The London Underground: How to Use the Tube in London

London subway tube stations and London Underground tube

Before setting off to the British capital for the first time, you may want to know what is a tube in London? It is the London Underground railway transport network system. The London tube handles up to five million passengers each day, and it is arguably the best and most iconic underground railway system in the world.

The London tube opened in 1863, making it the oldest underground railway network in the world. It continues carrying record numbers of passengers and playing a vital role in supporting London’s success as a global business center.

How to Use a Tube in London

If you are new in the British capital you need to have an idea of how to use the London tube.  The first thing you need to do is to plan your journey. You can schedule by using the London Underground map.  

Every station has an information board installed close to the entrance area – this is where you can find the London Underground network map 

The easiest way to plan your journey on the tube in London is by using an App called City Mapper. You can download the City Mapper app from here.

It will make your life much more comfortable with your journey planning and even suggest better and cheaper options.

London Underground Fares Zone 1 – 6

Pay as you go Caps Travelcards
ZonesDaily AnytimeDaily Off-peakDay AnytimeDay Off-peak7 Day
Zone 1£3.50£1.50£6.50£6.50£17.60
Zones 1-2£3.50£1.50£6.50£6.50£17.60
Zones 1-3£4.10£1.50£6.50£6.50£20.60
Zones 1-4£5.05£1.50£6.50£6.50£25.30
Zones 1-5£6£1.50£9.30£6.50£30
Zones 1-6£6.40£1.50£9.30£6.50£32.10
Zone 2£3.50£1.50£6.50£6.50£13.20
Zones 2-3£4.10£1.50£6.50£6.50£13.20
Zones 2-4£5.05£1.50£6.50£6.50£14.60
Zones 2-5£6£1.50£9.30£6.50£17.50
Zones 2-6£6.40£1.50£9.30£6.50£22
Zone 3£4.10£1.50£6.50£6.50£13.20
Zones 3-4£5.05£1.50£6.50£6.50£13.20
Zones 3-5£6£1.50£9.30£6.50£14.60
Zones 3-6£6.40£1.50£9.30£6.50£17.50
Zone 4£5.05£1.50£6.50£6.50£13.20
Zones 4-5£6£1.50£9.30£6.50£13.20
Zones 4-6£6.40£1.50£9.30£6.50£14.60
Zone 5£6£1.50£9.30£6.50£13.20
Zones 5-6£6.40£1.50£9.30£6.50£13.20
Zone 6£6.40£1.50£9.30£6.50£13.20

London Underground network has 6 zones. Central London is in the busiest zone 1, while Heathrow Airport is in 6.

The cost of travelling on the tube in London depends on which Zones you pass through rather than where you start. Also, the time of the day you choose to travel contributes to the cost of your journey one way or the other.

Also Read: The Greatest City in the World: What is London famous for?

Getting an Oyster Card

You need to buy an Oyster card.  An Oyster card is a smart electronic travel ticket you use to pay for your journey fare on London public transport networks.  It’s one of the easiest to use and cheaper to pay for your journey fares. 

There’s a standard Oyster card which Londoners use and a visitor Oyster card for foreign travellers.  In terms of travelling around London, both cards work the same and visitors can also use the standard one.

The London Oyster Card

London Oyster card

 You can easily buy both cards from the London Underground ticket machines, stations, London Airports, and shops in London. 

For a standard Oyster, you must pay a £5 deposit which you can get back if the card isn’t needed anymore. 

The Vistor Oyster Card

London Visitor Oyster card

Visitor Oyster card costs £5, but can also be ordered online and get posted to your country before you arrive in London. 

The Oyster doesn’t expire.  If you top it up, the money will remain on the card until the next time you are back in London.

Every London Underground station has ticket vending machines and is available anytime.  The ticket vending machines sell many tickets and require you to pay in British pounds and can give out change. 

The machines also accept debit cards and credit cards. You can also buy your Oyster from staffed ticket halls, but these only open for specific periods. 

And many small shops are displaying the “London Transport” sign around the city where you can get the Oyster card. Just look out for them.

Contactless Payment Card

Another easy to use and cheaper to pay your fare is by using a bank Contactless payment card.  That works great as it avoids the hassle of topping up the Oyster card. 

But for international travellers, your bank will likely charge you transaction and foreign exchange rates fees for using the card abroad.

Mobile Payment Device

You can also use a mobile phone with contactless to pay for your journeys.  And it’s also a convenient way of paying.  But, if you choose to pay with a mobile contactless, make sure that the phone battery lasts the whole journey.  

If the battery runs out after you have started your journey, you’ll not be able to touch out or to start another trip.  More importantly, you will pay the full penalty fare.

Related: London Bus: Travel Around London Cheap

In all, the Oyster card, contactless payment cards, and mobile payment devices provide the most convenient way to pay for your London tube travel.

Don’t buy a paper travelcard. It’s very inconveniencing and expensive.  

After sorting out your journey payment options, it’s now time to head to the entry gates before you reach the train departure platforms. 

Starting your Journey

At the gate, touch on your card or mobile contactless on the yellow card reader.  And don’t forget to touch out at the end of your journey. You must touch your card whether the gates are open, or there are no gates. 

Oyster card, Using the Tube in London

The Oyster card or contactless system needs to know where you have been to charge the right fare. If the system does not know, you will pay the maximum fare for the day — which is a lot of money.

Finding the Right London Tube Platform

It is challenging on some London Underground stations to find your way down to the train platforms, especially if it is your first time to use the tube services.  

But do not panic, it is not that hard to understand. Just ask members of staff at tube stations for help.

The London Underground staff are amiable. You can always count on them for help when you need it. Also, you can even ask someone at the station, which does not seem busy.

Using London Underground Escalators

Now, as you head forward to the platforms, try to look at the overhead boards. Once you see the direction to the trains, go that way.  

Some London Underground lines aren’t far down — they are sub-surface lines while other lines lie more than 50 meters down in the tunnels.

You may have to use the escalators, and some are very long. One thing you should not forget when using the elevators on the London Underground stations always stands on the right side. And leave the left side clear for other travellers who are walking up or down.

If you stand on the left or block it with luggage, other people who are in a rush will not be happy with you.

How to use the London tube escalators

Accessibility at Underground Tube in London

Also, the infrastructure on most London Underground stations was not built to take the passenger traffic it carries today.  Out of 270 Underground stations, only 70 have some degree of step-free access.

London Underground provides a range of accessible information and maps to help you plan.

Read also: What is the Best Time of Year to Go to London?

Many tube stations still have the original narrow staircases and corridors that get congested during peak times. So, if you’re planning to travel on the tube in London with some luggage, it’s probably better to have no more than two baggage you can easily carry but not pull. 

Otherwise, you’ll struggle for space, or risk of being shovelled out of the way.

Getting to the London Underground Platform

Once you have made it the departure platform, look at the top.  You’ll see an electronic information board that displays what time the next train arrives.  Make sure you stand behind the yellow line and wait for your train.

The underground tube stations can get congested during the rush hours – which are 8 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 7 pm. 

That’s the time passengers try to jump on the first train to get away as quickly as possible.  If you can spare a few minutes when the station is crowded, avoid the first train to arrive.     

Let everybody force themselves on the first train and go.  But pay attention to which train carriage has the fewest passengers and then move to that side of the platform. 

You’ll almost get a seat and some breathing space on the next train. 

How to use the London tube

When the train arrives, step aside and let people get off first.  Make sure you mind the gap between the platform and the train. 

Once you are on the train, make sure you pay attention to priority seats for disabling, pregnant women or older people.

During winter, passengers wear coats and scarves.  These can get caught in carriage doors and prevent the train from moving.  

Also, leaning on carriage doors can cause the train to stop.  So, when you stand close to the doors, pay attention to those things, they can cause problems and delays.  

Getting off the Tube in London

Train stops are announced inside the carriage before it reaches the next station.  But it’s also good to look outside and see the stops yourself.

Once you’ve made it to your stop, it’s time to get off the train.  When you are exiting, look for signs that say “Way Out.”  

Many London underground stations have different exits, so make sure you go to the correct one.  And get your card ready before reaching the exit gates so that when you get there, you touch your card out and go.  

Other rushing people will be following you, and they don’t want to wait at the gates while you’re looking for your card.  

London Tube Station Interchange

Your journey may involve more than one train that runs by different tube lines.  That means at a certain point you’ll need to make a route change from one train or platform to another.  

Some different tube trains share the same departure platforms and track lines.  So, it means that if you’re making a route change from a separate tube train to another, you get off at that platform and wait for another train to come on the same track.

London subway tube stations and London Underground tube

And some London tube stations are very close to each other.  You can make a route change from one line to another without using the steps, lifts, or escalators.  In just a minute, you cross from one side of the platform to another.

Many route changes require walking through several corridors to the next departure platform.  But those changes are still done within the same station.  So you do not need to touch out your Oyster card and back in again to continue with your journey. 

The London Underground system still needs to know that you changed the route to another line to complete your journey without touching out and in again.  That allows the system to calculate the correct fare for your trip. 

Pink Card Reader at London Tube Stations

They installed Pink card readers in stations, where you can make a change to another tube line or route to complete your journey.

The London Underground network has several routes that you can choose from to make your journey cheaper and faster. For insistence, some lines on the tube in London pass through zone one, and that can make your trip expensive. 

If you can complete two different trips without the need to touch your card out and in again, the underground network system needs to know which routes you have used.  That means you must touch your  Oyster or contactless card on the Pink card reader. 

The pink card reader then validates the route you have used and sends the information to the underground network system.

So, before you make a tube line or route change within the same station, look out for the pink card readers. And then touch your card on it to let the system know you have made a change to another line or route.  If you fail to do that, you will pay a maximum fare.

Using a pink Oyster card reader on the Tube in London

And remember, you will still have to touch out your card on the yellow card reader at the end of your journey.  

Out of Station Interchanges

You may also have to go out of one station to make a change in another.  The London Underground has several stations that are too close to each other, so, interchanging between them is allowed without paying extra. 

In this case, you can continue with your journey from station to another.  It will be considered as one journey if you do not take too long between touching your card out at the previous station and touching your card in at the second station.

In other words, it’s possible to do an out-of-station change from one line or route to another without being charged for two separate journeys.  But don’t take too long to touch in at the next station, after touching out at the first one.

Same London Tube Station Exits

If for whatever reasons you touch out after touching in without making a journey, the system will take the maximum fare from your card. 

If you come back within 45 minutes and touch in your card again at the entry gate, the full fare will be refunded – and start a new journey. 

London subway tube stations and London Underground tube

You can also get a refund and start a new journey at another tube station if you’re still within the 45 minutes time limit. 

But don’t try to use a bus or tram to go to another station, because once you touch in at the bus and tram, you’ll not be refunded.

Do you find this article about the tube in London useful? Do you want more information regarding the London underground?   Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below



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