Mind the Gap – A Tourist’s Guide to London Underground

So you’re excited to do all the London attractions, meet the queen (really?), and of course, ride on the London tube. Does the idea of getting around London through the Underground sounds appealing? If your answer is yes, sorry, you are the only one left here, as we don’t.

True, London tube is the quickest and one of the cheapest ways to commute around the city, but delays happens, trains break down in the middle, rushing people bump in you, and worse, you may fall asleep on the Central Line and end up in Epping Forest. Consider the fact it’s the oldest underground tube network in the world, over 150 years old so expect the unexpected. And there are a few regulations, unsaid rules, and etiquettes that you need to follow (if you don’t want to be murdered visually).

But don’t let all this deter you from enjoying the little London underground adventures that tourists should not miss. So mind the gap and your manners, and let us take you to a ride of London Underground.

How to Use the Train
We’re afraid you’ll have to buy the ticket! There are barriers that open with the tokens only and do not respond to physical violence or verbal arguments. So do not try to board the tube without buying a ticket. Once you have bought the ticket, crossed the barriers, there appear the most timesaving devices, the escalators. It is suggested to stand on the right. And no matter how less congested the left side looks, don’t stand there. This is for the locals who are in a hurry to reach their workplace.

Standing on the left should highly be avoided during the rush hours, i.e., morning – 7:30-9:30 am, and evening – 4:40-6:30 pm. There are electronic indicators on the platform showing the destination you’re going to. And if by any means, the destination is not what you’re heading towards, it can be a TFL conspiracy against you.

Just kidding! You are standing on the wrong platform. Simply, ask a fellow passenger! And Londoners are polite enough to assist tourists.

Where to Buy Tickets
“The world is your Oyster,” this travel quote is true when travelling through tube. The Oyster Card proves to be the cheapest and most convenient way to pay for your tube travels. Paper tickets are available on ticket counters but if you’re keen to save money and staying in London for the weekend, it’s sane to buy an Oyster. You can top-up your card online or right on the station at the ticket counter.

How to Sleep on Tube
We all do that at the wrong place and the wrong time! But with little efforts, you can be a Tube Napping Expert. If you’re looking for a quick nap, the best seat to grab is right next to the glass separator and you can rest your dead body on to it than on the fellow passenger. And to make sure that you don’t end up in Watford than Wembley, it’s a good idea to set an alarm clock so you wake when the doors just open at your destination. You goaled it! If the fellow passenger rests his head on your shoulder, you can return the gesture and take a quick nap without the rattle and hum of tube disturbing you (provided you are fine if Instagrammed by hipsters).

How to Act like a Local

Don’t worry! Your skin colour, quirky fashion sense, or language would be the last clues for locals to spot the tourist in you. London is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual city with over 250 languages spoken. But your little gestures can make you look like a tourist. Here are a few ways to look like a local on London tube.
  • Keep your huge backpack in the hotel room. It shouts loud “I am a Tourist”. It’s the local transport system and no one wants a huge backpack in the tube car where there’s hardly any space for people.
  • Okay, you have the leisure to debate which colour line to use standing on the stairs. But the locals don’t have time for the crap. You are blocking their way. Yes, this is why they are bumping into you.
  • Don’t stand in the middle of the station trying to make sense of the tube map as you may be blocking others’ way who are rushing to the platform.
  • Don’t try to strike up a conversation on tube as Londoners don’t like that. To spend time like a true local, get lost in a good book or a magazine, or wear your IPod to avoid sound.


Don’t Be That Tourist

  • Who doesn’t give his seat to women expecting babies? And pregnant women are given badges signalling “babies-on-board” so you can easily spot them. Yes, the stomach bump is a signal but it can be due to Christmas pies or heavy coats.
  • Who calls the London tube as the Subway? Good Morning! It’s London not New York. It’s called the Underground here (although most of it is over ground).
  • Who laughs aloud in the tube or makes eye contact with others. London tube a quiet reserve where there is an awkward silence in the air, which you’re not supposed to break, or else you’ll be visually murdered.
  • Who blocks the door or else get ready for some trotting eyes, bickering voices, and collective groans behind you. Nobody wants to get late because of you. If you find no space for you in the car, get out, let the doors close, and wait for the next tube.
  • Who doesn’t mind the gap? And it’s not just the gap between the train and the platform but between fellow passengers as well. You cannot avoid this if it’s too crammed but if it’s not, try to maintain a fair distance.
  • Who stands in front of a person who’s sitting and holds the bar above them.
  • Who presses the “open door” button. It is just another way of the authority to give passengers something to laugh at, as the button does not function. The doors open automatically so don’t be the one pressing or you’ll be laughed out of the rub-a-dub.

Don’t be Surprised If You See

Over the course of the years, there are a few experiences exclusive to the London tube. So don’t be surprised if you observe the following:

  • Strangers ask you to click a picture of them
  • A stranger asks you to turn your music down
  • The train stops in the dark tunnel for 15 minutes
  • A person farts or  coughs and sneezes without using their hands
  • A drunk passenger throws up on you
  • A passenger pretending to be on the phone when underground (there’s no signal)
  • A passenger getting stuck in the door or the barrier
  • A passenger falling off the escalator
  • A celebrity on the tube (you’re not supposed to smile or talk to them)
  • You heard an amusing message delivered by the train driver
  • A couple having an argument or two...or twelve
  • A loud foreign call
  • A passenger falls asleep and leans over you
  • All passengers not wearing their pants (it’s the pants day)
  • A station called Cockfosters.

London Underground has become a tourist attraction of its own. If you’re in London, make sure to use this public transport service to commute around the city.
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