Here’s a list of the top three most British things.

1. Afternoon tea
2. The London Underground
3. Queuing


The underground is so quintessentially British, in fact, that the Russian word for ‘underground train station’ is vokzal – apparently coined after a Russian delegate visited London’s Vauxhall station. It’s an enduring presence in the lives of all Londoners and we rely on it every day.

But the tube is also mysterious. Its tunnels delve deep into the ground below London and hold many secrets. Did you know that Aldgate station is built on top of a grave holding 1000 skeletons? Scary, right?

For newcomers to London, the tube system can be a little complicated at first glance. If you’re not careful, you could easily end up on the right line going the wrong direction, or heading off to Edgware Road on the District line when you wanted Upminster.

Walking in London is great, but to get the most out of the city you’ll need to master tube travel. Here’s our guide to the ins and outs of the tube. Make sure you read it before going station hopping.

Deciphering the tube map

Before you even leave your hotel, first you’re going to want to take a close look at the tube map. You can find a map online, download the Tube Map app, or grab a paper copy from your nearest tube station.

The first thing to understand is that each of the different colours on the map represents a different transport line. The solid colours are underground lines, whilst the mixed orange and white lines represent overground train lines. The blue and white line represents the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which is like a monorail. Make sure you know whether you’re searching for an underground station or an overground or DLR station.

If a line has more than one colour it’s because multiple train lines use the same track and stations (e.g. the District and Circle lines). When travelling on these lines, take extra special care to get on the right train for the line you want.

Every station is named, and stations with a big white and black circle are stations where you can change lines. Work out which station is your closest, where you want to go, and the optimal number of changes to get there. If you need help you can always do a Google directions search. Typing in your current location, your goal station, and the word “tube” will do the trick, and give you a useful travel time estimation too.

A word of warning – the tube map is only a facsimile of London’s real layout above ground. Don’t try to use the tube map as a walking map – you’re going to get lost.

Buying your ticket

Nobody in London really uses paper tickets anymore. Instead, you’ll want to buy yourself an Oyster Card – a pay-as-you-go travel card that you can use to ‘tap’ in and out of the station gates. You can also use your contactless debit or credit card.

You can buy an Oyster Card and top it up at any major tube station, or at a local convenience store. Just ask at the desk. The card costs £5 and you can top it up with anything over £5. When you tap in and out of stations, the most cost-effective rate will be deducted automatically. Your Oyster Card will always get you the best possible rate on travel. To see fare prices check out the London Toolkit price guide.

Taking the ride

By now you should have found your nearest tube station and bought your Oyster Card. As you approach the gate, tap your card on the yellow reader and the gate will beep. You can now enter the tube line.

The lines accessible from your station should be clearly signposted. Make sure that you carefully follow the line you’re looking for and that you find the correct eastbound or westbound service.

Once on the correct station platform, you shouldn’t have to wait more than a couple of minutes for the train to arrive. As it approaches, check the front of the train to see its final destination. This will tell you if it’s the right train for you. If not, check the electronic signboard to see when your train will arrive.

When your train arrives at the station, wait patiently for the doors to open and the passengers to disembark. In London, we always wait for passengers to leave the train before we board. When the way is clear, it’s time to hop on to your first tube ride. Mind the gap!

Tapping out

When you reach your destination, make sure you remember to ‘tap out’ on the yellow reader when you leave the station, even if the gate is open. This will ensure you pay the correct fare price.

That’s everything you need to know about getting the tube in the capital. If you have any more travel-related questions, please feel free to get in touch with our help team at Evan Evans. For guided tours around the capital check out our great range of London tours.