Tube Travel: How to Ride the London Underground
Tourists visiting London for the first time might think of the red double-decker buses as being the most iconic mode of public transit, but in fact, the most reliable service comes from the London Underground.
Popularly known as "The Tube," the Underground is a centuries-old railway service that travels both above and below the streets of London, linking the whole city together and parts of the nearby countryside. This transit network consists of 12 lines and 270 stations, connecting the whole city from Piccadilly Circus to the Globe Theatre in Southwark and beyond. It's part of what makes London a very modern city despite its numerous monuments and historic sites. First-time travelers can find themselves overwhelmed when getting on the Tube, so here are a few tips to help you navigate this essential service.
Get an Oyster card.
While most tourists in London will have to fish out the right number of pounds in order to buy a Tube ticket, seasoned Londoners usually bypass that hassle and obtain an Oyster card instead. This smart card is used to store money uploaded electronically by the user. When going through the turnstiles at each Tube station, all you have to do is tap your card against the electronic reader and the price of a ticket will be deducted from your Oyster account. It's been estimated that over 80% of all public transit trips in London are made with the help of an Oyster card, which you can obtain through the government agency Transport for London.
Give everyone else plenty of space.
The London Underground has numerous stations, but they'll all be busy at some point. Learning how to move with the crowds and stay courteous is essential to becoming an expert in London transit. For example, when a train arrives at the station, it's considered good manners to wait and let others exit the train before boarding yourself. And whether you're inside the train or waiting on the platform, you should spread yourself away from the major chokepoints like the train door or the platform entrance. Other Tube riders will be coming and going, so if you're not going anywhere in a hurry, you should clear a path for everyone around you.
Stay to the right when taking an escalator
Because the Tube is a mainstay of public transit in London, it's going to be a major thoroughfare for people going to work in the morning or coming home in the evening. The general rule of thumb is to stay to the right on escalators and stairs so that anyone who needs to run past and avoid being late for a meeting doesn't have to stand bitterly behind you. You'll also find signs that advise you to "Keep to the right" at most Tube stations.
Be ready to give up your seat for someone in need
Everyone in London takes the Tube at one time or another, so it's not uncommon to see people who might need a seat more than you. This can include people with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant women. You'll be doing everyone a favor--and showing your own sense of decency--by letting someone in need take your seat and grabbing onto one of the rails instead.
Mind the gap
This is perhaps the most famous phrase associated with the Tube. It was first introduced in 1969, intended to be a short and consistent warning for passengers to take care when entering or exiting the train. This is because the platforms are usually curved, so there's a slight but potentially hazardous gap between the platform and the train. For your own safety, if you remember nothing else before taking the London Underground, please keep this in mind.