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London Underground 101: A guide to getting the Tube in London

Sept. 05, 2021
6 min read
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A guide to getting the Tube, seriously?

Yes. Though you might not have initially thought so, there's a lot more to it than just getting to a station, getting on a train and then getting off again.

The Cheapest way

First of all, let's make sure the price is right.

There are many ways you can pay to travel around London and get on and off the Tube. But in a nutshell, using a debit, credit or Oyster card to tap in and out at the barriers of your start and end station is likely to be the most convenient and best value for money for most people. The same goes for using contactless on your phone. By traveling this way, the amount you'll be charged per day is capped depending on which of the nine zones you're traveling in.

For full details and to work out exactly which is the right method of payment for you, check out the TfL website.

(Photo by Tim Grist Photography/Getty Images)

Etiquette

According to the dictionary, etiquette is defined as "The customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group". And believe it or not, the Tube has its code of polite behavior. It can pretty much be simplified into three main rules:

1. Escalator etiquette

Perhaps the most important thing to adhere to is the "stand on the right" rule on the escalators. This allows for those in a rush to glide down the escalators in a flash to avoid having to wait an extra minute for the next train.

2. Mindful Tubing

Everyone getting the Tube has somewhere to be, and likely in a hurry. So, by letting all passengers get off your carriage before boarding will enable a smoother, quicker and more pleasant journey for everyone.

Related: How to spend a Sunday in London

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(Photo by Image Source/Getty Images)

Many choose to pass the time on the Tube by burying our heads in our phones (on rare occasions maybe even an actual book or a newspaper). That's great, but lifting your head once in a while to check if there's anyone in need of your seat will go a long way to making someone's journey better, if not their entire day.

This applies mainly to busy commutes: Squishing as tightly as possible into the area closest to the doors benefits nobody. Why are we so averse to simply moving down the carriage? It makes for a more comfortable, less sweaty journey for everyone.

3. Queueing

In general, queueing is somewhat of a national sport for Brits. We do it anywhere and everywhere, and anyone who fails to queue correctly will receive passive-aggressive eye rolls and tuts from all who witness it. This also strictly applies to the Tube — whether it's waiting to get through the barriers, waiting to get on or waiting for the stairs/escalators/lift to leave the station. Save yourself from the glares and cranky tuts of fellow passengers by simply falling into line.

The quickest route might not be the obvious one

If you're not used to London, you might think that you have to take the Tube to get anywhere. For longer journeys in and out of the city, the Tube is likely to be your best bet. However, for shorter journeys in central London, it will likely be quicker for you to just walk.

When planning your journeys, the TfL website even has a handy box to help you work out which routes are quicker to walk.

Read more: The Royal Treatment: 8 royal places to visit in London

(Image courtesy of TfL)

Not only will it be a quicker journey, but you'll breathe in less thick soupy air and swap it for the (slightly) fresher air of the city. The views are guaranteed to be an improvement, too.

Tubing to Heathrow

Depending on where you're traveling from, the likelihood is that getting the Tube will be your cheapest and most direct route to Heathrow (LHR).

Related: The best ways to get from Heathrow Airport to London

While there's extra space on the Piccadilly Line for suitcases, trains on other lines aren't always as accommodating. Either way, traveling with multiple cases at peak times can make for a stressful and awkward journey for you and those around you.

It's not always possible to get to Heathrow without getting on the Tube during peak times, but, if possible, try to leave earlier to avoid the morning or afternoon rush -- you're likely to have a far more comfortable journey.

COVID-19 era

COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work and — more than ever — travel. This also applies to getting the Tube.

There are signs everywhere to remind us all that wearing masks is mandatory and that social distancing rules apply where possible.

Read more: 8 ways to spend a rainy day in London

(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

If you can avoid getting the Tube at all, then it's advisable to do so. If it's your only feasible means of transport, then traveling at off-peak times is advised.

The only way a mask is beneficial is if it is worn over both the mouth and nose. If your nose is poking out or you're wearing it as a chin strap, you may as well not be wearing one at all.

Bottom line

Love it or hate it, without the Tube, London would likely come to a standstill. So whether it's your first time in the capital or you’re a seasoned Londoner, the above tips will serve you well — remember, above all else, stand to the right!

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023