London may not seem that big, but once you’re in the middle of the UK capital, you’ll realize that all the sights are pretty spread out. For instance, you might find yourself having a drink with a colleague in Shepherd’s Bush but then have dinner plans with a friend on the opposite side of town in Whitechapel. And with so many people visiting the city every day, hopping into a black cab or taking the bus may not be the best option. Enter the London Underground, also know as the London Tube. This is the city’s widespread metro train system (like New York City’s subway). With numerous existing lines and more being added each year, it takes thousands of locals and tourists to where they need to go within Greater London.
But even though the Tube seems to like a well-oiled machine, new London Tube riders can find the whole system daunting. First, there’s looking at the map, which can look like a bunch of colorful squiggles on a board. Then there’s actually getting your ticket on the train. And let’s not forget about walking through the labyrinth of tunnels leading you to various train platforms.
Even though it might seem like a lot to deal with, we have some insight on the ins and outs of the Underground. Like everything else, things can change, but these tips are a great starting off point to becoming a pro at taking the Tube.
10.) Get Yourself an Oyster Card
Before you even get onto the train, you will need to pay for your ride. While you can get a single paper ticket for that first ride, it’s more convenient and economical to get an Oyster Card. There are two types of Oyster cards — the regular one and one for visitors. There are benefits to each card, but it all depends on what you need it for. Unlike the regular Oyster Card, you can order the visitor’s one and have it delivered to your home. By doing this, you can just hop on the Tube at the airport. The card also gives you some tourist discounts around the city, which you can find more about here.
If you forget to pre-order your visitor’s card, you can purchase a regular Oyster card at the airport, a Tube station or a local convenience store that has an Oyster logo hanging in the window. There is a £5 deposit, which you can get back if you decide to return the card after your trip. One of the other good things about the regular Oyster Card is that you can top it up (or add credit) with a travel card. Think of the travel card credit as an unlimited ride pass for a particular length of time.
That being said, there is there is a cap on how much you spend on public transit using the Oyster card each day. Once you reach that maximum amount, then the rest of your rides will be free for the day. For example, if you’re roaming around Zones 1 and 2 on a given day, you will no longer be paying for rides once your public transportation spending reaches £6.80.
There’s two more alternatives to paying for the Tube. If your credit or debit card has contactless card capabilities, then you can use that to tap in and tap out of the tubes as well as other forms of transportation in London. How will you know if your plastic has that feature? Just look for a symbol that resembles the Wifi one, but this is lying on its side. And in some cases, you can also use Apple Pay. You can find more information on those alternative payments here.
Remember that Oyster Cards and contactless cards can be used on most public transportation below and above ground in London.