The London Underground may seem devoid of manners and friendly folk, but those who venture into this subterranean jungle are bound together by a number of unbreakable rules. Without them, this fragile ecosystem of hungry, stressed and sleepy travelers would fall apart. I’ve put together a list of eight top tips to help you navigate the world’s oldest underground railway without making a fool of yourself (and coming across as a true Londoner in the process).
1. Do your research
The Underground is HUUUUUUUGE! Nearly five million passengers use the 11 lines and 270 stops every single day, so it’s important to plan ahead to avoid being overwhelmed when you arrive at your first Underground station. Swot up on the multicolored lines, know the quickest routes and be sure to download the Citymapper app, which holds all the answers to your transport queries.
2. Have your Oyster card/ticket ready for the barrier
Be prepared for some world-class side-eye if you’re the person who holds up the queue at the ticket barrier. Make sure you have your ticket, contactless card or Oyster card ready to swipe or insert. You also want to be sure your ticket is valid or has enough credit on it; nobody wants to barge their way through a tutting crowd to buy a new ticket.
3. Follow the escalator rules
Nothing annoys people on the Underground more than commuters who stand on the left of escalators: The right is for travelers standing still while the left is used by those in a hurry. Don’t be surprised if someone tells you – in no uncertain terms – to move out of the way if you’re stationary on the left-hand side.
4. Let passengers get off before getting on
Respect the ecosystem – it’s fragile! Never try and barge your way past travelers who are still waiting to leave the Tube. They have priority over you, and it’s important that enough space is left for them to weave their way out of the doorway. After everyone is off, you can file onto the train, making sure to move down the carriage. When you leave, make sure to keep moving until you’ve passed the crowd; nothing causes a traffic jam quite like a passenger who stands still to check their phone or rummage through their backpack.
5. Give up your chair for an elderly or pregnant person
Chairs are like gold dust on the Underground, and if you’re lucky enough to nab a place to sit, cherish it! However, it’s common courtesy to give your seat – especially a priority seat – to an elderly or pregnant traveler. Transport for London (TfL) launched Baby on Board badges to help moms-to-be navigate the Underground – and help you both avoid awkward small talk.
6. Keep to yourself
London is a bubbly blend of cultures that welcomes anyone and everyone, yet its inhabitants change when they descend underground. Gone are the pleasantries as everyone has only one goal: to get from A to B with as little fuss as possible. Nobody is there to make friends or chit chat with fellow commuters.
7. Respect the personal space
Personal space is at a premium on the Tube – especially during rush hour – and there are a few carriage rules you’ll have to observe when squashed against your fellow commuters. For starters, don’t try and read people’s text messages (unless they’re really interesting, of course!), never ever take messy and/or smelly food underground (no matter how delicious it is), and don’t be the person who plays music out loud (even if it’s an absolute banger).
8. Wait for the doors to open before making your move
On a packed Tube, you might be nervous about getting out of the door at your stop. However, it’s important not to wiggle your way to the door while the train is still moving. Instead, wait until the Tube arrives at your stop. Chances are you won’t be the only person who wants to get off at your stop.