A First-Timer’s Guide to the London Underground

Happy Birthday to the Tube! Last month our favourite underground train network celebrated its 150th year on this planet. That’s a lot of years shuttling London’s impatient commuters from station to station, saving them hours of sitting on buses in rush hour traffic. But if you’re new to the capital, a first-timer fumbling around in Europe’s biggest city, using the Underground can be a daunting experience. That’s why I’ve put together this guide for beginners, to give you an overview. Make yourself a cup of tea, grab a comfy seat and enjoy the ride!   

The map
The Tube map we see today was designed by Harry Beck in 1931 and makes elegant simplicity out of what could have been a messy tangle of wires. Based on electrical circuit diagrams, the map is unfortunately not geographically accurate but does illustrate the different lines in as clear a way as possible.
There are eleven lines in total, each shown in a different colour and collectively spanning everywhere that’s anywhere in London. Maps are not hard to come by and can be found in the following places:
·         posters on the wall of Tube stations
·         free paper maps available in larger stations
·         apps such as London Tube or Tube Map which can be downloaded for a small fee
·         any guidebook will have one in the back

Which ticket should I buy?

On your first trip to London, there are really only two options worth considering: an Oyster card or a Travelcard.
The Oyster Card is London’s pre-pay transportation swipe card. Just load it with credit at any Tube station and tap in and out every time you make a journey.
This is the payment method of choice for most locals and tourists because it’s the cheapest way to travel. Each journey costs less than half the price of a cash fare, for example, Brixton to Whitechapel is £4.50 by cash and only £2.10 on your Oyster. A no-brainer!
The Oyster also has a daily price cap which is the same as the price of a Travelcard so you’ll never be out of pocket. It’s also very affordable, a Visitor’s Oyster Card costing just £13 with £10 of pre-loaded credit, which doesn’t expire.
If you don’t want to commit to buying an Oyster but plan on making a lot of journeys per day, a Travelcard is always a safe bet. The Zones 1-6 option will set you back £8.90 (prices correct at the time of writing). Zones 1-4 and 1-2 are slightly cheaper.   

Travel tips

Avoid travelling at peak times
Weekday Tube journeys before 9:30am will not only cost you more because it’s peak time but also require enduring some serious overcrowding. On the busy Central line, you’ll have to wait several trains before you can actually fit on one. And even then you won’t have a lot of room!  

Is it quicker to walk?
Don’t be one of those tourists who make pointlessly short Tube journeys when they could just walk. The most popular mishap is the Leicester Square to Covent Garden Tube Journey which covers a distance of 260 metres, takes 45 seconds and costs a whopping £4.00. Doh! Check a geographical map to make sure it’s not quicker and healthier just to walk.

Remember to tap in and out
Due to the lack of barriers at some stations and discreet Oyster machines that are easy to miss, it’s sometimes the case that you’ll forget to tap in and out. Keep your wits about you and try not to let this happen as you’ll incur a penalty fare of £6.50!

Facts to impress your mates

·         1.Despite its name, only half of the London Underground is actually underground
·         2.The American talk show host Jerry Springer was born at East Finchley Tube station. His pregnant mum was taking shelter from The Blitz during the Second World War when it happened
·         3.In Cockney Rhyming Slang, the Tube is known as ‘Oxo’ (as in ‘Oxo cube’)
·         4.The Underground is home to a special breed of voraciously biting mosquitoes which are only found here and in a few other underground systems worldwide
·         5.The Tube Challenge is a Guinness World Record that’s currently held by two Brits; they visited all 270 stations in just 16 hours 30 minutes
About the author:
Matt Lindley is an urban explorer with a soft spot for all things London. He writes for HotelClub.com where you can compare and book discounted London accommodation. 

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