If you ever attempt to travel anywhere in London, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up on the (in)famous London underground at some point. While the tube does make London arguably one of the best cities in the world with regards to having a comprehensive public transport system, it can also be a total nightmare at times, particularly when you’re not used to it (the first time I was wedged into a corner of a rush-hour central line train, face pressed into the sweaty armpit of a chubby middle-aged banker, I swore I was going to leave the city and never return).
As someone who has been a (vaguely claustrophobic) Londoner for almost two years now, I’ve began to learn how best to survive the horrifying labyrinth of the London tube system, without irritating the other 8 million people who are also trying to get somewhere.
Top London Underground Survival Tips
- Know where you’re going. This sounds super obvious, but literally every day I see huge blockages in the underground corridors, as crowds of clueless people gather around large maps to try and decide if they need to go north or south on the Northern line. For the love of God, work this out before you go into the station. It’s really not that hard.
- Time your travel. If you’re commuting to work, there may not be a lot you can do about this (although you could always try asking your boss about the possibility of fleck-hours), but otherwise, be aware of rush hour, and try to avoid it. It will be so much quieter / more enjoyable to travel, and also cheaper. Win-win.
- Consider different routes. Especially if you’re not too pushed for time, it might be possible to find a less crowded way to get from A to B (I’m personally a big fan of getting the DLR whenever physically possible. It’s just so nice). I also do this whenever I travel with luggage. My usual route may be quicker, but I pick a slightly slower route where I can avoid stairs if ever I have a big bag with me.
- Get the Citymapper app. Even if you’re only in London for a short while, it’s a total lifesaver. This app not only tells you the prices and timings involved in different routes of getting from A to B, but also even lets you know which part of the train you should sit in to be most efficient in your journey.
- Bring some entertainment. The tube is not the nicest place to be, but the journey goes by in a much faster and more pleasant way if you have some distractions from the crush of strange, sweaty bodies all around you. Books and papers are fine, but if you’re travelling at a really busy time it can actually be hard to even have enough space to open and read them. Good options I often use include listening to music / podcasts on my phone, working on emails or writing blog posts, reading a book via my phone app, or using a language learning app.
- Sit / stand in a strategic place. If you know your regular journey well, it’s definitely worth figuring out where is the best place to spend your journey. Is the back / middle / front of the train usually less crowded? Do you sit in the easily accessible, comfy end-seat but run the risk of having to give it up to a pregnant person? Do you stand right next to a door that you know won’t open on that side again until it’s your turn to get off?
- Learn the etiquette. On escalators, always stand on the right. If ever you don’t, you will have the face the wrath of a thousand raging Londoners. Let everyone off the train first, put your bags down by your feet, and give up your seat if someone else needs it. Just play nice…
- …but be prepared to get pushy. If you ever try to board the Jubilee line at Canary Wharf at 5.15pm (interestingly, people tend to queue for their turn to board in a very civil, British way at Canada Water, unlike pretty much any other tube station), it will be so busy that (once you get to the front of the queue, of course) you will have to squish yourself on the train, and accept that personal space is a luxury that you may have to give up if you ever want to get anywhere.
As much as I complain about it on a daily basis, the tube is actually not all that bad (especially now that the night tube is a thing <3), especially if you’re prepared. I always want to find ways to make my life in London the best it can be, so if anyone ever has any advice on surviving the Underground, I would love to hear it.