A Simple Guide to London’s Underground

Travel Tips — By Erin Gallagher Maury on August 26, 2010 at 11:50 am

A little guidance with London’s Underground subway system, commonly known as The Tube, goes a long way despite its simplicity.

flickr image: MarcelGermain


Chances are you’re already quite familiar with the iconic Tube signs, the London Underground map and the saying Mind the Gap. And yes, it really is that straightforward. Whatever you need – look up or down, the system is full of signage, modern and vintage.

images clockwise: hannah and noah, smileham, loop_oh, electric counterpoint

Payment system

Purchasing tickets for the Underground can get quite complicated. For the cheapest fares and ease opt for an Oyster card, Transport for London (TFL) prepaid and rechargeable travel card which can be used on the bus, boat, tram and some train services.

flicker image: Mirka23

  1. Enter an Underground station
  2. Approach a ticket vendor (not the machines)
  3. Ask for an Oyster card
  4. Pay a minimum of £5: a refundable £3 deposit and £2 towards your fare (I’d recommend at least £10 to start)
  5. Take the card and head for the turnstiles
  6. To open the barrier swipe the card on the round yellow pad and put the card away
  7. To exit the barrier swipe the card on the same round yellow pad, notice your card balance on the digital display

flicker image: amy mergard

When the Oyster card requires a “top-up” follow the directions on the ticket machines. Payment can be made with cash or credit. When your visit to London is over return the Oyster card to a ticket vendor for a refund or donate the card balance to charity by placing it a marked box within a Tube station.

flickr image: tompagenet

How to ride

  • Those red double decker buses sure are tempting and must be sampled, for short jaunts only as traffic can be a nightmare and the Tube is far quicker
  • Consult TFL’s online Journey Planner for real time service updates and route suggestions
  • Keep a map handy (they’re free and available at every station)
  • Stops are announced and displayed inside some carriages and are marked on each platform
  • When riding Tube escalators: stand on the right, pass on the left … there will be signs
  • Watch for Art on the Underground, read the informative ads for local events posted all over and listen for musicians (aka buskers) for a much more interesting journey

TFL’s Art on the Underground program enriching Tube travel

flicker image: crunchcandy


  • Do speak softly, the Brits keep to themselves and don’t enjoy listening to others
  • Don’t even bother trying to text or chat on the phone … it’s called the Underground for a reason and you won’t get a signal
  • Do pull out something to read or grab TFL’s Metro, a daily free newspaper full of gossip, London events and even a bit of news
  • Don’t go to sleep on the Tube, you may wake up well beyond your stop, the subway stops running around midnight
  • Do offer your seat to the elderly and expectant mothers
  • Don’t put your feet on the seat, play your music too loud or eat smelly foods as TFL’s signage reminds us

flicker image: bgarciagil

flickr image: Tleilaxus

Tags: london signs, London subway, London travel card, london tube, london underground, Oyster card


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