Navigating the London Underground

Ah, the London Underground! An efficient and speedy way to get around England’s bustling capital. Also, a daunting, confusing prospect when it’s your first time visiting. Indeed, most people (even Londoners) have a bit of a love-hate relationship with “The Tube” and all its many permutations. All of us at British TIPS have enjoyed using the Tube when in London, but we understand how scary it can seem to newbies. Don’t fear, we’ll talk you through it.

First, you’ll need a ticket – and the best option for that is the London Visitor Oyster Card, which you can purchase from us (link here) or in the city. Many people use their contactless credit cards but it’s important to remember that there is some crime to bear in mind and, if you’re nervous about taking a credit card out in the Underground in case it gets snatched, it’s best to choose the Oyster Card instead.

Plan Your Route

Before embarking on a journey, familiarise yourself with the Tube map, which outlines all the lines, interchanges, and station locations. Visit Transport for London (TfL) for maps, journey planners, and a helpful app. You’ll also be able to pick up a paper Tube map in most major stations in London (they make great little souvenirs too!).

Consider alternatives such as using more than one line, taking a bus for part of the journey to save time or avoid crowded stations, or even walking (you may be surprised that, often, what seems far on the map is actually just around the corner on foot).

Stand right, pass left

This is one that gets Londoners really worked up: people standing on the left of the escalators in Tube stations, and many a tourist has been at the receiving end of a growled “STAND LEFT!” from a frustrated commuter. Why? This makes it possible for people in a hurry to walk down the escalator on the left-hand side, while those who don’t want to do so, can stand comfortably – out of their way. Remember to also keep your bags and backpacks out of the way or someone may bash it on their way past.

This practice ensures a seamless flow of passengers and avoids congestion. Respect the local custom to maintain the efficiency of the Underground and to make your own journey more pleasant.

Have your Oyster card ready

Get that Oyster card out of your pocket before you get to the turnstiles – you don’t want to be that person who stands fumbling while everyone tuts and sighs behind you! We recommend you don’t keep it in your wallet as you really don’t want to be pulling something containing money out of your pocket in public spaces any more than you have to. It is also recommended that you not keep the card in your phone case as phones can sometimes cause the cards to not scan properly.

Avoid Peak Hours

The London Underground can become especially busy during peak hours, which are the same pretty much everywhere: between 07h30 – 09h30 in the morning and 16h30 – 18h30 in the evenings, Monday to Friday. Try to plan your journey outside of these times to enjoy a less crowded and more comfortable ride. However, if peak hour travel is unavoidable, be prepared for packed carriages and plan to board earlier or later at the platform to maximise your chances of getting a seat. Fortunately, most tourist attractions in London actually open later (around 10h00) and close a bit later for this very reason.

Mind the Gap

The iconic phrase ‘Mind the gap” was coined in 1968 to remind passengers to be careful when getting onto and off the train. Many of the older stations have a space between the platform and the train – sometimes surprisingly wide – and, if you don’t step carefully, you could actually fall into this gap and injure yourself. You’ll hear this announcement dozens of times when you’re in London using the Underground, so, take heed and stay safe.  

Stand back for passengers leaving the train

It is considered good Tube etiquette to stand back from the doors and allow passengers who are on the train to exist before you try to get on. Not everyone adheres to this unwritten rule, but it’s really considered bad manners not to do so, it can cause extra delays at the stations, and can even result in injuries – so do your best to stick to this one.  

Be Prepared for Delays

While the London Underground runs smoothly for the most part, occasional delays can occur due to signal failures, maintenance, or unforeseen incidents. It is essential to give yourself a buffer of extra time in case you encounter any delays or disruptions during your journey. Stay informed through station announcements, digital boards, or the TfL website or app.

Navigating the London Underground can seem daunting at first, but with the right preparation and knowledge, it can become an efficient way to traverse this fabulous city. Please get in touch if you need to purchase your London Visitor Oyster Cards at

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