The underground, or ‘the Tube’ as its more commonly called by Londoners, is usually the quickest way to travel around central London.
Despite Londoners’ moans, it’s a good service considering it’s the world’s oldest underground system and carries about 28 million people a year.
There are 12 separate colour-coded lines (including the Docklands Light Railway) that run in northbound, southbound, eastbound or westbound directions.
You’re never far from an underground station in central London – they’re pretty easy to spot.
Tube maps and journey planners
Free pocket-sized tube maps are available from underground stations.
You can also download a free tube map app. The Mapway tube map is a good one.
If you can’t work out which route to take by looking at the tube map, or if you want door-to-door instruction, use Transport for London’s Journey Planner. It can plan your complete trip including buses, trains and the DLR.
A good alternative is Citymapper.
How to find the right platform
Unless you’re getting on at the end of a tube line, most underground stations have two platforms for each underground line. These will be labelled either northbound and southbound or eastbound and westbound. You need to get on the correct platform to ensure you travel in the right direction.
The direction will normally be obvious by looking at the tube map, but if it’s not — here’s what to do:
- Before going through the ticket barriers, or just after the barriers at some stations, look at the destinations list signs to find the tube station you’re travelling to.
- Your destination will be listed on a sign that gives you the direction (eastbound, westbound etc.) at the top.
- Follow the signs and check you’re on the right platform by looking at the destination list on the platform wall.
If you do travel the wrong way, don’t worry, just get off the train and change platform. You won’t pay anything unless you go through the ticket barriers and leave the station.
Some lines have different branches. For example, the westbound Piccadilly line goes to Heathrow, Rayner’s Lane or Uxbridge. Check the display on the platform to make sure you take the right train. You don’t want to end up in Rayner’s Lane if you’re catching a flight from Heathrow.
The tube does not run to a strict timetable during the day, but you won’t wait long. Most tube trains within central London run every few minutes or so.
If you want an idea of departure or arrival times, The TfL Journey Planner has a ‘leaving’ or ‘arriving’ option.
Tube first and last times
The first tube trains start running from around 5.00–5.30am. The last tube trains leave central London around 12.30am (see the Night Tube below). Most trains start at least an hour later on Sundays.
The exact start and finish times vary according to each individual underground line. Posters at tube stations give the first and last train times from that station. Alternatively, check the tube timetables on the TfL website for the exact times.
If you need to travel after the tubes have finished, take a bus. Some routes run for 24 hours. If they don’t, there are special night buses.
The Night Tube
There is now a 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays on five lines – the Central, Victoria, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines.
Some stations on these lines are not served, so do check the TfL website before travelling.
There is a morning and evening peak on the underground when the tube trains, tube stations and platforms are extremely busy. The peak times are roughly 7.45am–9.30am and 4.30pm–7.00pm Monday–Friday.
During these busy times you won’t have much room to stand and you definitely won’t find a seat, especially in central London. If you can, wait until after 9.30am before starting your journey. It’s also cheaper to travel after 9.30am during the week.
If you use the TfL Journey Planner to plan your route, it tells you the busiest times at your departure and arrival stations.
Check for delays
You can see if the underground is working normally or if there are any delays on certain lines on the status updates section of the TfL website.
Check for planned engineering work at the weekend
The underground network is being modernised. Engineering work is carried out at the weekend and sometimes whole sections of the tube are out of action.
When this happens, a replacement bus service run and underground tickets/passes/oyster cards are accepted on the bus. The replacement buses follow the route of the underground line, stopping outside each station, but it might be quicker to travel to your destination by another bus route.
Check TfL’s service update if you want to take the tube to Heathrow airport at weekend.
Last updated: 17 December 2016