The simple red ring and blue stripe icon of the London Underground, also known as the Tube, reflects the clean design of the railways. Different sections of London are designated by rail color; for example, the Northern Line is black, notable for Camden, while the blue Piccadilly Line accesses major London sites, like the eating mecca of Covent Garden and the theater district and nightlife of Leicester Square. The Tube is easy to navigate via the plentiful maps throughout the stations and the helpful station attendants found at the entrance of most Tube stops. They willingly answer any questions you have, and will point you in the right direction of the major attractions. Trains come every couple of minutes, and the digital marquees above the tracks are fairly accurate in alerting users of wait times.
Plan to also get around using the infamous red double-deckers of London. The cheaper option, which is key in an expensive city like London, also allows travelers to peruse the streets of London while getting to their destination. If you can ascend the steep steps to the top deck of the bus, settle in at the front for the best, unobstructed views.
Using a zonal-fare system, travel to certain areas outside central London is up-charged. If you plan to travel in London for a short period of time, ask a Tube attendant what the cheapest ticketing options will be in terms of daily or weekly passes. For those that will have an extended stay in London, get an Oyster Card that can be loaded with money to swipe at Tube gates for entrance. The card gives you a slightly discounted rate and allows for ease in and out of transportation. Once you have swiped into a terminal or paid for a ride, you do not need to pay to use the tube again until the card or ticket has been inactive for over an hour and a half. However, keep your passes out. The Tube is serious about fare evasion, and if you forget to swipe out at the end of a journey, they charge you a fee. So remember to swipe in and swipe out, or you’ll be drained of your precious pounds.
When you’re in a hurry or heading to the outer edges of town, cabs can be a reasonable option as well. The cabs operate on a private system apart from public transportation, so your passes and Oyster cards won’t work here. For safety purposes, only hop into black cabs or have an approved-cab company phone number on you at all times for when you’re in a bind. The cab driver can quote you the cost to the destination you desire, and it’s handy to know acceptable costs for certain distances (like from a main attraction to your hotel) so you know you’re not being taken advantage of. The cabbies are usually very amiable and do not expect tips. However, you should round up to the nearest whole pound amount to make it easier for them to make change.
In the country where etiquette is deeply-embedded in the culture, it is key to remain respectful of other train-users by lowering your voice and maintaining as much space as possible between travelers. You’ll notice that most people opt to read a newspaper, especially the daily less-than-revered papers of the Underground like The Sun. Pick up one for free on the morning commute to delve into the London experience.
Oh, and, don’t forget to ‘mind the gap.’