The London Underground “The Tube” (London, England)

With a logo so famous that it’s seen on t-shirts and bags from Seattle to Shanghai, the London Underground is more than just public transit system.  Nicknamed “The Tube”, The Underground connects almost all parts of the city, makes travel quick and easy, and is a must-see attraction for tourists anytime they are in London.

Detail of London Underground Sign

The first underground railway system in the world was the Metropolitan Railway which opened in 1863, and that became what is now known as only a portion of this public transportation.  The rail network consists of 11 lines and helps more than 4.8 million daily passengers get to wherever they are going providing they are not interested in the underserved southern parts of Greater Metro London.  With 270 stations and more than 250 miles of track, the Underground is surprisingly only the 11th busiest metro system in the world.  While the first tracks were just under the street level and gave the Underground its catchy name, only 45% of the system is actually in underground tunnels.

The first tube lines that were constructed were privately owned and operated by a small group of companies but were brought together un the early 1900s.  The London Underground is now operated bu London Underground Limited which is a subsidiary of Transport for London.  Since 2015 92% of the operating costs were covered by passenger fares which is a rather high amount for a major metropolitan public transport system.

London Tube Map

The London Passenger Transport Board which as it might be guessed controlled London Transport always had an eye for the arts and design, and commissioned many of the new stations in a modernist style that we now consider to be indicative of the 1930’s.  The tube map that is considered to be one of the best designed in the world was created by Harry Beck in 1931 and has gone on to inspire an entire genre of public transport maps.  The map of the London Underground is almost as recognizable as the logo for the stations and can also be seen printed on anything that can be improved by printing, and it was voted a national design icon in 2006.

London Underground Facts

  • Including station stops, the average speed on the Underground is 20.5 Miles per hour.
  • The journey between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stops on the Piccadilly Line only takes about 20 seconds and is the shortest distance between two stations (260 meters).
  • Although it’s called The Underground, only 45% is actually underground.
  • The Underground name was first used on stations in 1908.
  • 1.265 billion people used the Underground to travel at least one stop in 2013/14.
  • The total length of the London Underground network is 250 miles.
  • The first escalator on the Underground was installed at Earl’s Court in 1911.
  • The phrase “Mind the gap” dates back to 1968.
  • During the Second World War, part of the Piccadilly line was closed and British Museum treasures were stored in the empty spaces.

Travel Tips

  • The London Underground is a transit system first and foremost, so just buy a ticket and take it where you need to go. There are some things to keep in mind though.
  • Covent Garden is believed to be haunted by the ghost of William Terris who met an untimely death near the station in 1897.
  • The London Underground is the third busiest metro system in Europe, after Moscow and Paris. Prepare for minor delays.
  • Keep right on the escalator. This applies to all of London and not just the Underground.
  • Avoid rush hour if possible. Just like any city with millions of people, London Underground gets busy in the morning and evening when commuters are going to or coming from work.
  • If you miss the train, or go one to many stops don’t worry. It’s a train and there will be another going the same direction at some point.
  • Check line closures before you travel if possible.
  • If you hate crowds move to the end of the platform and you will most likely find a carriage with fewer people.