Riding the subway system in London—known as the Underground or Tube—is easy and affordable, but if subway systems are not familiar to you, these pointers can come in handy.
You can purchase Tube tickets at machines or ticket windows in each Tube stop, using cash or credit cards. It is not necessary to pre-purchase via shopping websites that probably charge extra fees.
A daily pass may be a more affordable and flexible option for you than single tickets if you are going to make more than a couple of trips in a day, as you might for sightseeing. In fact, passes are available in 1- and 7-day options and for various zones. Up-to-date options and prices are posted near the ticket windows. Off Peak Day Travelcards are a little less expensive, and are valid from 9:30 a.m. Monday-Friday, and all day on weekends and public holidays. Visitors to London may also purchase a Visitor Oyster card which never expires and can be topped up. Find more information on the Visitor Oyster card here.
Generally, a pass for Zones 1-2 will be adequate for most visitors to the city, but passes that take you farther afield are available. There are six zones in total.
You will enter the Underground through turnstiles, using your ticket. Watch other commuters to see how it’s done. Be sure to keep your current ticket or pass handy in case you’re asked to show it.
The London Tube map is available here, but you can easily pick up free copies in the Tube stations or review the large maps on the walls at the stations before making your various trips. Maps are also posted inside each Tube car.
Your Tube tickets will also work on the bus, tram, DLR, London Overground and National Rail services in London in the zones you’ve paid for.
The London Tube lines are named and color-coded, and are described by the direction in which they’re headed, such as northbound, eastbound, etc. It may be easier, however, to choose your line and look for its end point on a map. For instance, if you’re traveling from Paddington station to Piccadilly Circus, you will take the Bakerloo Line, going in the direction of Elephant & Castle (the southern endpoint of the line).
Some routes overlap, so be careful to pay attention to the digital boards above the platforms that indicate which train is arriving next, and which direction it’s headed.
Some routes split. If you will be exiting your train prior to the split, as long as you’re on the right line, heading in the right direction, you can board any train. If you are exiting after the route splits, you’ll want to be sure to check the digital boards for the correct train prior to boarding.
When exiting the Underground or connecting to another line, look for directional signs that point you toward your specific connecting train or exit, as there is often more than one pedestrian tunnel at each stop. If you know which street you want upon exiting, look for signs that point you toward your particular exit preference.
If you get on the wrong train, simply get off at the next stop and find the train that will take you back to the point where you lost your way. You can also check your map; you may be able to get to your destination via another route. As long as you don’t exit the station, you won’t need another ticket to complete your trip. If you’re using a daily pass, you will have nothing to worry about. And, of course, you may always purchase another ticket if you need one.
Have a plan in case you get separated from your party. Yes, it happens. A group is traveling together, and someone gets off the train at the wrong stop. In the crush of other travelers, they don’t realize their party is still on the train until it’s too late. If you don’t have available mobile phone service, a good plan is for the party to get off at the next stop and wait for the missing traveler to arrive on the following train in order to reconnect. Whatever your plan, keep it simple and articulate it beforehand.
When possible, avoid traveling during morning and evening rush hours. In London that’s generally 7:30-9:30 in the morning and 4:30-7:30 in the afternoon.
Day passes and single Tube tickets do not expire if unused.
If your ticket won’t work, it may have become demagnetized. Try to keep your ticket away from your phone. If you have trouble with a valid ticket, ask the attendant at the ticket booth near the turnstiles for a new one.
Many sites are walkable in London, and taxis abound, though they can be pricey. Riding the London Tube, however, is an affordable, efficient, and very Londoner way to get around. Enjoy it!