyde Park or heading back to your hotel, remember these London Tube tips and I’m sure you’ll find your way. Though the first day of my London Underground experience was frightening, by day two it was easy to navigate my way throughout Zone 1 without committing any tube faux pas—besides #11.

What London Tube tips would you add?

Other Essential Information about the London Tube

More London Related Posts

A Guide to Changing of the Guard at London’s Buckingham Palace
Walk Across London’s Abbey Road and Stand in a Red Phone Booth
Attend a Proper British Afternoon Tea in London
Take a Spin on the London Eye
Stroll Through London’s Hyde Park
Learn Sign Language While Drinking at the Oldest Wine Bar in London


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