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How to Read a London Underground Map

Updated on April 9, 2008

At first glance the London Underground map must seem like a confusing mass of colored lines that lead off in all directions. Once you get over the initial confusion it becomes clearer and more understandable.

The current London Underground map was based on the design first created by Harry Beck in 1933. He was a London Underground employee who realized that passengers didn’t really care about the physical locations of each station, for it mostly ran underground. This design concept has been copied by nearly every other metro system in the world.

In order for me to explain how to use the map I shall do so by taking you 2 different sorts of journey. The first will be a straight journey from station A to station B with no changes. The second will be with 1 change. There will at times be occasions where you’d need to make 2 or more changes in a journey, but these are few and far between.

Journey 1: No changes!

In this example I shall use someone who’s just landed at Heathrow and wants to travel to their hotel in central London. At the bottom of each map you will see a list of stations in alphabetical order. Looking at this list we see that Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3 is in square E1. The map is divided into squares to make it easier for people to find their stations. You will see that this station is on the blue line. If you look at the left hand side of the map you will see that the blue line is called the Piccadilly Line.

Now we want to find the station where your hotel is, Gloucester Road, for the sake of example. Going back to the bottom of the map we see that this station is in square D3. Looking at the map we can see that this station is also on the Piccadilly Line. This means that the train will go from Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3 straight to Gloucester Road without you having to change.

Journey 2: 1 change!

Because London is so large it is more common for people to have to change trains on their journey, at least once! Now, finding the start and finish stations is the same as journey 1. The difference being is that we now have to work out where we change trains.

Let’s say that you were in Hampstead and you wanted to get to Oxford Circus in order to do so shopping. Looking at the map we see that Hampstead is in square D5, on the Northern Line. Oxford Circus is in square C4 on the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Lines.

Looking at the map we see that the Northern and Victoria Lines (colored light blue) meet at Warren Street station. The thing you need to note is that you have to pay special attention to where the train is heading to, along which line it is traveling, for some lines have more than one branch, like the Northern Line.


Once you have made a few journeys on the Underground you’ll begin to feel more relaxed about finding your way. You will soon get to the point where you’d only need to glance at the map and be able to find your way!

Happy journeys!


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      Khalid Al Amoudy 3 years ago

      Thanks for the tips !