Unless you’re a regular on the New York Subway (the metro system, not the sandwich), the London Underground system can be confusing and at times a little daunting. There are those who dislike travelling on the ‘Tube’, but for me it’s become one of the highlights of any London trip. The London Underground is an experience you won’t get in most travel destinations, so here are a few tips to make the most out of your journey.
Listen to the music
The London Underground busker scheme has been running for almost a decade, and as you travel between Tube stations you’ll hear a wide variety of music being performed. To most of the locals, this has become part of their daily background noise, but as a visitor you have the opportunity to have a real listen to the different and often unusual instruments that are being played. As one of the few that are actually paying attention, it will feel like you are being personally serenaded.
Know your zones
The Tube is split up into 6 zones, and the more zones you cross into, the more you have to pay. The vast majority of attractions are located in Zone 1, but it costs the same to travel in zone 1 as it does zones 1-2, so it’s worth having that extra option. You can also save yourself some money by getting a ‘pay as you go’ Oyster Card, which you can pre-load with money and travel without having to worry about tickets. The Oyster Card figures out how often and where you travel, so always charges you the right amount for where you’re going.
Go somewhere random
If you’ve decided to pick up an Oyster Card, or you’ve bought a Day Pass Travelcard, you’ve got the freedom to go wherever you please (within your zone limits). Take full advantage of the fact, and go somewhere many visitors don’t. Hop off at Baker Street station and you’ll find the Sherlock Holmes Museum just a two minute walk away, conveniently placed at 221B Baker Street. Stop at Old Street Station, and less than ten minutes’ walk away is the Worship Street Whistling Shop, a hidden cocktail bar that combines Victorian-era décor (complete with a Jekyll and Hyde style laboratory) with modern drinks innovation. It definitely pays to go off the beaten track and explore the random gems that you get at the less popular Tube stops.
Be friendly and courteous
Many Tube guides make the whole experience sound like a miserable affair: “Don’t make eye contact, don’t speak and don’t move slowly”. Whilst it’s likely that striking up a full-blown conversation with a London commuter will result in awkward looks, it doesn’t mean that you have to be a silent, miserable traveller. Offer your seat to the elderly or pregnant women it courteous; doing it with a smile is rare. It’s always refreshing to see or hear someone who is happy and friendly during rush hour.
The saying goes ‘getting there is half the fun’. If you’re travelling around London by Tube, then this is totally true. The Underground can be a very pleasant experience if you want it to, and can make for some of the best parts of your stay.