How to find your way around London taking the tube

Everybody going to London is confronted with it: crazy traffic above ground, a maze of tube lines underground. When my dad and I go to London on our annual trip, we always use the London tube (or ‘metro’ or ‘underground’), but not without doing some research beforehand, though. My dad and I are both planners. We love to outline our trip to make sure we don’t lose too much timing finding out where we need to go next and how we can get there.

So, how to find your way around London, especially when using the tube?

how to find your way around london

How to find your way around London

Step 1: Make a list of all the places you’d like to visit/things you’d like to do/… and add priorities

I usually make a list of things I definitely want to do ( the ‘definitely’ list)and a list of things I’d like to do if there’s time left or if we’d happen to be in the neighborhood when visiting something that’s on the ‘definitely’ list (the ‘maybe’ list).

When you make your list, also look up any opening times, closing days etc. of places you want to go to. They’ll come in handy later on.

Step 2: Make a Google Maps map for your trip and add all those locations to it

When you go to Google Maps, click ‘My Places’ in the upper left corner and then click ‘Create a map’. You need a Google account to do this. Once you’ve created your map, you can give it a name and add locations and even a route to it.

So, your next move is to add all the places on both your ‘definitely’ as your ‘maybe’ list on the Google Maps map for your London trip. By doing so, you can easily see which things on your ‘to do’ list are located close to each other and which aren’t.

Also: you’ll see that Google Maps already marks where the underground stations are. Very handy, but we need a bit more than that, so…

Step 3: Print out a map with the London tube lines

You can find several maps of the London subway system on the Transport for London website. Download and print out a tube map. It shows you all the underground stations and tube lines and the connection points between them.

Okay, now you’re all ready to do the real planning

Step 4: Put all your research work together and make your planning

Now that you have everything you need, the thinking starts. That’s right, warm up those brain cells!

Write down (on paper or in a Word or other document) the days you have in London. We usually go two days, so I write something like:

‘Day 1: …’

‘Day 2: …’

If there are things on your ‘definitely’ list that need to be done on a certain day, write them down. We always go to a musical on our first day in London, so I would put ‘musical’ under ‘Day 1’.

After that you can easily get an idea of which activities you can combine on which days, taking into account opening times, closing days, location (google maps) and – we’re finally getting there – tube lines.

Step 5: Write down your itinerary!

You see, if you want to efficiently use the tube lines on your trip to London, you first need to know what you’re planning is. This way you can arrange activities so that you have to use the tube a minimum of times and don’t end up switching tube lines when there’s a direct line to your destination.

If you’ve completed the steps above, you’ll end up with a list like this:

Day 1:

  • activity 1
  • walk to activity 2
  • activity 2
  • take the tube at underground station A to underground station B
  • activity 3
  • take tube line L at underground station B to underground station C and switch there to tube line K, get off at underground station D
  • activity 4

and you’ll just have to follow that planning on your trip.
It might not be as adventurous as just showing up, but it’ll save you loads of time figuring out which tube lines you need to take.

Also, you’ll be able to calculate how many times you’ll need to take the tube. This allows you to look up beforehand which ticket formula is best for you (a day pass, single tickets, …) so that you don’t end up buying a dozen single tickets instead of a cheaper tube card, or a tube card when you only need one ride.

Oh and, however you plan to cruise the London underground, never forget: mind the gap!


Read more about London

Things to do in London
A good night’s sleep at the London Shaftesburry
The Comedy Store: a great night out in London
Can’t visit London without visiting Covent Garden
My first cup of afternoon tea
The Natural History Museum in London
Sampling food at Borough Market
Crossing the London Thames, another view on London
When  you need photos to remember a trip
Photography, art and markets in London
Not so typical London: Canary Wharf and Greenwich

Your Thoughts

    • says

      A girl I studied with has lived in London for two or three years now and although she loves the city, she hates the fact that you need public transportation to do groceries and such because getting around by car is such hell and way too expensive.
      I’m no tube expert at all, but those five steps have gotten us swiftly and without any problems to where we wanted to go each time, so I hope they’re useful for others as well.

  1. says

    Ha ha ha, You are very well organized! But really the tube system is really easy, at least for me when I lived there, I have never went a wrong direction etc But such things happened to me in NYC underground couple of times lol

    • says

      Yes, I am:) To me, planning is half of the fun:) True, the tube isn’t hard to use but if you don’t know how the stations are located relative to each other and/or at which station you’d best get of to get to where you want to get (wow, that’s three times ‘get’ – 4! – in one phrase) you risk doing detours or losing time going from north to south to north to souh to east to….

  2. says

    As much as I love travel – the public transit systems around the world scare me (most likely due to my inability to follow a map, directions or common sense!!!) Somehow, I managed to navigate through the underground world of Montreal this weekend…will have to tackle the tube in London again some time! Thanks for the tips!

    • says

      I’m sure you’ll do just fine in London! I’m not a big fan of public transportation but in a city like London you really don’t want to drive a car, especilly not on the other side or the road in my case!


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