Tube (Underground, Subway, Metro)., London
Update April 2014: links to separate tip about Oyster and local customs added, extra photos, small changes to text
Elsewhere, under Local Customs, I’ve provided a tongue-in-cheek guide to using the London Underground, or “tube” as it’s more usually called. Here though is some practical information you may find helpful.
Firstly, and I can’t stress this too much, get a map (downloadable from the website below, though it’s better to have one of the small folded ones you can pick up for free at every station). This is a complex transport system with many lines, and most of those branch a lot. Even locals refer to the map whenever they travel somewhere off their regular routes. Plan ahead, and check where you’ll need to change lines, and in what direction you’ll need to travel each time. Each line has a distinct colour and name, and all the passageways in the stations are well signposted, so armed with this information you should be OK.
Secondly, if you’re in London for any length of time at all, consider getting a so-called Oyster card. These can be bought for a fixed period of time, such as a month, or can be used to carry a certain amount of value, topped up in advance. Your fare is deducted each time you touch in and out of the tube system at the barrier gates, or when you board a bus. Travelling with an Oyster is always cheaper than buying a ticket each time, plus it saves you the hassle of queuing or finding change for the ticket machines. You can also upload a travel card on to an Oyster. But the system can be confusing so I've written a separate tip about its complexities to help you decide which fare option is best for you.
Thirdly, remember that as in any big city, crime can be a problem. On the tube this is mostly likely to take the form of pick-pocketing or bag-snatching, so do keep a careful eye on your belongings. Having said that, I’ve used the tube regularly all my life and so far have never been robbed – and yes, I realise I’m tempting fate saying that, but I do want to reassure you all. So get out there and enjoy the city!
Everybody knows about the best way to get around London - the Underground. Therefore, I won't waste too many words about it, as you will easily and quickly become accustomed to it when in London. Just buy a day ticket (£ 5,60 for central London off-peak, i.e. after 9.30am) or an Oyster Card and start your trip through one of the most amazing cities in the world.
I will instead provide you with some interesting and curious facts about the Underground that you might not have heard about. Did you know that...
... the highest station is Amersham with 147m above sea level?
... the deepest station is Bank with 41m below street level? (one could have guessed that after exiting the station...)
... there are approximately 500,000 mice living in the tube stations? (I wonder who counted them!)
... the utmost point of the Underground is, again, Amersham which is 43km away from the city centre?
... the shortest distance between two stations is 260m between Leicester Square and Covent Garden? (one should rather walk!)
... District Line is the one with the most stations (60)?
... Waterloo and City Line has the fewest stations (2)?
... Jubilee Line is the only line which connects with all others?
... London Underground owns 10% of all green spaces in London and that all kinds of animals live there (woodpeckers, deer, bats...)?
... US TV host Jerry Springer was born in an Underground station (East Finchley) where his mother had taken shelter from an air raid?
... the longest journey one can take on the Underground without changing trains is 54.9km between West Ruislip and Epping?
... the Circle Line was described by "The Times" as a "form of mild torture that no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it"?
... Mark Twain was among the first passengers to take a Central Line train?
... Aldwych station, which was closed in 1994, has been used in several movie sets since then?
... almost 1,000,000,000 people use the Underground every year?
... numerous ghosts are supposed to haunt the Underground?
... this list could go on forever? ;)
Not only does the Underground serve millions and millions of people every year, it has also inspired a lot of authors to write books about it. Check out any London bookshop and you'll come across books about the Underground. These facts were taken from several internet pages.
The London Underground is over 150 years old, and was described by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson as 'the throbbing cardiovascular system of the greatest city on earth' on it's 150th birthday. But the world's first and oldest underground railway has also attracted less favourable descriptions too, none of which will surprise regular tube users.
The 'Yorkshire Herald' gave its readers an impression of what it was like to travel on the very first underground trains by reporting that 'passengers felt as if they had been chewing Lucifer matches'.
On the completion of the Circle Line in 1844, 'The Times' wrote 'A form of mild torture which no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it'.
The editor of the 'Daily Express', whose son later became chairman of London Transport, described a journey on the Underground as 'An experience of Hades'.
The City & London Line opened in 1890 and was the first electric underground railway. It ran from Stockwell to the City and was described by 'Punch' magazine as 'The Sardine Box Railway' because of its claustrophobically enclosed carriages.
'We have scarcely yet been educated up to that condition of social equality when lords and ladies will be content to ride side by side with Billingsgate fish fags and Smithfield butchers'. The 'Railway Times' published this view following the decision not to offer separate accommodation for first, second and third class passengers.
W.G. Kelly questioned the morality of the Underground during a debate in the House of Commons in 1930 by stating 'Young girls and men are crowded in such a way that the question of decency even comes up'.
A 2004 Parliamentary report on the Underground concluded that 'Commuters face a daily trauma and are forced to travel in intolerable conditions', which surprised no one at all who has ever travelled on a rush-hour train.
Little wonder then, that when the Metropolitan Line opened in 1863, the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, declined even to attempt a journey on it. At nearly eighty years of age, he let it be known that he wished to spend as much time above ground as possible'.
Which all goes to show, that as far as the Underground is concerned, nothing much changes.
On 3 March 1943, the worst civilian disaster in the UK during World War II happened at Bethnal Green Tube Station. 173 people were crushed to death when dozens and dozens of people tumbled over each other to take shelter in the tube station. This horrible tragedy occurred when there were no German aircraft in the area and the Tube Station was not even operational yet.
The Tube was a popular place for the public to escape the Blitz. Bethnal Green Tube Station had become such a well used air raid shelter, that a nearby left luggage facility housed the bedding people took down the stairs.
On the morning of the tragedy an air raid alarm had sounded because enemy aircraft had been spotted in the London area. At the same time an anti-aircraft unit nearby tested a new weapon. As local people scrambled down the stairs with their bedding, it just started with a person or two slipping before a massive crush of bodies caused the tragedy.
Although it was reported by the papers at the time, it was decided to keep the location unpublished.
Today a large memorial is being planned and funds sought to build a larger tribute to this sad loss of human life.
Bethnal Green tube station is a station on the Central Line if you would like to visit.
The London Underground is the oldest metro system in the world and is the most convenient away getting around the city and its districts. Trains generally run from 5.00am to 12.30 am Monday to Saturday and 7.30am to 11.30pm on Sundays.
The Underground is the quickest and convenient way to travel around central London and its suburbs. However, it's expensive (in comparison to other countries metro systems) as it cost at least 4.30 gbp a single (March 2012) but you're if you're planning to make multiple journeys on the underground if may be worth investing in a Travelcard or an Oyster Card.
Some useful facts:
Source: YHA St Paul's
The underground had the most extensive tiling project that was ever undertaken.
Angel Tube Station has the largest Escalator, with 318 steps, in Europe.
Harry Beck created the iconic map of the London Underground and was paid equivalent of 10 gbp for his efforts.
During World War II, tunnels were used as air raid shelters.
I must say I was a little worried about hoping onto the tube with my suitcase, but I was ensured that people do it all the time.
I found the tube to be at times pretty packed with people and their suitcases. It can be pretty hot and stuffy on the train. Sometimes the timings were on time, sometimes they were off. The good part though was that sometimes it was a quick trip. Since there isn't always a seat available.
Phew! Having finally summed up the courage to write up Phyllis Pearsall, who developed the iconic London A-Z streetfinder, it's now time to move onto Harry Beck, originator of the equally iconic London Underground (Tube) Map.
The mild mannered Harry Beck - who worked for London Transport - received a paltry 5 guineas (£5.25) for developing what was arguably the most influential transport map of all time. 'His' map was published in 1933, and has since served as the template for virtually every other metropolitan transport system ever since. Challenged with trying to depict an extremely complex system in 'user friendly' terms, the leap of logic that Harry made was to dispense with physical realities such as distance and drection, and instead focus on the spatial relationships between stations.
This was a spectacularly bold - but very necessary - departure from previous methods of presenting information. Beck's map was a case study in topology and allowed travellers to understand how the increasingly complex web of Tube lines interacted without being burdened by irrelevant information in the dense network of stations within central London.
I have a passion for poster art, and to this day, one of my favourite London Transport posters - and that's saying a lot - is of the London Underground map depicted as snakes of oil paint squeezed out of tubes (if nothing else, you've got to love the pun!).
Having read a reasonable amount about both of these individuals, it is tempting to speculate on how these two cartographic trailblazers would have got on, particularly given that they were exact contemporaries. Phyllis was priveleged, entrepreneurial, dogged and pushy, whereas it appears that Harry Beck was an unassuming 'back room boy' and just wanted to do a good job ... at best, I suspect that Phyllis would have happily welcomed the hardworking Harry into her employ, and I have little doubt that they would have disliked each other!
If you're interested in this subject, might I recommend that you consider buying 'Mr Beck's Underground Map' by Ken Garland as an imaginative memento of your time in London? This terrific book tells the story of the Tube map's evolution, including numerous illustrations that document the various map incarnations over the years. This is available from the fabulous gift shop at the exceptional London Transport Museum, and would be a fascinating addition to anyone's coffee table!
We decided to get to London Tower by the Underground (or Tube) and we had several reasons for this decision.
The first: it was the most convenient way from our hotel. It took us only 25 minutes.
Marble Arch-Bond Street-Oxford Circus-Tottenham Court Road-Holborn-Chencery Lane-St.Paul-Bank-Monument-Tower Hill (9 stations).
The second: I wanted to see the oldest underground (in Russian – Metro) in the world. When we need to compare something Russian with something in Western Europe we often say: “How can we compare – when London Underground already existed (1863) in Russia serfdom was only just abandoned…”
The third reason: I wanted compare its architecture with architecture of Moscow Metro. But I already knew that there had no comparison – Moscow Metro (Московский метрополитен) is the most beautiful – nothing can be compared with it: nor London Underground or the Tube, nor Métro de Paris, nor U-Bahn Berlin, neither New York City Subway.
The fourth reason: I wanted compare prices. It cost me £2=$4 – almost 5 times more expensive than in Moscow.
You can watch my 1 min 35 sec Video In London Underground out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
As everybody knows, here at London the subway is named "The Tube" (old, long, interesting history, google it!). The net is huge, covering almost each corner of the metropolis and suburban areas, with fast connections with trains, local or international, and fast ride to the airports.
One detail to take in account, if you buy just a single ticket it is expensive, you will pay 4.5 pounds each ticket for a short ride (from Paddington Station to Embarkment, for example), so depending on the amount of days of your stay check the possibility to buy an Oyster Card, here the benefits:
Unlimited journeys on all London Underground, Buses, Trams, Docklands Light Rail, Over-ground Trains and National Rail Services within zones 1 – 6.
A hassle free day as you don't need to buy lots of different tickets – the travelcard includes everything you will need.
When you buy a 6 day London Pass with Travel you get a 7 day Travelcard - that's a whole extra day for free.
Make huge savings as a single Underground ticket bought in London costs £4.00, a bus ticket is £2.20 so after 2 or 3 journeys you will be saving money.
For more details check the website pointed below.
Gloucester Road Tube stop at Cromwell road is a good area for a hotel location, This Tube connects with three tube lines thus this stop is excellent for connections all around London and to Heathrow LHR airport. From LHR trains won't be already full and you don't need to change trains and returning to LHR the trains can be crowded. Also, keep in mind if one has a lot or heavy luggage the tube can be difficult.
Also, connect with the "Hop-on & Hop-off" London tour buses from this location.
Updated July 2011
Although London residents may not rave about the tube, as a visitor I find this an excellent way to get around the city. Yes, there are occasionally strikes and delays and shutdowns for maintenance but on my two recent trips to London, I only experienced minor delays which are marked at the entrance gates so you have the chance to rethink your journey. There's almost always more than one way to get somewhere via tube, if not then certainly by bus. A lot of the planned maintenance is done on the weekends, you can check on the website below for your travel dates. In the case of planned maintenance, there are replacement buses that travel between the stations.
In terms of how extensive the system is, how close it gets you to all of the major attractions and how straightforward the map is, I think London is one of the best subway systems in the world, if not the best.
What is complicated is the fare structure, the map is broken down into zones-most tourists will not go outside zones 1-2. The only time I went outside on my trips was Kew Gardens and Wimbledon, both in zone 3, and Heathrow which is in zone 6. If you buy a zone 1-2 PAPER travelcard for most of your travel, you can pay the cash fare or get an Oyster or a 1 day travelcard for the different zones. The last time I tried to get an extension on my zone 1-2 PAPER travelcard, they wouldn't let me do it although I'm sure I did on previous trips. If you get an Oyster or a travelcard loaded onto an Oyster, you can add onto the Oyster for the journey.
Single cash fares are more than what is charged to your Oyster for the same ride to encourage it's use. There are also 1 and 7 day travelcards, monthly passes, etc., the attached website lists the many options. If you are traveling between 4:30am and 9:30am during the week, this is considered peak and you will be charged more for a 1 day travelcard; 7 day travelcards include peak travel.
For planning purposes, give yourself an estimated 3 minutes per tube stop. If you are planning a late night out, be advised that the tube stops running around midnight and you will need to figure out where to catch a night bus. Check Transport for London's website for the last tube from the station you will be near.
The London Underground is a fantastic way to get around London. It appears to be really confusing at first but after a few moments study its really not that bad and can be made even easier by downloading a Tube Map app for your smart phone that will tell you the best way to get from A to B
The 'underground is the ideal way to get around London, usually quicker than transport above ground. If you are going to spend time in London you may want to consider obtaining a special pass such as Travelcard or Oyster card.
www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets/14416.aspx will give you details of all the options regarding tickets, passes etc to suit your needs.
The underground opened in 1863 and electric trains were introduced to the Northern line in 1890. There are 270 stations and 402 kms of track, but only 45% are underground which are used by 3.5m passengers a day. 19,000 employees work on the underground and there are 64 lifts. There are 11 different line which are colour coded on the underground map, but unfortunately due to the antiquated equipment it is one of the most unreliable transport systems of its kind in the world today.
With so many passengers each day it is amazing that only three babies have ever been born on the underground, two of them in the last few years.
In 1987 31 people died at Kings X when a match was inadvertently thrown away with the result of a smoking ban.
Another strange fact is that only 29 0f the stations are south of the Thames and mosquitoes underground have evolved into a different species unlike any above ground.
Approximately there are 100 tube suicides each year!!
At weekends there is often engineering work on the London Underground/Tube and DLR resulting in partial closures of particular lines and replacement bus services.
Always check the Transport for London website for details before you travel.
The only thing we had to consider was which card we needed to get around the way we wanted. We saw that London's transport map is divided into 6 zones. The zones 1 and 2 cover Central London and zone 6 covering the outer edge of the capital. So, this means that you simply have to look how much zones you will travel, study the fares structure and match the card and fare to pay. Only a very small minority of people riding on the Underground will buy single tickets (there are no return tickets). Nearly all locals are using an Oyster Card, for some visitors a Travelcard can make sense. If you are in doubt, the manned ticket office (which can be found at all stations) is the best way to ask around and get advised about the ticket to buy.
We noticed that almost all London Underground trains lack air-conditioning, which (in our opinion) can lead to a very hot seat in the summer. This might get very awkward during the rush hours when it will be very, very crowded. Finally, at the time we were in London (may 2012) it was announced that stations along the network would get Wifi coverage.