Are you planning to use the London Underground as transportation for your upcoming trip? Or maybe you live in London and use the Underground often but don’t have a clue about what to do?
Let me help you.
No, I’m not a life long Londoner, but my husband is. He is not fond of the ‘Tube’, as some refer to it in town. In fact, he says he’d prefer to ride with ‘the great unwashed’ as little as possible.
His wife (me), and millions of others, however, understand it’s one of the most practical and cheapest ways to get from place to place in the world’s most expensive city.
Even though I’ve only lived in London a few years of my life, I’ve noticed some basic steps you should follow as an etiquette guide on the London Underground. In fact, when you’re an expat living in another country, you’re keen to notice the habits of locals because you want to blend in as quickly as possible.
After observing what works and what doesn’t, I have the suggestions below for a respectful, easier journey for you and those around you.
The London Underground- The World’s Your Oyster
Want to know a guaranteed ticket to making friends on the London Underground?
Have your day pass or Oyster card out before you approach the turnstiles.
Yep. You can be 100% sure that you won’t get anywhere without paying your dues. So, make sure that card or piece of paper is in your hands about 20 feet before you spin through.
Oh, and make sure it’s ‘topped up.’ There’s nothing more annoying than standing behind some wanker who can’t find his card and thinks it’s funny.
Get. Out. Of. The. Way.
The London Underground- You’re Not a Superhero
Every time someone takes a flying leap in a single bound to jump on to a train as the doors are closing, the hearts of everyone on the train drop.
Secretly, we do cheer when you make it.
However, when the doors slam on you (or your backpack) and everyone has to wait or assist in prying the doors open for you, we’re all thinking, ‘Jack Arse.’
When you hear the beeping noise of doors closing, don’t take it as your clue to rip off your glasses and prove you can probably leap small buildings in a single bound there, Clark Kent.
The London Underground- Move Over
One of the biggest expressions of poor manners on the Tube involves the most basic request from the Transport for London guidelines: Stand on the Right, Walk on the Left.
Let me explain. It’s not as simple as just being on the right. Nearly every traveller gets that part right. What you need to be mindful of is the space you take on the right.
Just because you are on the stationary side doesn’t mean you can take up 90% of the stair horizontally. It isn’t fair to the walkers or often ‘runners’ moving on the left to have to dodge around a protruding bag or suitcase.
Often when I am charging up the escalator, I take my full half of the left side, so if I
smash into brush against a person, it’s not an accident. That person needs to move over.
The London Underground- Remove Your Backpack
Peak travel times are weekdays until 9:30am and between 4-7pm. If that’s when you are taking your journey, be advised it’s rude and hideous to leave your bag strapped to your back.
When people are facing a long day at work or have had a long day, they don’t feel like having your backpack shoved in their face. Further, it takes up desperately needed space.
You should remove the back and put it near or on the top of your feet.
The London Underground- You’re Not Priority
I never sit in the Priority Seat. Those are the seats nearest to door and are marked with a sign above them.
They’re reserved for elderly, the less able and women who are pregnant. Don’t sit in a priority seat ever.
If you’re going to play games, write notes, read, or text people while you’re riding, you may miss seeing someone get on the train who truly needs the priority seat.
You might feel the cold stare of everyone on the train hoping to ‘evil eye’ you out of your seat when someone else needs it. (Most British people are far too polite to actually ask you to move). Save yourself the embarrassment of being asked, or having someone smash your foot with their walking stick, by just avoiding these seats.
The London Underground: Keep Calm and Move On
Further, be mindful of space around you in the carriage. If it’s crowded and you’re at the end of the carriage, check to make sure there isn’t empty space where you can stand in the middle.
I agree that it requires a bit more balance than leaning against the wall, but for the love of mankind, think of the people smashed together at the end of the carriage! Do you think they enjoy smelling each other’s beer breath and armpits?
The London Underground: Pick Your Seat, Not Your Nose
There probably isn’t too much I need to write here as an explanation. That heading was not a joke or cute, catchy title.
We don’t care if you put on makeup as you ride, as long as you don’t get it on us and stay within your space perimeters in a seat. In fact, if you can put on lipstick, eye liner and mascara on a moving train, you have mystified all of us.
However, keep your fingers out of your nose, girls and boys. And, please, please, please, take a bath or shower before you travel!
Stay safe and polite as you ride, Sunny friends. And always whenever you are anywhere near an Underground, Overground or National Rail Station.
I hope you found this advice valuable. If it’s too much to remember, just say ‘Sorry’ for every mistake you or other people make during your trip. Your fault, their fault, just keep saying ‘Sorry.’ It’s what they do in London.
There’s more London Underground advice on the blog, as well as a Guide to Transportation in London and resource for Americans Visiting London.
What are your tips, London friends?
Visitors, are there are additional questions I can answer for you?
Did you know as part of an online order with London Pass you can also receive an OysterCard too before you arrive or with your passes? There’s plenty of blog reviews too for attractions offered as part of this discount pass service also.
For more tips for the Tube, take two minutes to watch this too…
Love this Mel! So many gripes of bad behaviour on the tube..!
I like seeing it spelled out. Most (all?) of this is common sense. Sadly, that’s generally lacking. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and these guidelines could apply to our transportation system (BART) too. Just use your brains and your manners, people.
My observation while in London for the first time last May is that NOBODY stands on escalators. Everyone walks or practically JOGS up or down them. Be prepared to get out of their way! 🙂 This is one fast walking city. I always considered myself somewhat of a “fast walker”…well at least as compared to the rest of my family…notsomuch in London! I loved using the Tube to get around. Very efficient.
Sunny London says
Thank you for reading, Julie. That’s an interesting observation. I always felt people in NYC would be like that. But, I haven’t spent enough time there to assess subway habits. Bottom line in London then is- get out of the way! Haha!
My tip – and probably my biggest bug-bear – if you are getting ON to the train, WAIT for people who are trying to get off. Don’t push and shove or think the train will leave without you – if by any chance it does, there will be another soon. And, the driver can see you are waiting to get on. Those people who are already on the train but are trying to get off are not in view of the driver – so if you shove your way on without waiting for them they can get stuck!
Sunny London says
Thank you for commenting! It does seem like basic manners too. Glad you agree that people need to follow the simple courtesies! Hope all is well with you and I see you at an event soon 🙂 Thank you for adding another important guideline.
The Purley Girly says
This post is brilliant! There is a special place in hell reserved for the people who don’t take off their backpacks!!
Sunny London says
Hahahaha! Oh yes! I’m so glad someone agrees. I smashed in to one today as I was trying to squeeze my way on to a fm crowded train. Tragic!
Kelly Prince-Wright says
If only everyone on my morning commute could read these!!
Suzanne (PhilaTravelGirl) says
Love this! I try to explain to folks about the tube as I used to visit for work and commute each day into the city. I prepared my 11 yo niece on our trip how to get in the groove to be ready with her oyster card and how to move along or get smushed.
I do think there should be a “tourists lane” because when the groups crowd the turnstiles it doesn’t throw me off my stride. The Central line morning commute is definitely a primer – if you can survive walking down the spiral stairs at Tottenham Court Road (in heels), find an inch of space to get on the first train (and not the third one) and alight at St. Paul’s to the office still looking and smelling great with heels intact then you’ve won the day! Sadly, i now wear flats
Sunny London says
This is hysterical! I think the Victoria line is equivalent to the Central Line in the morning. There aren’t too many days I don’t wish I had a solid pair of brass knuckles to flash at people when I shove my way in to a packed train. Thank you for reading, and thanks for training your niece to survive in the big smoke 🙂
Another rule as a working Londoner from the Antipodes is don’t talk out loud and chat until at least 10am. It’s bad enough Londoners have to go to work on the Tube but having a chatty Kathy yapping full bore will tips someone over the edge one day.
Ms Maus says
Well done. I’d add two more things: please read to yourself and not aloud, and please don’t hold conversations with your travel companion so that everyone can hear
Sunny London says
Hi there! Thank you for reading and adding two GREAT tips! Never thought of those and both are super annoying to others. Cheers!