Travelling on the London Underground
The London Underground (more often called "the Tube") is the city-wide subway train system that locals and tourists use to quickly get around the city.
The entire Underground network system is made up of 275 stations on 12 rail lines. The different lines are marked on maps with colors to help you keep track of where you are and where you are going. You'll find all the big tourist attractions clearly marked on Tube maps so you can find where you are going quickly. Free maps can be picked up at most ticket stations.
Compared to taxis, the Tube is a cheap way to travel around London. The fares are based on a zone map of the city, and the rates are based on your starting and ending zones. Fares start at only £1.30 for most trips within the central downtown area (which is zone 1)
If you plan on traveling extensively by Tube, you should think about getting an Oystercard. These "smart cards" are durable and much more convenient than carrying regular paper fare tickets. Using an Oystercard is simple and easy. Just touch the card to one of the many card readers on the platform when you start your trip, and again when you reach your destination. Your fare is deducted from the balance on the card. You can pre-load your Oystercard with full season passes or regular pre-pay fares. The Oystercard isn't just for the Tube system either. This handy transit fare card can also be used on all other forms of London public transit, such as buses or the DLR (Docklands Light Railway). If you plan on spending any time in London, I highly recommend picking one up. You can even buy one ahead of time through their website.
You don't need to worry about precise schedules when using the London Underground. There are trains running through the stations every few minutes, so you don't need an actual timetable. There are times posted for the first and last trains each day though. There are some routes that start as early as 5am and end long after midnight.
If you intend to trek around London with a car as well as by Tube, be aware that many stations do have parking facilities but you will have to pay to park your car. The parking rates are reasonable, starting around £2.00 for a weekday. Statutory holidays sometimes allows for free station parking. Sight-seeing by bicycle is another option, and you can take your bikes on the trains with you, but not during high-traffic times (such as morning and evening rush hour). If you plan on using your bike along with the Tube, check with the transit office to get further details. There is no change in fare costs if you are bringing a bicycle with you.
The etiquette for traveling by Tube is basically what you would expect for any major subway system. Take off any backpacks when boarding the trains, and leave them on the floor when seated. Move out of the doorways and let passengers get on or off when the train is stopped. On the station escalators, stand on the side so those walking faster can easily get past you. Overall, be courteous to riders and transit staff. Smoking is not allowed anywhere in the Tube system
Even if you don't intend to do any traveling on the Tube, you should still visit some of the stations as a tourist destination in itself. There is poetry, artwork, photography and sculpture on display around the major London stations. You can even buy a printed copy of the poetry displays from the London Transport Museum Shop.
Planning ahead when intending to visit London can make using the Underground system even easier. Visit the official website and download maps of all routes along with timetables. Knowing your Tube routes will get you to your destinations faster, easier and with less time lost.
One more tip. If you are traveling during the summer, remember that the Tube is not air conditioned and it can get very hot when you are riding on your train. Carry a bottle of water with you if you plan on being on a train for a while.
Approaching London Tube Train
Tube Station at Piccadilly Circus
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