London Underground: Complete guide to using the tube

By | Posted on 01-Oct-2018

London Underground: Complete guide to using the tube

Open since 1863, the London Underground holds Britain’s capital together. Transporting up to 5 million travellers a day, the network is built up of 270 stations serving London and the surrounding areas, including Essex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. We’ve put together a guide for using the London Underground to make your journeys stress-free.If you need help travelling into London, find out more here. 

London Underground travel tips

How do I pay?

There’s plenty of ways that you can pay to use the Underground.

Contactless Card

Contactless: The contactless card system allows you to use your bank card to pay there and then, like you would in a shop. You can only use a bank card if your card has this logo on it. When you go to a ticket barrier, simply tap the card you wish to pay with on the yellow card reader when you start and end your trip (you might have heard this as “tap in” and “tap out”) and you’re done. The readers will calculate how much your journey costs and then deduct it from your bank account. If you carry more than one bank card, make sure to tap the right one as the yellow reader may read another. When using contactless, make sure you use the card you want to and have any other cards firmly stashed away.

Oyster Card

Oyster Card: An Oyster card is a card which you can use to load up credit for travelling across London, including the London Underground. A visiting oyster card costs £5, but then you can load it up with as much money as you need to, and keep topping it up. Transport for London recommends the following:

  • If you’re visiting London for two days, start with £15 credit.
  • If you’re visiting London for four days, start with £30 credit.

Paper Ticket: If you don’t have a contactless card or an Oyster card, then you can buy a paper ticket. If you’re making many journeys in one day, it may be easier to buy a day travelcard. They allow you to travel as much as you like in a day. You can also buy single and return tickets if you are going from one station to another.

When is the Underground open? 

London Underground
Photo credit: Calgary Reviews (Flickr) under Creative Commons 2.0.

The London Underground normally runs between 5 am and midnight from Monday to Saturday, with fewer trains running on a Sunday. But, with trains arriving very regularly (1 arriving every 2 minutes on the Victoria line), you never have to spend that long waiting on the platform.

The Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines have a 24-hour service on some parts of the line on Fridays and Saturdays, but make sure you check which parts of the Underground are running before you travel.

How much does it cost?

Using the Underground is a cheap way to get across London, but it’s much cheaper to use an Oyster or a contactless card than a single journey ticket. London Toolkit has a helpful guide to journey costs on the network.

Zones TravelledAdult (Single Journey)Adult (Oyster/Contactless Peak)Child (Single Journey)Child (Oyster/Contactless Off Peak)
Zone 1£4.90£2.40£2.40£2.40
Zones 1 & 2£4.90£2.90£2.40£2.40
Zones 1 to 3£4.90£3.30£2.40£2.80

What’s a “fare zone”?

A fare zone is based on the locality of the station you are at. Zone 1 is the central zone, serving Piccadilly Circus, Holborn and Covent Garden as examples. The further from central London you go, the higher the zone. So, central London is Zone 1, Hammersmith is Zone 2 but Heathrow Airport is Zone 6. They go all the way up to Zone 9.

When buying a paper ticket, take note of what zones you’re able to travel in, as this may restrict your journey. If using your Oyster or a contactless card, you can travel to any station without worrying about zones, but it is more expensive to use more zones.

When should I travel?

You can travel at any time the Underground is open, but it costs more to travel at peak times.

Peak FareOff-Peak Fare
06:30 to 09:30 (only in Zone 1, if you are travelling from Zone 2 into Zone 1 at this time, it is still off-peak)09:31 to 15:59
16:00 to 19:0019:01 to 04:29

What routes can I take?

You’re able to take any route to any station, as long as:

  • Your Oyster card is topped up with enough money to get from one station to another.
  • Your contactless card has enough money to get from one station to another.
  • Your paper ticket specifies that you are able to travel within the zones of your starting point and destination.

There are 11 lines on the London Underground that are each marked by a different colour, so it’s clear to see which lines take you where you want to go. Here’s some points of interest on some of the most popular lines in London.

  • Central: Why not visit Speakers’ Corner at Marble Arch or go shopping on Oxford Circus, the world’s busiest street. There’s also the British Museum near Holborn station and St Paul’s Cathedral just a stone’s throw from St Pauls.
  • Circle: Visit Big Ben which is just outside Westminster station and take in the London Eye as you get off at Embankment. Most stations are also shared with either the District, Hammersmith & City or Metropolitan lines, so if you miss a Circle line train, then you’ll be able to jump on another line and still arrive at the same destination!
  • Northern: Splitting at Euston, the Northern line has two branches covering central London. On one track, you can visit a homage to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross station and eat at Borough Market near London Bridge. On the other track, you can go to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
  • Piccadilly: The Piccadilly line serves many tourist attractions such as Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Further down the line, you can visit the Natural History Museum and Science Museum at South Kensington, and visit Harrods by getting off at Knightsbridge.
  • Victoria: Visit the Tate Britain by getting off at Pimlico station, explore the shops at Oxford Circus or sit back and relax at Green Park.

What stations are important for West End theatres?

There are London Underground stations that serve many West End theatres.

Oxford Circus (Central, Victoria & Bakerloo): London Palladium

Tottenham Court Road (Central and Northern): Dominion Theatre, Palace Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Prince Edward Theatre

Holborn (Piccadilly & Central): Gillian Lynne Theatre, Peacock Theatre, Shaftesbury Theatre, Novello Theatre

Covent Garden (Piccadilly): Duchess Theatre, Fortune Theatre, Lyceum Theatre, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Leicester Square (Piccadilly & Northern): Arts Theatre, Duke of York’s Theatre, Garrick Theatre, Noel Coward Theatre, St Martins Theatre, Wyndham’s Theatre

Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly & Bakerloo): Her Majesty’s Theatre, Apollo Theatre, Harold Pinter Theatre, Criterion Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Piccadilly Theatre, Prince of Wales Theatre, Queens Theatre, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Charing Cross (Northern & Bakerloo): Aldwych Theatre, Garrick Theatre, Savoy Theatre, Trafalgar Studios

Victoria (Victoria, Circle & District): Apollo Victoria Theatre and Victoria Palace Theatre

Do I have to take the tube for every journey?

Photo credit: Josh Hallett (Flickr) under Creative Commons 2.0.

Some journeys are definitely less hassle if you walk. It’s a 9-minute walk from Tottenham Court Road to Oxford Circus, a 10-minute walk from Piccadilly Circus to Covent Garden, or 11 minutes from Piccadilly Circus to Charing Cross. There are helpful signs in place everywhere that will direct you where to go, so there’s no need to worry about getting lost. While the Underground is a very helpful system for getting across the city, you don’t need it all the time.

Are there any helpful apps?

If you’re worried about travelling through London, then there’s two apps we recommend you download to help you get around! If you want a tube map guide, then  Tube Map – London Underground has the official tube map and a smart route planner that will help you work out your route online and offline, meaning you don’t need to rely on data.

Citymapper also gives live data of routes on the Underground as well as buses and walking, showing you how to travel across London whilst saving time and money.

Image credit: Live4Soccer68 (Flickr) under Creative Commons 2.0.