Your Guide to the London Tube
The ins and outs of getting around on the London Tube
Prior to studying abroad in London, I spoke with a friend about things I needed to know about London. The first thing he said was to get familiar with the tube. He also gave me a map so I could start studying. Before you leave for London, I would highly recommend getting familiar with the map. The tube will most likely be a part of your daily life. I’ve put together some information on the tube to help you get started!
What is the tube?
Officially called the London Underground, the tube is a subway system used in London by millions of passengers every day. Some of the large cities in the United States have subway systems, but you’ll find the tube to be a bit different. Each station has its own personality, which makes it easier to remember them.
It is an interesting experience the first few times because it is different than what you’re used to for transportation, but you’ll quickly get used to it. Personally, my favorite part is the announcement over the speaker to “Mind the Gap” when you are getting on and off. This refers to the gap between the platform and tube train.
How do you get on the tube?
You can buy an oyster card which allows you to buy a week, month, year, or season pass. Or you are able to top up, just add money to it, and it takes money off after each journey. Once you get to the station you touch the card to the yellow pad and then you enter the gates, just like in the Harry Potter movie.
What happens once you get through the gate?
Each station is different, but you essentially follow the stairs, escalator or lift to the platform you need. Then you wait for the tube and when it arrives, you stand to the side to let the people off before you get on. You either find a seat or grab a pole to help balance for the duration of your journey.
At your stop, you get off the tube and follow the signs that say “Way Out.” When it comes to the escalators, people actually stand single file line and on the right if they are just standing, so people in a hurry can walk up on the left. It is very orderly and quite a sight to see. Then you tap out and continue on with your day.
How do you read a tube map?
I know when you first look at the map, you just see a bunch of colored lines.
But, once you start venturing out, the colored lines will start making sense. There are names all over the map. Those are the station names. The station entrances are fairly well marked so you’ll know you’re in the right spot. The names either are by a dash or a white circle. The dash just means it is a stop on the line and you can get on or off. The white circle tells you where you can change to a different line. These are called interchange stations. They are typically more crowded since people get on and off and can change lines.
The red symbol lets you know there is a National Rail nearby, as well. You also see circular white and gray areas moving outward. These are the zones. It goes from 1 out to 8. Zone 1 and 2 are known as Central London and where you would probably spend most of your time. This will come into play when you buy your oyster card. I would buy a month pass for zone 1 and 2. If I traveled outside of those zones, I would have to pay more. The only time I went outside of the two zones is when I went to Wimbledon. If you’re curious about my trip to Wimbledon, you can click here to read more about it! Click here for a current version of the tube map.
How do you know when to get off?
When you are first learning your way around, you can use the maps of the line to know when to get off the tube. On the tube and on the wall on the platform you can find a line map to know where you are and how many stops there are before you need to get off. I rode the Bakerloo line from Lambeth North to Regent’s Park every day to get to class. If you take the same route, then you’ll get used to how long it takes and what the station looks like that you need to get off at. If you are taking another route to go somewhere else, make sure you pay attention so you don’t go past your stop.
I studied abroad during the summer of 2011 and many tube upgrades were occurring during my time in London. They were upgrading most tube stations to prepare for the Olympics and millions of additional people that would travel via the tube. The tube stations probably look much different than my pictures, but it gives you an idea of what to expect. One other big difference is they now offer a Night Tube service. On the Victoria, Jubilee, most of the Central, Piccadilly, and Northern lines, they offer a 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays. Just make sure you know the schedule and your path so you have a plan to get where you need to go! Click here for a night schedule of the tube map.
I look forward to traveling by tube again one day!
Heather Robinette is the London Study Abroad Editor for Wandering Educators. She notes, "During the summer of 2011, I studied abroad for six weeks in London at the University of Westminster with Academics Programs International. I graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS in December 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. I currently work as a marketing analyst for a small company in central Texas. I currently work as a marketing coordinator for a real estate firm in Las Vegas, NV. I am also pursuing my MBA. While I was abroad in London, I was able to create many unforgettable memories that I will never forget! My study abroad experience helped me gain various skills, but above all else, it helped me to learn more about myself and the world around me." You can find her online at http://www.heatherrobinette.com/
Official Tube photos courtesy London Tube; word photo creative commons; all other photos courtesy and copyright Heather Robinette