Travel Tips: Decoding the London Tube

London is one of the largest cities in the world.  With it comes a huge myriad of public transport options.  It may seem so daunting to the first time traveller but truth be told, you only need to concern yourself with a small portion of the entire network.  For starters, the London Underground, popularly known as the Tube, will be the most useful transport option to get around Central London.  Here are a few things and tips you may need to know about one of the oldest metro systems in the world.

Jubilee Line Station and train on the London Underground
Image by hybridace101 

The London Underground spans up to six fare zones in London's transport grid.  Zone 1 covers most of Central London and other fare zones increasing in number radiate out of it.  Travel involving three zones will cost more than travel involving one zone.  However, most travellers will need to concern themselves with travel between zones 1 and 2 as most of the tourist spots are found there.

Paper tickets are more expensive.  You have of course the traditional paper ticket, which comes in a single and travel card variant.  If you wish to get a paper ticket, you are almost always better getting off the travel card variant because it costs less than two single tickets.  The travel card paper card variant allows you unlimited travel within particular zones.

Oyster Card
Image by Frank Murmann/Wikimedia

Using an Oyster Card and contactless payment is a better deal.  A single/one-way fare here is up to than £1.50 cheaper than doing the same journey on a paper ticket.  On top of that, you have a daily cap enabled, after about four journeys, you can travel without paying further (though you still need to tap-in and tap-out).  You can get an Oyster card from most ticket offices for £10, which includes a £5 deposit and £5 of credit.  You can of course get a refund of the deposit and unused credit when you leave London, or keep it with you for future visits.  You can also use a Contactless Card with a Visa or Mastercard logo and enjoy the same Oyster card rates and capping.  However check with your card issuer and if your card was issued outside the UK, it can be subject to foreign exchange fees.  

It is the cheapest way to travel between the airport and central London.  It's not the fastest way but a taxi, which takes approximately 40-45 minutes to get to central London would cost £30-50, Heathrow Express costs £22 one-way for the same.  A tube ticket will cost £5.70 (for paper) or £3.00 (for Oyster and contactless).

Travel off-peak as much as possible.  More specifically, try travelling after 9.30 and outside 16.00-19.00 (unless staying in Zone 1) on weekdays.  Not only will you pay a lower fare but you can expect less crowded journeys.  Those of you who have queued up at Manila's MRT will know what I am talking about.  

Ask a member of staff for directions.  At least for major tourist areas of London, you will be surprised that staff can instantly direct you to the closest Tube station with the least number of changes.  Moreover, they will often tell you the platform number you need to use.

Where the train terminates does not matter.  When reading the map of the London Underground, you will notice several lines have different branches.  As long as you are travelling within zones 1 and 2 and know which line you must take, you do not need to concern yourself with where the line ends.  If you are going northbound, any train headed northbound will take you to a particular destination in Zones 1 and 2.

The most "direct" route is not always the fastest route.  Especially if your journey originates or starts at Paddington station, you may be better off transferring lines than staying on one line.  For example, if you are travelling between Paddington and Westminster (which serves Big Ben), doing so on the Circle line will take nine stops - approximately 15-18 minutes.  However, travelling between the same points via the Bakerloo line and transferring to the Jubilee line at Baker Street takes six stops (currently five since Bond Street's Jubilee line is closed) - approximately 10-15 minutes.

Combine Tube journeys with National Rail journeys within inner London.  In a few cases they may be shorter and with fewer stops.  There is no extra charge save for inter-zone charges when using a Travel Card or Oyster Card.

Circle and District Line Platforms on Paddington Station
Image by Efarestv/Wikimedia

The Circle Line passes through Paddington Station twice.  If your final destination is somewhere in Westminster, the southern part of Kensington and Chelsea, or the western part of the City of London served by the Circle Line, then enter through the entrance at Praed Street.  It is where there the Hilton Hotel, Mercure Hotel and Angus Steakhouse are found.  It is also right below most of the restaurants and shops, also known as 'the Lawn'.  However, if your final destination is somewhere in Hammersmith, Camden (which includes King's Cross station and Euston) or even the eastern part of the City of London, then you will need to follow the signs to the Circle, and Hammersmith and City Line.  It is marked with yellow and pink lines and takes you to the back of the station.  However, for any journey, more ticket booths are open on the Lawn part.  Alternatively, you can take the Bakerloo line to central London and make transfers at Baker Street or Oxford Circus.

WiFi is provided in most stations.  If you're waiting for your next train and want to share London adventures with your friends on Facebook or Instagram, you can do it free of charge as long as you have a mobile phone sim with a participating mobile provider: Vodafone, O2, EE, Virgin Mobile, or Three.  For starters, you can pop in to any grocery store, corner store or even mobile phone provider shop to purchase a sim.  Unfortunately WiFi is not available in the trains, or at least while the trains are in the tunnels travelling to the next station.


  1. Such an interesting place. I went when I was 21 but I'd love to go back and see it properly.
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  2. I really got into this article. I found it to be interesting and loaded with unique points of interest. I like to read material that makes me think. Thank you for writing this great content.

  3. Here are a few things and tips you may need to know about one of the oldest metro systems in the world.

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