The London Underground carries a whopping 1.357 billion (yes, that’s over a billion!) passengers a year. And, if you’re planning on visiting London any time soon, it’s highly likely you’ll be one of them.
Londoners may frequently grumble about the Tube, but there’s lots to love about it — including that it makes this big city much more navigable.
However, before you hop on board, there are a few written (and unwritten) rules that you should know about, so you can ride the Tube like the locals do.
These tips will save you money, time and gain you the unspoken appreciation of your fellow passengers.
1. Don’t use the tube in central London
Locals know that in central London it’s often easiest not to take the tube. Getting the bus or even walking may be quicker and more direct — not to mention cheaper. This is a handy list of stops where it’s quicker to walk than to change tubes. Take note of the Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus/Charing Cross and Embankment one to feel extra smug around fellow tube-reliant visitors.
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2. Play your Oyster or credit card right
Londoners will always carry an Oyster travel card to get the cheapest fares, and you should too! Not getting an Oyster card is one of the top rookie mistakes visitors to London can make. You can read all about our guide to Oyster cards here.
Another option is using a contactless payment card to travel on the London transport network for the same price as an Oyster card. Just check with your card provider first that you can do so without incurring a transaction fee.
3. Don’t rely on the Tube 24/7 (on most nights)
The Tube doesn’t run 24 hours a day, so don’t rely on it to get you to that early morning train. (Note: A “night tube” was launched in September 2015 for certain lines on Friday and Saturday nights.)
Times vary from line to line, but most open shortly after 5 a.m. and close again before 1 a.m. The time of the first and last train should be displayed at each tube station. For public transit outside these hours, you’ll need to rely on the night bus services.
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4. Avoid traveling during rush hour
Why on earth would you want to squeeze yourself into a carload of grumpy Brits during morning rush hour if you have the leisure of waiting a bit? Need another reason to wait to jump on board? It’s cheaper to travel after 9:30 a.m., too. Relax — have a coffee, then travel “off peak.”
5. Let everyone off before boarding
The train has pulled into the station. We know you’re eager to get onto the train, but don’t push your way in the second the doors open. Let everyone who wants to exit the train get off before getting on (admittedly this principle gets a little stretched at very busy times).
6. Be prepared to give up your seat
You shouldn’t need us to tell you, but consider this a gentle reminder to give up your seat on the tube to someone who looks like they need it more than you — most expectant mothers will wear a “Baby on Board” badge — and take a look round before you throw yourself onto the last remaining seat in a carriage.
This being Britain, we’ll just glare, and perhaps mutter under our breath rather than simply saying if someone really does need a seat. But we always appreciate being offered one.
7. Move down!
Try not to stand by the doorways of the trains. Chances are there are plenty more people who’ll want to get on at the next stop. The same goes for the station platforms, too. The entrance to a tube platform is not the best place to stop with your case and pull out your Tube map if you want to make new London friends. And when you get off, keep an eye out for directional signs to show you the nearest exit.
8. Everybody always gets off at your stop
It’s really busy and they announce your tube stop. You leap to your feet and start trying to make your way to the door so you don’t miss it, right? Rookie error. Chances are half the carriage will also be getting off at your stop, and trying to get there in advance is not only pointless but the pushing required will also wind up and frustrate most of the car.
Wait until the train gets to the station, then try and make your way to the exit (and then any pushing is, of course, fully justified).
9. Stand on the right. Walk on the left.
Perhaps the London Tube’s most sacred rule: When standing on an escalator, stand to the right; if you want to walk up or down it, do that along the left-hand side. Sorry, suitcases/friends/loved ones you want next to you will not be tolerated — it’s single file only. Londoners are so well trained that you’ll probably catch us doing this on department store escalators too.
10. Keep it down
Shhh… for a place that’s so busy and vital to the city, the Tube can be eerily quiet. Don’t take that as your cue to fill the void with noise. It’s not that we’re unfriendly; It’s just easier this way. Playing loud music, of course, is definitely a no-no and probably goes without saying. And going without saying is definitely one of a London tube traveler’s favorite things…
Your tips on the London Tube?
Do you have any tips for riding the Tube like a local? Share in the comments below.