The London Underground is a very convenient way of getting around London for a very convenient price. It’s also quite overwhelming if you’re not prepared. After spending a week in London, I’ve become intimately familiar with using the Tube. Sometimes it’s still a little difficult, but there are ways to make the experience much smoother and much more comfortable.
Buy an Oyster Card
If you plan to spend more than a day in London or plan to take multiple small trips around a specific area, an Oyster Card gives the best value for money spent.
Oyster Cards are plastic smart cards that you can use instead of paper tickets. Load it up with whatever amount you wish. You may use the card, of course, in the London Underground, but you may also use the card to pay fare for other Transport for London services: buses, trams, national rail services, and riverboats. You may also use the card to ride the Emirates Air Line, a cable car that can take you from North Greenwich to Royal Victoria (It’s a great view and highly recommended, but alas I wasn’t able to go this time around).
The card has fare caps, which makes sure you pay the lowest rate for all the rides you take in a day; you will never be charged higher than an equivalent day travelcard rate (£12.00 Zones 1-4; £17.00 Zones 1-6).
You can buy an Oyster Card directly from a ticket machine if you wish, but I recommend purchasing a Visitor Oyster Card from Transport for London’s Visitor Tickets store. In addition to looking far cooler (and more souvenir-worthy) than the standard blue card, the card offers special discounts for many places. Use it for 15% off exhibits at the British Museum, for example!
When you’re done with the trip, you can get a refund of any remaining balance on the card through a ticket machine, so no worries about wasting money. That being said, you can only get a refund up to £10.00 through the machines. You will need to mail the card in to get a higher refund than that.
Keep calm and read the map
At first glance, London’s Tube Map is overwhelming. Bunch of intersecting lines, square dots, open circles, and many colors (the latter made it very difficult for me and my color deficiencies) create confusion if you don’t know how to read it. In fact, it’s quite simple: find the station you’re entering, find the station you wish to exit, and connect the dots to figure out your route. Or, feel free to use your favorite map service; the majority of them can recommend the best routes to maneuver the London Underground.
Take a breath and be calm once you start walking towards the platform; each platform has clear signs telling you which side you need to reach which station. Despite the inherent haste that most London folk have in the tube, I’ve never had a problem pausing to look at a sign–so long as I didn’t block the way, that is.
The Tube is a very popular, and very populated, way of getting around London. I remember packing myself into a Piccadilly Line train back to our beautiful and large flat in Holloway we stayed in through Airbnb. It was like being in a can of sardines–and my other two companions couldn’t get on the train I was on! Thankfully, I packed quite light, so no fear of losing anything, and significantly more comfort on the tube right to and from destinations.
If you’re not fond of being stuck in a sardine can, however…
There’s always another tube along the way
When my companions and I were separated because of a really full tube, I simply got off at the stop that we needed to go. Their train came nearly 3 minutes later with significantly little drama.
Most of the time, you won’t need to worry if you don’t want to enter a particular train, or have no desire to force yourself into a packed train. Just let others that want to get in get by and wait for the next one. For the busier lines around central London, it won’t be a long wait.
Get comfortable with closeness to others
However, I guarantee that there will be times that you can’t wait for another train. It might be the final train for the evening, or you’re strapped for time. In those situations you’ll have to get yourself in a train.
This is no time to be shy. So long as you’re not outright violent, get yourself in the train, find a spot on which to stand, take a deep breath, and try to be comfortable with all the people around you. Perhaps say a few little mantras reminding yourself that it’s not just you that’s suffering; that everyone else in the train feels just as cramped. You’ll feel a little more comfort, believe me.
Anything I’ve Missed?
Were there any other tips I missed that are beneficial to a travellers’ London Underground experience? Please let me know!