One of the many things I fell in love with during my trip to London was its transportation system, especially the London underground that everybody simply calls “the tube.”
By the way, nobody calls it “subway”, because in London that word has quite a different meaning – a passage below the street to walk to the other side under a busy street. There are many subways in London – e.g. around Hyde Park.
The London tube is the most used method of transportation in the UK’s points of interest capital because it is very convenient, relatively inexpensive and in many cases – the quickest way to move around the town.
Millions pounds have been spent recently to upgrade this world-oldest metro system (operating since 1863!) and it works extremely well, with trains arriving every couple minutes, between 5 AM and 12:30 AM.
There are many tube stations in Central London. Some of them are very close together and sometimes it may be more convenient (and cheaper if you use single tickets) just to walk.
Tube stations are marked by a large red circle sign that is overlaid by a blue banner that reads “Underground”, which changes to the station name inside the tube. The London tube has a dozen lines that are color-coded – both on the maps and inside the trains. It makes the tube easier to use and it is especially helpful at the interchange stations where you can quickly find the line you want to use.
Getting to use the tube can be difficult at first and bit confusing with so many lines, exchanges, elevators, etc., but once you learn the basics you will quickly start to appreciate the convenience the tube provides.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know to become an expert user of the London underground system.
First of all, you need to know in which direction you should be going, which may be tricky under the ground – if you do not know, you can easily get on the train that goes in the direction opposite to the one you want to go. But there are maps of the system available and you just have to find the station you are at on the map and the direction you want to go. It helps to know the final station at the end of the line (look at the map and you will find it). Why is that helpful? Because each platform’s overheads show trains coming within next few minutes. Also, all trains have displays showing the final station they are going to. So when the train arrives and you see the displayed name of the station is the right one, then all you have to do is just get on! You will certainly hear “Mind the gap!” warning, but you just go with the flow and you have to do that relatively quickly, especially during the rush hours.
Sometimes the train does not go to the final station, but ends its trip somewhere earlier (e.g., a Central line train instead of going to Epping goes only to Hainault).
If you notice that the train leaving from the platform you are at is actually going in the direction opposite to the one you would like to go, then just walk to the opposite platform – most often it is right across and you only need to walk a bit upstairs and downstairs to the right platform. Sometimes it may be a little farther. Still, the directions are painted on the walls – there are graphs there, usually in a column form and in the line’s color – showing all the stations from the starting to the final one. By the way, similar graphs are on each train, although this time, the stations are presented horizontally, but the color-coding is also used in the trains (e.g. chairs are yellow on the Circle line and blue on Victoria); it is very helpful.