The London Underground can be completely confusing for anyone not familiar with it, but our guide should help you feel at home when travelling on one of the busiest transport networks in the world.
Around 24 million trips are made each day on the tube, many by commuters travelling to and from work, as well as by tourists enjoying some sightseeing in the UK capital.
Overall, there are 12 different lines, 114,500 miles of track and 270 stations – so no wonder it can seem a little daunting to visitors!
There are some basic tips that could help make your journey less confusing and a bit more straightforward.
Avoid the rush hour
If you really don’t need to travel at peak times then try to avoid it, especially if it is your first time travelling by tube. As one of the major ways for Londoners to travel to work, it does become very crowded between 7.30am and 9.30am, then between 5pm and 7pm in the evening.
Travelling in peak times also means you may end up paying more for your journey, with fares dropping after the morning rush period.
It is also worth noting that tube trains do not run 24 hours a day so make sure you know what time the last train is, or you could be forced to rely on the night buses that do operate longer hours.
Keep to the right
It is an unwritten rule that when travelling on an escalator you should keep to the right. This gives anyone wanting to rush for their train a clear path and means you aren’t going to get in anyone’s way. You may find that Londoners do it automatically on other escalators, for instance in shopping malls, as it becomes second nature for them.
It is also common courtesy to allow people to get off the train before getting on board. There is no point trying to get on the carriage if fellow passengers want to leave – it will just cause a traffic jam, so step aside and make sure things keep moving.
When you do make it down to the platform, it is advisable to move along to prevent bottlenecks at the entry points. If you walk right along the platform you may be able to get a seat, as carriages are often emptier towards the front and rear of the trains.
Remember your ticket
If you have an Oyster card (pre-paid contact tickets) or a standard paper ticket make sure you have it ready when you go to leave a station. Entry and exit to most tube stations is via barriers and you will infuriate your fellow travellers if they have to wait while you search your bag looking for your pass – especially if it is peak travelling time.
What if you get lost?
Don’t panic if you end up somewhere you were not expecting. It can be easy to miss your stop or take a line going in the opposite direction. However, tube trains are very frequent so you can get back on track quickly. Take a moment to reassess and find a London Underground map to work out how you can retrace your steps and reach your original direction. If you are totally lost, there are plenty of Transport of London staff who will be happy to help you navigate.
Check the travel news
Maintenance work is common on the London Underground network, although it is usually kept to weekend and night times. However, it can often overrun, so it is vital to check for any travel problems before setting off. The Transport for London website is a good place to double-check for updates and if needs be, you can search for an alternative route. It is also a good idea to keep your ears open when travelling on the network, as often there will be announcements letting you know of any problems or delays on the system.
Carry some supplies
It can get a little hot on the London Underground, especially during the summer months. Although there has been an extensive maintenance programme across the network to improve facilities, there are still many parts which do not have air conditioning – it is more than 150 years old! Therefore, it is wise to pop a bottle of water in your bag before setting off on a long journey, especially if temperatures are expected to be high.
Talking of beverages, drinking alcohol has been banned on the tube since June 2008, while smoking has not been permitted on trains since 1987 after the King’s Cross fire. However, this ban was extended in 2007 to cover all public spaces on the network.
Like any major city, pickpockets tend to operate in busy areas, especially if there are tourists. Therefore, it pays to make sure you protect your belongings. Opt for a bag with a zip and don’t carry your wallet or purse in your back pocket. It is also worth keeping valuable items or important documents, such as your passport, back at your hotel or in your room safe.