The London Underground—known as the Tube thanks to its circular network of tunnels—is one of the largest public transportation systems in the world and carries a billion passengers each year. The network includes the world’s oldest underground railway, which dates back to 1863, but the tracks are historic for reasons other than their age.
The underground system played an important role during WWII, giving shelter to as many as 170,000 people in 1940 to 1941. The impromptu refuge camps on the platforms evolved into organized shelters with bunks, refreshment carts, libraries and church services. A few stations were even turned into secret centers, including a section of the Piccadilly line that was used to house treasures from the British Museum.
Today, the Tube is one of the widest used and most efficient transit systems world-wide. Heading to London soon? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Tips for traveling on the Tube
Practical payment: If you plan to do a fair share of exploring, it’s best to get an Oyster card. Oyster cards are electronic, pre-paid entrance cards to which you can add money (or as the Londoners say, “top up”) as you go along.
Find a stop: While the Underground symbol is famous the world over, if you can’t find one near you, that will hardly help. In that case, just go to the nearest above-ground bus stop—they post mini maps showing the closet stop on the Underground.
Your go-to line: While the system is quite extensive, you will probably spend a lot of time on the Piccadilly line. Many of the city’s most popular attractions can be found on this line, including Buckingham Place, Covent Garden, Harrods, Leicester Square, and of course, Piccadilly Circus.
Map your route: Journey Planner will be your best friend when navigating the Tube. This TFL (Transport for London) website tells you which lines to use when going from A to B.
Mind the gap: As you enter the train, wait for any exiting travels to disembark—then do as your told and be careful of the gap between the train and station platform.
Keep right: While many Americans stand on the right anyway, it’s practically mandatory in London. Do yourself (and fellow Tube riders) a favor—when you’re on an escalator, stand on the right side and walk on the left side.
Know your stats: Stretching over 250 miles of tracks, the extensive network includes 270 stations, many of which with escalators down into the tunnels. In fact, Underground escalators travel the equivalence of two times around the world, each week.
Have you ever ridden on the Tube in London?