Finding your way on London's underground

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Going Underground

Finding your way on London's underground
There are 11 lines and 270 stations (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

"Scars can come in handy. I have one myself above my left knee that is a perfect map of the London Underground."

— Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter

Although travelling to work on the Underground every day may be the most natural thing in the world for Londoners who have been using it since 1863, not every major city in the world has a subterranean rail network. The idea of travelling underground on the Tube, as it is fondly called, can be daunting, so this guide can help you successfully manoeuvre your way through the 11 lines, 270 stations and six travel zones.

Map it out

Finding your way on London's underground
Follow the coloured lines (Michael Blann/Photodisc/Getty Images)

There are two essentials that you require before buying a ticket and taking a Tube train which go hand in hand: an A to Z street guide and a London Underground map. as you work out where you are headed - whether it is Abbey Road to snap some Beatlesque photos, or to a friend's new home for a house-warming party in East London - you can work out which is the Tube station nearest to your final destination.

Buying an A-Z map guide will not only help you find your way around the huge metropolis that is Britain's capital but will also assist in working out which Tube stations are closest to your destination. Each of the 11 Tube lines has a different colour - for example, the District line is green - so using the A-Z to plan your trip, work out your start point and the nearest station, and follow the coloured lines to reach your final destination. If you need to change lines on your journey, this will be marked by two or more intersecting colours on the map, indicating two or more lines connect at that particular station. There is no need to leave the station or pay extra when you change lines.

Ticket to ride

Finding your way on London's underground
Make your way through the station (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Taking the Tube for the first time can be daunting - given that millions of commuters take it every single day without batting an eyelid. Remember to have your journey plan in mind, to buy a ticket for all passengers, and pass through all the correct barriers before reaching the platform.

Each passenger should buy a ticket before travelling, which must be purchased from the ticket office or from an electronic ticket machine. Tickets can be one-way or return. Although most tourist attractions fall into Zone 1 of London, if you know you are travelling beyond that zone during the course of the day (for example, Stratford station, which is a key gateway for accessing the Olympics is located in Zone 3), it will be worth buying a daily or weekend Travelcard (see below).

Once you have your ticket, place into the machine which will open the gate, allowing you to pass through. Don't forget to take back your ticket as you will need it for your exit, or if an inspector asks you to present it mid-journey. Follow the colour-coded Tube line signs down to the platform, which is usually by escalator but may also be by lift. Once on the platform, electric signs will count down how many minutes' wait you have until the next train arrives. Be sure to mind the gap when stepping on to the train!

Zoning out

Finding your way on London's underground
Be adventurous and visit Hampton Court Palace in Zone 6 (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

If you are going to travel to various destinations over the course of a day, or even the weekend, the most cost-effective ticket to buy is a daily Travelcard. Available to foreigners, tourists and Britons alike, a Travelcard can be used not only on the Underground but also on the bus and train network.

London's travel network is divided into 6 zones, with 1 being the most central.Travel cards are divided in Zones 1-2, 1-3, 1-4 and 1-6, and are available weekdays after 9.30am and all day at the weekend. Once you are familiar with the working of Tube connections, why not buy a travel card and pick a few different corners of London to unearth. Henry VIII's beautiful Hampton Court Palace lies in the southwest in Zone 6 and is definitely worth a visit, while the Royal Museums at Greenwich lie on the south-eastern bank of the Thames is on the edge of Zone 2/3.

Tips and warnings

  • Once travelling: Always keep your personal belongings near you. Once you are on the Tube, remember that each carriage has a map, so you can locate where you are. Station names are clearly and frequently marked so be sure to look out the window to check where you are once the train comes to a halt. Mind the gap!

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