A little bit of history…
With a population of approximately 10 million, London is not only the most populous city in Europe*, but it’s also one of the largest, covering more than 1,500 square kilometres. Whether it’s your first visit or your 10th, if you want to travel around London you’ll need to get familiar with the city’s comprehensive public transport system, commonly referred to as the ‘tube’. The nickname comes from the round tunnels that carry trains beneath the city, however, the official name is the London Underground.
London Underground operates an integrated system of metro trains (the ‘tube’), buses, trams, riverboats and above-ground train services carrying 1.35 billion passengers per year. It is the world’s oldest transport system, with the first trains entering into passenger service in 1863. There is a museum located in Covent Garden dedicated to the history of this fascinating system and way it has shaped London over more than 150 years.
Such a large system can be confusing the first time you encounter it, but once you understand a few simple principles, you’ll soon be navigating the underground like a professional! Every Cheval Residence is conveniently located within a maximum 10-minute walk from an Underground station, and you can read on for some hints and tips on how to travel around the city.
Tip: take the hassle out of planning your journey with the Citymapper App. This free App designed to be downloaded to your phone has information on every possible way to get around London, including the tube, buses, bikes, taxis and even riverboat. All you need is your current location and your destination: Citymapper to the rescue!
The first thing to know is that the use of cash is discouraged when paying for your travel. It is still possible to use cash, but you pay a much higher fare, so our advice is to pay electronically.
- BANK CARDS WITH CONTACTLESS TECHNOLOGY: If you have a bank card that has a contactless function, you can use this to tap on the round yellow circles to open the barriers. This is known as ‘touching in’. When you complete your journey, you will need to tap the card on the yellow circles again to exit, known as ‘touching out’. The benefit of using a bank card is that you only pay for the exact number of journeys you take, and this is calculated automatically.
- OYSTER CARD: If you don’t have a bank card with this function, you can buy an Oyster Card. This is a contactless card onto which you can load travel credit, or a daily, weekly or monthly travel permit. You will need to pay a £5 deposit to get this card, which makes sense if you plan to use the system intensively, or if you plan to return to London in the near future. Tap the card on the yellow readers next to the barriers at the start and end of your journey and the correct fare will be calculated automatically.
Oyster cards are available in all Underground stations, at some airports and in certain convenience stores around the city.
Tip: when you use a bus or a tram, you only need to tap your bank card or oyster card on the yellow reader at the start of your journey. The flat fare is £1.50, which entitles you to up to 1 hour of travel using up to two buses or trams to complete your journey.
London’s transport system is part of the city’s DNA, and although the locals enjoy complaining when it doesn’t always work efficiently, there are some rules, both written and unwritten, that are essential to know.
- Stand on the right, walk on the left on the escalators. This is the cardinal rule! If you stand on the left on an escalator, you risk incurring the wrath of commuters in a hurry!
- Move down inside the train carriages: When you board a train don’t stand at the door and block other passengers from getting on. Move as far inside as you can
- Mind the Gap: There is often a gap between the train and the platform, so be careful. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, but at certain stations (Bank is a good example), the gap is huge!
- No talking in the morning! This is not actually a rule, but the next time you are travelling on the Tube during the morning rush hour you’ll be amazed at how silent the carriage is
Tip: To work out which train you need on the Underground, it’s useful to know whether you’re travelling north, south, east or west. You will often see signs directing you to ‘Westbound’ or ‘Northbound’ trains which takes some of the guesswork out of which platform is the correct one.
Transport for London: The official transport site with information on fares, maps and much more
Citymapper: A useful app to help you plan your journey
Visit London: Information and tools all about transport designed for use by visitors to London
London Transport Museum: A museum all about transport for adults and children
*Excludes Moscow and Istanbul
Images credit: TFL