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
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:
- 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