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Beginner’s Guide to the London Underground


The London Underground is, for me, one of the easiest metro systems to work around especially considering how huge the city is. With clear lines in different bright colours, simple indications of where you can change, and obvious signs for stations it’s pretty simple even for a newbie to London. So why am I writing this post, you say? Well, the London Underground (also known simply as ‘the Tube’) is easy to use but there is also a certain way to use is that all Londoners live by, a ‘code of conduct’ if you will. Follow this guide, and you’ll be swooping through the system like a true cockney citizen, and more importantly, won’t annoy the hell out of any actual natives.


big ben photography, london underground sign, london tube

Two iconic London images, photo courtesy of Muhammad Noor Firdaus iskandar BIn Haji Bashah via Creative Commons


Never Get in a Commuters Way


Whenever I’m on the Underground I feel massively sorry for people who have to deal with the system every single day. With thousands of tourists getting in their way when they’re just trying to get to work, you can just see the frustration eeking out of them like smoke from a bull’s nostrils. It’s incredibly easy to spot the suited and booted of London that are on their way to work or going home, so if you see one do them a favour and make sure you let them pass. Distinguishing features include Starbucks coffee in one hand, a recent national bestseller in the other (obligatory tube reading), a swanky briefcase, and a look of disdain for anyone holding a map.


Stare and Stare Alike


I don’t know what it is about Londoners and staring at people on the Underground, but those guys just don’t give two flying hoots about giving you the good old up-down look the second you walk on. London is the kind of place where you can wear whatever you want and will almost certainly encounter someone else wearing something more outrageous, but citizens of the Big Amoke love having a good old stare at you to check it out. Give them a run for their money and stare right back.


Never Take a Walk on the Wild Side


There is a system to which side you walk on in the Underground – it’s the left, the same as the side we drive on, and sometimes there is even a barrier down the centre to encourage people to walk the side their direction dictates. There is nothing more infuriating than going down the designated path and bumping into someone on the wrong side – nothing. This also applies to the standing still vs. walking sides of the escalators, you really don’t want to rub someone up the wrong way on those.


Don’t Even Think About Smiling At Anyone


Sorry Londoners, but you guys are all pretty miserable on the tube and there’s no two ways about it. If you do smile at someone you’re pretty much immediately known as that weird oddball on the train that everyone moves away from. Having said that, a girl did smile at me on the Tube the other day, but because it’s unheard of it was a particularly unnerving experience (maybe she was the oddball that day).


london underground, london transport, uk transport, uk metro system

Photo courtesy of Sally Burgess via Creative Commons


Mind the Gap


Whilst this is true for the gap between the platform and the train, it’s also true in terms of your fellow Underground users. Unless it’s seriously crammed and you’re forced to get intimately close with someone else, get out of their personal space. A comedian I saw in Wimbledon made a joke about people who stand in front of you whilst you’re sitting down on the metro – he suggested that when they hold onto the bar above them and then rock with the movement of the train it becomes like an odd lap dance you didn’t volunteer for. Things get pretty awkward at that point.


Let People Off Before You Get On


Probably the single most important rule to follow on the London Underground. When I lived in Barcelona and saw people happily gliding onto the metro before everyone leaving at that stop had exited the train, I was pretty shocked. I would go as far as to say I was outraged. That feeling is just ingrained in my mind from the Tube. Do that on the London Underground and you’re just asking for an angry mob.


If You Don’t Have an Oyster Card You May As Well be The Elephant Man


Wh..What?! You DON’T have an Oyster card and you’re taking the Underground today? Come on, you’re better than that. Buy a Visitor Oyster card and the fares are half the price – simples.

All jokes aside, and my cynical attitude towards Londoners (you started it!), the Underground is one of my favourite experiences in the Big Smoke. I love people watching, and there’s nothing better than taking a seat and pondering about the public around you, where they’re going and who they’re going to meet. That’s if you can find a seat without anyone wrestling you to the ground for it.


london oyster cards, transport for london, uk transport cards, london tube fares

These are the regular Oyster cards, but there are visitor versions


3 responses to “Beginner’s Guide to the London Underground”

  1. […] end of the metro are usually the most full. This is the complete opposite to what you’d find on the London Underground for example, or any other metro system I’ve ever used, and it confused me no end as to why until […]

  2. Awesome post! I was actually thinking of writing a subway etiquette post for New York City, partially because I am infuriated almost everyday single day with tourists not knowing the unspoken “rules” haha

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