The London Underground is the best way to get around when you’re visiting! I take the tube every day and while it’s both incredibly convenient and usually pretty quick, it can be quite frustrating to navigate, especially as a tourist when you are not familiar with the polite courtesies and expectations from fellow passengers. Having lived here for nearly four years, I can pluck a tourist out of a pack on the tube, and sometimes it’s because they are doing something wrong like standing on the left-hand side of the escalator or blocking the passageways to the platform. While it’s no fault of their own, it can be mutually confusing and irritating for both tourists and Londoners alike. So, to save you from sticking out like a sore thumb, I’ve put together a handy guide of useful tips and etiquette to follow that will help you seamlessly blend in like a Londoner!
Buy an Oyster Card
First things first, if you want to get around town, you need to buy an oyster card You can even get a snazzy oyster card holder so you don’t lose it! You can purchase an Oyster card at one of the machines in all tube stations and can pay with a credit/debit card or with cash. If you’re debating on whether to buy a travel card, single tickets or just “topping” your oyster card up with cash, I have some advice. If you’re in London for a week, buy a weekly pass. For Zones 1-2, this will cost you about £34 and gets you unlimited tube rides, no matter the time of day. If you’re in London for a day and planning on riding the tube a few times, I’d get a day pass, which will cost you about £7. If you’re in London for the weekend, I’d top up your card with about £20. Check out the TFL ahead of your visit if you’re unsure or just talk to one of the station staff and they will be happy to help!
Download the Tube Map App
Navigating the tube for the first time is super confusing! Save yourself the hassle of getting lost and wandering aimlessly by downloading the Tube Map App, an award-winning navigation app that includes the official Transport for London tube map. It works both on and offline and it will get you everywhere you need to be. All you have to do is put the name of the station you are at, and enter the station you want to go, and it will provide the correct route for you. It’s as easy as that. If you want to do things old school, grab a free mini tube map at any tube station and have a go without your phone.
Have Your Oyster Card Ready at the Barrier
Before you make your way to the ticket barrier, be sure to have your oyster card out and ready to tap. There is nothing more irritating for a commuter than to have to stand behind a person fumbling through their bag to find their oyster card and causing a massive queue behind them. Don’t be that person! Remember, you need your oyster card ready when you exit the station too.
Stand On the Right, Walk On the Left
Be sure to stand on the right hand-hand side of the escalator and walk up or down on the left-hand side. Don’t stand on the left as you’ll block busy commuters and they will ask you to move or shove you (and you’ll stick out like a tourist!)
Don’t Block the Passageways
Be sure to not stand in the passageways blocking commuters from being able to get to the platform. You’ll get bumped and nudged from flocks of angry commuters. If you’re lost, step to the side, away from the crowds and pull up your Tube Map app or have a look at the maps on the wall to figure it out. If you’re really stuck, ask a member of the station staff or a passenger next to you, most people are friendly and happy to help.
Wait for Commuters to Get Off the Train Before Boarding
As the train approaches, be sure to stand to one side and let all passengers off the train in your carriage before boarding. There is nothing worse than trying to get off a train when a bunch of people are jumping on. It’s also seen as very rude here to not wait your turn.
Give Up Your Seat To Those in Need
ALWAYS offer to give up your seat to pregnant women, who will be wearing a “baby on board” badge. This probably goes without saying, but give up your seat to elderly people. It’s also probably a good idea to give up your seat to parents with small children – give them a break. Bottom line, if you see someone struggling, give up your seat.
Carry a Water Bottle
There are only a few tube lines that have air conditioning and the London Underground can be HOT! A lot of times, you’ll be packed like a sardine in a train carriage with what feels like any air to breathe because it is SO hot down there. It’s easy to get dehydrated so ALWAYS carry a water bottle with you where possible to avoid getting sick.
Read the Free Magazines and Newspapers
Take advantage of the complimentary newspapers and magazines that are handed out at the tube stations! You will notice on your journey that a lot of people will be reading the likes of the Evening Standard, Metro, City AM, Time Out, etc. Grab a paper and have a read.
Take Off Your Backpack
Don’t be that person on a crowded rush hour tube who keeps their packed to the brim backpack on. I have been on the receiving end, early in the morning, on my way to work, on a packed train, when the man in front of me kept his ginormous backpack on. I was sandwiched between a load of people and forced to bury my face into his backpack for a 30-minute train journey, unable to move. Needless to say, it was less than pleasant! You may be wondering why I didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t! The train was too packed to even attempt to move. Take your backpack off and hold it down in front of you as a courtesy to other passengers.
Don’t Put Your Bags on Empty Seats
If you’re travelling during rush hour, or a busy time of the day, don’t put your bags on empty seats as the carriage will fill up and someone will likely ask you to move it so they can sit down.
It’s OK to be Quiet
The London Underground is generally a very quiet place! People keep to themselves. There’s never conversations between strangers unless it’s to complain how hot it is! This isn’t because people in London aren’t friendly, it’s just that Londoners like peace and quiet. Grab a newspaper or a free magazine and enjoy some quiet time. If you are a tourist and want to chat with your friends, that’s fine just don’t be obnoxiously loud and annoy your fellow passengers.
Eating on the Train
A lot of people have mixed feelings about this. I have been so hungry before on a long train journey and have eaten a sandwich on the train, which I personally think is fine. I have also been on a very hot train journey on my way home one evening and a girl across from me was eating a homemade curry out of Tupperware, which frankly made the entire train carriage smell and was quite unpleasant for everyone on the train. Eating on the train – it’s your call but be courteous to everyone around you for your sake too!
Stand Behind the Yellow Line
As the train approaches the platform, be sure to stand behind the yellow line. I knew a girl once who didn’t do this and hit her head on the train and got a concussion! If the platform is really busy, play it safe and stand behind the crowds. Better to be safe than sorry and wait for the next train if you can’t get on straight away.
The London Underground is no doubt one of the best public transportation systems in the world, but it does come with its faults. Sometimes trains break down, are delayed, etc. It can be very frustrating when you are trying to get from A to B. The Tube Map App I mentioned above will let you know if there are delays on any of the lines, so be sure to check that out before you travel anywhere. If your train is delayed whilst you are on it you may have to wait it out until it reaches the platform and then you can move on to plan B. Ask a member of station staff what the best alternate route is or check the tube map to see if there’s another line you could jump on to get to your destination.
Mind the Gap!
Mind the gap between the train and the platform is something you will hear everytime you ride the tube and you can take it literally – be cautious of the gap between the platform and the train as it can be quite big sometimes. Don’t fall!
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