A Full Guide to London Tube

How Old is the London Underground?

London Tube was the first underground in the world and opened in 1863.  In fact, construction started 8 years earlier in 1855.  The first underground line between Paddington and Farringdon Street opened on 10 January 1863. In 2013, Londoners celebrated 150 years of the London Tube.

Table of Contents

London Tube Lines

London Underground Lines

The London Tube has 11 lines and each line is a different colour:

  • Bakerloo (brown)
  • Central (red)
  • Circle (yellow)
  • District (dark green)
  • Hammersmith & City (pink)
  • Jubilee (grey)
  • Metropolitan (purple)
  • Northern (black)
  • Piccadilly (dark blue)
  • Victoria (light blue)
  • Waterloo & City (pale green)

It is easy to find your way because these colours are clearly shown on the London Underground map and inside the stations. London is well covered by the Tube and you can easily access all major attractions by using this form of public transport.

It’s worth remembering that it is often quicker to walk when you are visiting the centre of London.  The distance between sightseeing attractions is often closer than you can think when looking at the Tube map. The Tube map purely shows you a visual representation of the line and stations.  Most of the time, the distance between places looks longer on the map than the reality. For example, if you look at Embankment Tube station and Charing Cross, it’s a 5-minute walk but a longer journey by Tube.

london underground mind-the-gap

How to Find Your Way in the London Underground

To avoid getting lost in the London Tube, you need to keep in mind which line you want to use.  As mentioned before, there are 11 different lines and each of these has a different name and colour.

To find your way, first identify where you want to go. For example, if you’re at Victoria Tube station and want to visit Covent Garden (which is very popular tourist area), you need to take the Victoria line (light blue) toward Walthamstow Central and change at Green Park for the Piccadilly line (dark blue) towards Cockfosters and get off at Covent Garden Tube station.

When you know which line you need to take, just follow the signs along the pedestrian tunnels inside the Tube (see image below).  London Underground benefits from being clearly signposted and there are many maps in the tunnels which lead to the platforms to guide you.  If in doubt, ask a passer-by to check you are heading in the right direction.  Be aware that sometimes you need to walk quite long distances in the tunnels.  Sometimes, you will be entertained by buskers playing a variety of music!

Victoria Line direction sign

To help you decide which platform you need, check the boards which display the direction you are travelling and the stations where the train will stop.  Once you’re on the right platform, check the front of the train to make sure you board the correct Tube.  At some stations, you have different lines stopping at the same station (eg. District & Circle line – dark green/yellow).  

London Tube direction at platform

What is London Overground?

The London Overground is like the London Underground but runs on the surface. It was established in 2007 with 112 stations on nine different lines. It complements the London Underground system. The Overground trains are shown on the same map as the Tube system and are shown by 2 orange lines.

London Tube Zones

How Many Zones in the London Underground?

London is divided into 6 Zones. The centre of London is Zone 1 and 2 whereas London Heathrow Airport is in Zone 6. You need to check which Zone your destination falls into and then buy the correct ticket for that Zone. 

London Tube Maps

At the bottom right corner of the London Tube map, you will find the legends of all the lines with their corresponding colours.  At the top right, you have useful information about some stations.  At the bottom left, you will find legends of key symbols to help you understand the London Underground map and an explanation of the zones.  At the bottom of the map, you will find information about useful websites and telephone numbers.  On the back of the map, you have grid stations and facilities for each station including wheelchair accessibility.

London Connections Rail Map

The London Underground also has a lot of connections with the national railway system which makes it easier to commute and reach London from many parts of the country. You can find a TFL London connection rail map on their website.  On this map, you can see all the main railway lines which connect to the London Underground system.

London Tube Opening Times

London Underground Opening Times

There are different opening times for the London Underground depending on the line, but in general the Tube opens at 5am from Monday to Saturday.  On Sundays, there are reduced service hours.  Some of the London Tube stops running around midnight.

How to Use London Tube at Night

Recently, part of the Tube has started operating a 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays. This is a great development for Londoners. London Transport has opened 5 lines with a 24-hour service on these days. This means that you can catch a show, eat in a restaurant and drink late in the capital without worries of being stuck or being obliged to take a Cab or a night bus home.

London Tube

Which London Tube Lines are Open 24 Hours?

As mentioned above, there are 5 lines open 24 hours during Fridays and Saturdays which cover 144 stations.

  1. Central line (red):

Trains run every 20 minutes between Loughton (zone 6) or Hainault (zone 5) to Leytonstone (zone 3).

Trains run every 10 minutes between Leytonstone (zone 3) to White City (zone 2).

Trains run every 20 minutes between White City (zone 2) to Ealing Broadway (zone 3).

  1. Northern line (black):

Trains run every 15 minutes from Edgware (zone 5) / High Barnet (zone 5) to Camden Town (zone 2).

Trains run every 8 minutes from Camden Town (zone 2) to Morden (zone 4). Bank and Mill Hill East branches have no night tube services.

  1. Victoria line (light blue):

Trains run every 10 minutes on all lines.

  1. Piccadilly line (dark blue):

Trains run every 10 minutes between Heathrow Terminal 5 (zone 6) and Cockfosters (zone 5). There is no night service at Heathrow terminal 4 (zone6) or between Acton Town (zone 3) to Uxbridge (zone 6).

  1. Jubilee line (grey)

Trains run every 10 minutes across the entire line.

The next stage will be an extension of the night service on the District, Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines.

For more information about night Tube services, you can visit the TFL website.

How Safe is the Tube at Night?

It is safe to travel on the Tube at night. British Transport Police are on duty with 100 Officers during night services. Normal London Underground employees also work during the night. This means you will be not alone, and it will be safe to travel on the Underground. For more information about safety in London, read our article about Is London Safe?

London useful security information

London Tube Tickets

What are the Different Tickets for the London Tube?

You can use a single ticket for one journey between stations.  The ticket expires when you exit the Tube.  You need to make sure your ticket is for the Zone you are travelling in.

You can use a day Travel Card. This card is valid for the day of the purchase till 4.29am the next day.

You can use a weekly Travel Card. This card is valid for a full week from the date of purchase.

You can use a monthly Travel Card. This card is valid for one-month from the date of purchase.

You can use a Visitor Card. This card is for a period of 2 or 3 days.

You can use an Oyster Card or a Visitor Oyster Card.

Alternatively, you can use a contactless card.

London Tube Travel Card

What is the Best London Underground Ticket Option for Tourists?

Buying a single ticket is the worst solution for travellers, as it is the most expensive. The best solution is to opt for a Visitor Oyster Card or a Travel Card.

The Oyster Card is a Pay as You Go system.  You put money on your card, and you need to top up when the card runs out of money. You can top up at any ticket machine.

The Travel Card is a prepaid ticket which allows you to travel during the period as much you want (1 day or 7 days). For the Travel Card, you need to specify the Zones in which you will be using the public transport. You can buy a Travel Card for Zone 1 to 4 or Zone 1 to 6. Make sure you stay in this Zone, otherwise you may be fined. To check which Zone you need, check out the Tube map above.

You can use the Oyster Card in any Zone, but you need to make sure you have enough funds on the card. The other advantage in having an Oyster Card is that, if you are landing at Gatwick Airport, you can use it to take a train to London including the Gatwick Express.  However, we advise you not to use the Gatwick Express if you want to save money.  The other trains are a little bit slower but are less expensive.

Your Oyster Card or Travel Card will be valid to travel within Zones 1-6 on any Tube, bus, train, DLR service (Docklands Light Railway) and London Overground.  You can even use your Oyster Card to cross the Thames River on the popular Emirates Airline Cable Car (Travel cards are not accepted).  Don’t waste your time queueing up for special tickets!

Both cards can be ordered online and delivered to your house before your departure and they will be ready to use as soon you are in London. Check out the TFL’s online visitor shop for more information.

Which is Best – Oyster Card or Contactless?

Both solutions offer a good deal for Tube train tickets. The only difference between these two cards is on the weekly ticket price.  Basically, the contactless card offers a better deal because you will never be charged more than the price of a weekly Travel Card at the end of the week.  In contrast, you can’t take advantage of a weekly ticket on an Oyster Card because the cost of the Tube ticket will be debited at the end of each day. 

The second advantage to a contactless card is that you don’t need to top up your card in advance. The Oyster Card needs to have funds on it, so first you need to top up your card at the machine and then you can use it.  Money will be taken from your bank account at the time of topping up. If you don’t use all the credit available on your Oyster Card, the remaining balance will stay on the Oyster Card, but the full amount will have been debited from your bank account.

London Tube Oyster-Card

How to Buy a Ticket for London Underground

You have different options to buy a ticket.  Firstly, you can purchase Tube tickets at the ticket office.  There are ticket offices in all major tube stations and railway stations.  Secondly, you can buy a ticket at automated ticket machines. There are ticket machines at each Tube station and railway station.  Thirdly, you can buy tickets at Transport for London (TFL) Visitor Centres.

London Tube Ticket Machine

London Tube Fares

Cost of a London Underground Ticket

A single ticket for Zone 1 to 3 is £4.90 for an adult and £2.40 for a child.  Children under 11 can travel for free!  As you can see, travel on the Tube is quite expensive.  This is because you get penalised for buying a single journey ticket. Fortunately, there is a cheaper way to travel on the London Tube.

If you use an Oyster Card in the same travel zone, you can save almost 50% on ticket prices.  You will be charged £3.30 at peak times or £2.80 during off peak periods.  For information, peak times are Monday to Friday between 6.30am and 9.30am and from 4pm to 7pm. Public holidays are off peak. Conveniently, you can also travel on the London Underground using any contactless payment card.

The other alternative is to buy a Travel Card. With a Travel Card, you pay a fixed price and you can travel as much you want. Travel Cards are very flexible and can be purchased for 1 day or 7 days, as well as for 1 month or 1-year.

How Much Does a Night Ticket Cost on the London Tube?

The night Tube costs the same as an off-peak ticket. If your destination isn’t covered by the 5 lines operating the 24-hour service, you can still use a night bus with the same ticket.

Travel cards are also valid for travel at night on the day of issue and end on the following day at 4.29am.

If you are using an Oyster Card, a Visitor Oyster Card or contactless card, the same daily fees apply at night.

London Tube App

Best Apps to Find your Way

If you are worried about getting lost in the city and you have a smart phone, you can use the Citymapper app. This app finds you the best way to get from point A to B. It gives you the option of different routes with different ways to accomplish it.  On its database, this app has information about all the buses, trains and Tube routes, plus it’s in real time. So, this means that it knows when service on a line has been disrupted, and it may reroute you to reach your destination more quickly. You can find this app on Google Play or the App Store.

Another useful app is the London Tube map which gives you a map of the Tube with latest service information. Similarly, this app can be downloaded via Google Play or the App Store.

London Tube Tips

What is Good Practice on the London Underground?

  1. Avoid the Rush Hour

If you don’t want to be squashed, you need to avoid rush hour during the week (7.30am – 9.30am and 5pm – 7pm).

  1. Keep to the Right

Importantly, you need to keep to the right.  London residents and commuters rush and get annoyed by tourists who are not keeping to the right on escalators. People are going to pass you.  If you have a suitcase, you need to make sure it is also on the right to avoid blocking the flow of commuters.

  1. Don’t Panic

If you miss your station, don’t worry it is easy to take the Tube back in the other direction. You can change the direction you are travelling at any Tube station.  However, you can only change lines at certain intersections which are clearly marked with a large circle on any London Underground map.

london-tube-barriers
Be prepared for the London tube barrier
  1. Be Prepared

Before you reach the barrier, get prepared to enter or exit by having your ticket ready. Don’t stop in front of the barrier. It is better to stop in a quiet place to find your ticket and then to go to the barrier. If you have a suitcase, you can use the larger barrier which is more convenient. Usually, there is someone there to help you.

  1. Walk Along the Platform

When you are on the platform, don’t stop but walk along the length of the platform to make room for others.  By doing this, you may also find more space inside the Tube carriages.

  1. Let Others Out

When the Tube stops, you need to position yourself at the side of the Tube door to the left or right so that people can enter and exit the Tube easily.

  1. Ask for Help

There are many staff working in the Tube stations, so don’t be afraid to ask them if you are lost or need help.  You can also ask a local too – they will help you find your way.  We have often helped tourists who are confused about which direction they need to travel and how to navigate the maze of London Underground tunnels which lead to platforms.

  1. Be aware of Pickpockets

London is a big city and, as in all big cities, visitors are an easy target for pickpockets. Put your valuables in a safe place under your T-shirt. We use this travel wallet when we are travelling abroad, and it does the job perfectly for a very small price. You can check the price on Amazon here.

Reaching the Centre of London From the Airport

How to get to London from London Heathrow Airport

It is very easy to get to central London from Heathrow Airport. One way is to take the Tube.  The Piccadilly line (dark blue) stops at many stations in the centre of London. The journey is about 50 – 60 minutes.

The fastest way to get to the centre of London is the Heathrow Express train.  The journey time is 15 minutes from Terminal 2 and 3 and a little more from Terminals 4 and 5. You will arrive at London Paddington station.

How to get to London from London Gatwick Airport

Although the Tube does not extend to Gatwick Airport (it’s too far!), you can take the train. If you have your Oyster Card with you, you can use it to travel to central London. There are 2 different trains: the Gatwick Express to London Victoria or regular trains which go to London Bridge, London Blackfriars or London Victoria. The Gatwick Express is more expensive than the normal trains, but quicker and less crowded.

Alternatively, the cheapest way is travel by coach to London Victoria. The trains are much more expensive and crowded. Save time and avoid queueing for tickets by buying your tickets in advance here.

airport arrival

How to get to London from London Luton Airport

You need to take the shuttle bus from the airport to Luton Airport Parkway railway station which is a 10-minute transfer. The price for the shuttle is £2.40 for a single. From there, you will be able to travel by train to London St Pancras International, Farringdon, City Thameslink, London Blackfriars and even to Gatwick Airport and Brighton. On average, the journey lasts 40-minutes and there are trains every 10 minutes.

If you are looking to save money, you can travel by coach to London Victoria which is less costly than the train. Save time and avoid queueing for tickets by buying your tickets in advance here.

How to Travel from London Heathrow Airport to London Gatwick Airport

To get from London Heathrow Airport to London Gatwick Airport, you can use a coach. There are different companies which operate a service between the two airports.  You can use the National Express which departs six times an hour with a journey time of 65 minutes or Megabus with coaches running every hour and a journey time of 75 minutes.

Alternatively, you can use the train to go to London Gatwick Airport from London Heathrow Airport.  To do this, you will need to take the Tube from Heathrow to London Victoria (Piccadilly line and change at Green Park station for the Victoria line) and then the train from London Victoria to Gatwick.  Train services also operate from London Blackfriars and London Bridge to Gatwick.

Is the London Tube Accessible?

The London Underground offers good wheelchair access.  At many locations, you can use a lift or there is step free access.  However, the London Tube isn’t completely accessible to wheelchair users. You can check the TFL official website to plan your journey.

London Tube Facts / definition

Facts and Figures – London Tube in Numbers

How Many Lines Does the London Tube Have?

The London Tube has 11 lines in total.

How Many Miles is the London Underground?

The London Underground consists of 250 miles of track.

How Many Stations Does the London Underground have?

The London Underground has 270 stations.

How Many Passengers Use the London Underground Each Day?

Each day, there are up to 5 million passenger journeys per day. At peak times, there are more than 543 trains running.

What is the Biggest London Underground Station?

If we are looking by square meters, the biggest London Underground station is Canary Wharf.  However, if you are measuring by the number of passengers, the largest London Underground station is King’s Cross St Pancras with 97.92 million entries and exits. Close behind, is Waterloo station and Oxford Circus station.

Which is London’s Deepest Tube Station?

The deepest station is Hampstead on the Northern line which is 58.5 meters below ground.

Where Can I Find a Map of the London Underground?

Don’t buy map in the corner shop, it is very easy to find a free map of the London Underground. You can ask for a free map at any London Tube station.  When you purchase a ticket, they will give you a map for free.  Alternatively, you can go to the Visit London website and download the London Tube map in advance.  If you can’t do this, you will find it displayed at every information point in any Tube station or train station, and on the Underground trains themselves.

Definitions

What Does Underground Mean?

The London Underground, also known as the Underground or the Tube, is a web of train lines under the surface providing a quick transport service between 270 stations. It is called the London Underground but only 40% of this system is under the ground.

What Does Subway Mean?

In America, Subway is the same word for the British Underground system.  In England, a passage built under the road for pedestrians is called a Subway.

What is Public Transport?

Public transport is when you transport a group of people at the same time. These forms of transport follow rules and a time schedule. Examples of public transport include buses, trains, trams and underground trains.

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