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Surviving the Tube, a London Underground Guide

Updated on September 5, 2013

The Tube

As a Londoner and working in the West End I use the tube six days a week to get to and from work. I have seen some sights and experienced some situations that are nothing less than rage inducing, but all in all London Underground is a very easy way to get around our city and with a few hints and tips from me I hope your journey (and your stay in London) will be much more pleasurable.

The cheapest and most convenient way to purchase a ticket is using the Oyster system. It is touch card technology and will only charge you for the cheapest journey you make that day, for example if you make a return journey it will charge you for that alone, but if you make several journey's it will only charge you the Oyster daily travel card rate rather than for each separate journey. You can top up the card at many different shops as well as at stations and you can even buy the card in advance online at and have it posted to you (if you are in one of the 58 countries on the list) saving you lots of time and confusion on arrival. The card costs £3 to buy plus any credit you add on, but it will never expire and if you are in London for a while it will save you money. When you leave London and have no further use of your Oyster card, you can hand it back for a refund of your deposit plus any credit on the card.

How to avoid trouble on the tube (and not get shouted at by a Londoner)

  • If your ticket or Oyster card doesn't work at the turn-style after two attempts move to the side and seek out a member of staff - you have probably run out of credit. Don't keep trying it as the barrier wont open and here you will experience your first Londoner commuter mutterings. If the light on the Oyster reader is red take a step back and try again when the light turns orange. When the light is red it wont read your card and so if you are stood behind someone trying this please give them a little space. You can check how much credit you have on your Oyster card at any ticket machine by touching the card on the yellow reader.
  • Get a tube map before you go on the underground it will make life much easier, they are available free from all stations and shops which display the Oyster symbol. If you have an iPhone or smart phone you can download a free tube planner app which will include maps, latest service updates and journey planners. When you make it to the entrance of a tunnell or to the bottom of the stairs at the platform try and avoid stopping and checking the line map as you will block the way for people behind you. All you need to know is the line you want and which direction, North, South, East or West. There are tube maps on the platform and the trains destination will be displayed on the electronic board.
  • On escalators make sure you stand on the right and walk on the left. There are signs telling you on which side to stand and it is periodically announced over the public address system (but only in English). London commuters tend to walk down the escalator in a hurry so its best to stand out of their way. Whatever you do, don't stop at the bottom of the escalator - you will cause a pile up and someone will get hurt. If you are waiting for someone, stand to the side. Commuters go places quickly and many will not hesitate to walk straight into you rather than around you.
  • If you have enjoyed one of our fine public houses and you are a little tipsy, please don't be tempted to slide down the escalator hand rail. It always ends badly with a lot of blood - on you or anyone else you take out on the way down. I have seen a young chap fall right the way from the top to the bottom after trying to slide down. The escalator will have to be emergency stopped and you will then have to spend a long night in one of the NHS's finest A&E departments where you will get little sympathy.
  • When you get to the platform please move down. So many people gather around the entrance to the platform causing a jam of people behind. Plus the upside is, if you go further down the platform, right to the end, you have more chance of getting a seat.
  • It is illegal to drink or have an open container of alcohol on any London transport vehicle or station as it is deemed antisocial. It isn't widely advertised and if you get caught you will be fined. If you are also deemed too drunk to travel and a danger to yourself and other passengers you may end up spending a night in one of London Transport Polices finest cells.
  • Please don't hold the doors open on a train. If the beeps are sounding that the doors are about to close (and especially if you are in a group of people) let it go - the next train will typically be no more than 5 minutes behind and its not worth being split up. It annoys the drivers, it annoys other passengers and it can break the train. Trust me, you don't want to be the cause of a delay to a Londoner - their accusing stares will reduce you to dust and the drivers tend to announce to the train which carriage has the problem and describe the people causing it. If you are split up from your friends and family because of closing doors it is best to have a plan to reunite before going on the underground. The best thing for the people who made it onto the train to do is get off at the next stop and stand on the platform in the exact spot you get of the train. If the rest of your friends and family do the same you will be reunited within minutes at the next station.

Frustrated Londoners tend to push, barge and mutter their way around the transport system when others don't part part like the red sea for them. I hope by reading this you may avoid an encounter with a grumpy commuter and thus have a more enjoyable stay in London town.

Finally, make sure you mind the gap!


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    • sid_candid profile image

      sid_candid 7 years ago

      Great Hub about one of the best city of world, London. A must rad for anyone planning to visit London. Thank you for sharing.