June 24, 2024

Tube Etiquette: How to Survive Your First Trip on the London Underground

The London Underground (or the Tube as it is more commonly referred to) is a vast transportation network that operates between London, and the counties of Essex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.  With 11 lines and 270 stations, it’s an incredibly vast network and offers one of the easiest ways of getting around London.  However, if you’ve never travelled on it before, it can be hard to understand Tube etiquette.  In this article, I’m going to provide some advice that should have you travelling around the city like a pro.

Have Your Ticket, Oyster Card or Bank Card Ready

The London Underground is incredibly busy – especially during peak hours – and Londoners like to keep moving.  Being held up at the ticket barriers is an incredibly frustrating experience, and not one that you want to cause.  Therefore, make sure that you have your ticket, Oyster Card or bank card ready when approaching the gates.  If, for whatever reason, the gate doesn’t open, step to one side and ask the nearest attendant for assistance.  Tickets can get damaged relatively easily or your Oyster Card may need the balance topping up.

Stand on the Right of the Escalators

Most cities have rules about where you should stand on the escalators, and these often aren’t adhered to.  This isn’t true in London, however.  The left side of the escalator is only to be used by those who want to walk for speed.  If you plan to stand for the journey, you have to stand on the right.  If you’re found lounging in the ‘fast lane’ you may experience a few choice words from your fellow passengers.

Let Passengers Off the Tube Before You Get On

It’s highly frowned upon in London to push your way onto the Tube before all the other passengers have got off.  Not only is it rude, but because of how quickly the Tube moves again, you could lead some passengers to miss getting off at their stop.  If the train is really crowded and you’re concerned that you won’t be able to get on, it’s best to step back and wait for the next one to arrive.  They’re usually spaced around one to three minutes apart in central London, so you won’t have to hang around for long.

Remove Your Backpack

Space on the Tube is limited and, especially between the central London stations, you could be packed in like sardines.  If you have to stand, make sure to remove your backpack and place it between your legs.  Doing so takes up much less space and helps you avoid annoying your fellow passengers.

Tube Etiquette Bags

Avoid Eating Anything Offensive

Another important thing to note as part of Tube etiquette is that while you can eat on the Tube, if you choose to open a pack of Quavers or a garlic mayo kebab, you’re going to upset people.  The London Underground is very hot, there’s little fresh air, and it can feel stifling.  For the love of all that is holy, don’t make it any worse.  Your food can wait until you’ve ascended and are back outside.

Give Up Your Seat for Those Who Need It

Disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women; if you see any of these passengers in need of a seat, make sure you stand up and offer yours.  They might not take it, but it’s polite and an honourable thing to do.

And, while we’re on the subject of seats, whatever you do, don’t place your bag in an empty seat.  This is terrible Tube etiquette and will net you some tuts and stares.  Make sure to think about the well being of your fellow passengers – be kind and considerate – and you’ll do just fine.

Being Quiet is Good

Finally, don’t think you need to make polite conversation while on the Tube.  Most Londoners are quite content to keep themselves to themselves.  They will bring books or music onboard and generally just want to be left alone.  This isn’t so much out of unfriendliness, but rather out of respect for other people to enjoy peace and quiet.  Feel free to ask for help with directions, but don’t expect much more conversation than that.

If you’re visiting London any time, it’s likely the Tube will play a big part in your travel.  Just make sure to keep the above Tube etiquette in mind.

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