Ahh, the tube. Sprawling across 402km (the third longest after Beijing and Shanghai), London’s Underground system is one of the oldest, most famous, and most complicated in the world. It boasts almost 300 stations, 11 lines, and an inevitable litter of quaking tourists clutching their TFL maps in the corner. It carries a stomach-churning 1.37 BILLION passengers every year (making it the 11th busiest in the world, and the third busiest in Europe), as well as an estimated half a million mice. Nice.
If the thought of mastering the underground brings you out in a cold sweat, don’t worry about it – it’s actually pretty easy to get to grips with (honestly), and there is a whole load of alternatives too, should battling the crowds at rush hour get just a bit too much.
London Underground is split in to nine zones: Zone 1 is the most central, with Zones 6-9 encompassing the very outskirts of the city (anything after Zone 6 doesn’t appear on the TFL tube map). The stations for Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Covent Garden etc all fall within Zone 1, which means it’s generally packed with tourists who have little need or desire to venture any further. Those of us who move here however, generally live within Zones 2-4 – the lower the number, the more expensive the rent, but anything further than Zone 4 is generally considered too far from the centre.
How do I use the bloody tube map?!
It was way back in 1931 that Harry Beck designed the famous tube map that is still used, loved and misunderstood by London’s residents and visitors today. Its little crisscrossing lines might look confusing, but break it down and they’re actually pretty straightforward. So, every colour corresponds to a different line: Victoria (Light Blue), Piccadilly (Dark Blue), Northern (Black), Jubilee (Grey), Central (Red) and Bakerloo (Brown) are the main lines that you’re more likely use most often. The others consist of District (Green), Hammersmith & City (Pink), Circle (Yellow), the Overground (Orange) and the DLR (the kind of turquoise-green at the bottom right). The little white dots identify stations that are serviced by multiple lines, where you can jump off one tube and change on to another; the red squares signal national rail stations; and the wheelchair symbols show platforms with step-free access. One thing to keep in mind: the map isn’t to scale, so some stations might look closer than they actually are – it’s always best to double check Google Maps to find the closest station. Or download Citymapper…it will literally save your life.
How expensive is it?
Although its monthly ticket price has dropped since 2014, the tube is still pretty extortionate. London beat New York, Sydney and even Zurich to be named the most expensive city for commuting in the world this year (sigh); but, as with most cities, London has its own travelcard (an Oystercard), which will help in cutting down your costs. Although the amount you pay will be effected by when and where you choose to travel, using an Oystercard means you’ll pay roughly half the amount of the equivalent pay-as-you-go fares (which you can view in full here).
The Night Tube
After years of speculation, planning and strikes, the whole of London let out a collective cheer when the Night Tube finally came in to fruition late last year. Now the Central, Jubilee, Piccadilly, Northern and Victoria lines all run 24-hours on Friday and Saturday nights, with trains running every ten minutes (on average), cutting nocturnal journey times by up to an hour. If you’re using an Oyster you’ll be charged an off-peak fare, while Day Travelcards can be used right up until 4.29am the following morning. The Night Tube also runs on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) regardless of the day, and is FREE (yes, free!) from 11.45pm until 4.30am January 1st. Hooray!
Can I check my Tinder on the tube?!
For better or worse, you actually can now connect to Wi-Fi at almost every station on the underground (97% of them to be exact). While that means you can trawl through your Instagram feed to avoid a conversation with the drunk guy beside you, it also means you’re subjected to painfully loud drum & base being blasted through his headphones for the duration of your journey. Swings and roundabouts, eh?
Are there rules on the underground?
Yes. Dear God yes. Few things will grate on a Londoner more than poor tube etiquette. Standing on the left hand side of the escalator? We hate that. Refusing to rummage through your pockets for your Oystercard until you are LITERALLY AT THE GATE? Yup, we hate that too. To save yourself from a torrent of disgruntled sighs and exasperated eye-rolls, read the (very real) unwritten rules of the underground here.