11 Tube tips: how to behave on the London Underground

In the light of the London Olympics, it might be a good idea to refresh our knowledge of the rules of the Tube and so I collected a few pointers on how to behave on the London Underground if we do not want to cause Tube rage. Commuters have been dreading this since London was announced the host for the 2012 Olympics: the already crowded subway trains becoming even more crowded during the event, and not just with anyone – with tourists, their worst enemy. Their nemesis. Nemesis!
London Underground, platform

How not to cause Tube rage

Don’t worry, these tips are rather quite practical, not along the fluffy-bunny lines of “hug a commuter” – chances are you’ll be standing in their armpits anyway. Also, dont’t be offended, these are not meant to be condescending or lecturing, but having commuted through central London myself for years, I see these things happening on a daily basis, and sometimes we all need a bit of reminding of the basics. So let’s re-cap:

1) Avoid rush hour

Try to avoid rush hour if you can. It’s cheaper to travel on the London Underground during off-peak hours. Peak hours are from 6.30 to 9.30 am and 4 to 7 pm Monday to Friday.

2) Don’t linger at the barriers

Don’t just stop after going through the barriers. If you’re temporarily disoriented because you can’t see any sign and are overwhelmed by the many people, just move to the side so that others can go through the ticket barriers after you. The same goes for leaving the Tube and exiting through the barriers. If you can’t spot your exit right away, just move to the side, and ask someone – you’d be surprised how nice and helpful Londoners can be!

3) On the escalators, stand on the right, walk on the left

On the London Tube, everyone’s always on the move. There’s a constant flow of people, and they want to get from A to B fast. If you stand on the left on the escalator, you’ll know. Someone will immediately ask you to move by voicing a stressed “Excuse me!” in a not-so-amused tone. So, stand on the right, walk on the left. Simples! And here’s a rhyme for the Germans: “Links gehen, rechts stehen.” Ist doch gar nicht so schwer!

4) Don’t stop. Keep moving

Similar to rule #2, don’t stop and stand, ever, unless you’re off to the side or against a wall, particularly not when going through barriers, onto or off escalators, or where tunnels fork between tube lines or at the entrance to the platform. Just be aware of your fellow travellers – they are all moving and there are always more people arriving behind you. If you have to stop then please move to the side so you’re not in other people’s way. Londoners will thank you for that (in their minds, not verbally – no time!).

5) Let people get off the train first

This is one of the most important ones, and particularly important to note for cultures where the art of queuing is less practiced than in Britain. You will not only get evil looks but also angry prompts to move away from the door and to let people get off the train first. People will call you out!

6) Move inside the carriage

Once you let everyone off the train first, step on the train and move inside the carriage. Just like with the barriers, and when reaching the platform, don’t just stand in the doorframe, move inside the carriage so more people can come onto the train. London may not have the white-gloved “pushers” shoving people onto Tokyo subway trains, but we don’t need them either. Again, people will call you out if you just block the entrance.
London Tube, Bakerloo line train

7) Suitcase? Move to the side

If you have a suitcase, position yourself to the side. Many tube trains even have a “multi-purpose” area for suitcases, strollers, etc., and feel free to ask someone to move away from that space for you – they are very likely to oblige, because your request makes sense.

8) Don’t eat on the Tube

Also, when on a Tube train, please don’t eat. Chances are it’s quite hot and smelly anyway, and no one wants to smell food o na crowded train. Pretty please!

9) Give up your seat for others

This is just common courtesy. Please give up your seat for pregnant women, the elderly or anyone else who may need to sit down. There’s the old conundrum of identifying a pregnant woman. Sometimes it’s not that obvious, but you could also look for the “baby on board” button from Transport for London, which I’ve seen a lot of pregnant women wear.
Tube seats, London

10) Take your bag down

Please take your bag down when standing on a Tube train. This one is also a no-brainer, really. It is amazing how we become unable to sense others personal space when we wear a backpack or a large handbag, and we bump into them all the time. Make everyone’s journey more comfortable and just put it on the ground between your feet.

11) Goosfraba!

Alright, fine, here’s the motivator. 1-10 make it sound like it is a horrible experience (again, please avoid rush hour…). The Tube may be crowded but if you follow the rules on how to behave on the London Underground, you won’t have any troubles, and get from A to B relatively quickly. So stay calm and you won’t cause Tube rage. Goosfraba!

Platform on the London Tube

What’s the worst sort of behaviour that triggers your Tube rage?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  14 comments for “11 Tube tips: how to behave on the London Underground

  1. 27 July, 2012 at 08:23

    All the tips on this one could be used anywhere! Heck, they should be used everywhere – especially on escalators and trains at airports! 🙂

    I might break one of these and eat though I don’t think I’ve done it yet.

    • Christina
      28 July, 2012 at 10:35

      Sure thing – they’d save us all a lot of frustration. To be honest I couldn’t ever imagine myself eating on public transport. My appetite usually disappears considering the masses of people or what condition trains and buses are in.

  2. 27 July, 2012 at 20:48

    This is brilliant! I’m from London and I completely agree with every single one of your tips. In fact, “Let people off the train first” is the first “London rule” I tell visitors about!

    Extra thought: you actually get MORE room to yourself if you move inside the carriage (and stand where all the seats are) rather than crowd round by the doors.

    • Christina
      28 July, 2012 at 10:37

      Hey Mish, thanks for your comment. Thanks for spreading the word about letting people off the train first. And thanks for mentioning what I didn’t – you get more room if you move inside the carriage. It’s like a carrot, isn’t it? Why would you choose the stick and stand by the doors?

  3. Dman
    27 July, 2012 at 21:33

    This is the antithesis of how people from Cairo generally navigate through the city. How on earth would they behave on the Tube? I think you should approach the British Government and have them nail these guidelines directly on the walls of the station!

    • Christina
      28 July, 2012 at 10:41

      Dman, you make a good point: just like driving in other countries follows a different flow and unspoken rules that everyone in the country seems to know, but you don’t, the Tube is similar. I’d like to think that in a few other countries these things would be common-sensical though, like moving to the side, not standing in the door, etc. As for spreading the word, to be honest, I haven’t seen these pointers anywhere in a station, etc. Hence me trying to get the word out 🙂

  4. 28 July, 2012 at 00:15

    Like Jeremy said, these are great tips that could apply just about everywhere. I totally agree about how helpful Londoners can be. I can’t tell you how often I’ve asked for directions/information using the underground (after stepping to the side, of course) and been treated so nicely.

    • Christina
      28 July, 2012 at 11:26

      Glad to hear you stepped to the side, I mean, to hear that you were treated so nicely 🙂 London really is a great place, especially on a sunny day!

  5. Londoner
    28 July, 2012 at 08:40

    Pity the French didn’t win the right to hold the Olympics, we Londoners are simply sick of the wasted money and disruption caused by the games. The sooner we see the back of this whole mess the better! A farce best sums it up…

    • Christina
      28 July, 2012 at 11:33

      Thanks for the comment, Londoner. I don’t feel quite that bad about the Olympics. Yes it cost a lot of money, and there are disruptions, and to be honest I was less than enthusiastic about the whole thing as well in the beginning. And although we get all the negatives here in London as well, even worse over-crowding on public transport than usual for example, we’re right at the heart of everything cool and great that is going on too. The celebrations, the whole event, all the people from everywhere you could hang out with, and now that we have great weather I think people are embracing the event a lot more. Maybe we all need to follow rule 11 a bit more 😀

  6. 29 July, 2012 at 17:04

    Ah yes, move to the right on escalators! It’s funny that most American tourists are clueless to that rule… but they quickly catch on.

    ALSO, mind the gap! 🙂

    • Christina
      1 August, 2012 at 22:24

      Haha, sometimes it’s scary how big the gap actually is – people with short legs need to jump!

  7. Sarah
    4 August, 2012 at 13:35

    I love the “Anger Management” reference!! 🙂

    • Christina
      13 August, 2012 at 12:51

      Thanks, Sarah! That movie always cracks me up. Which is exactly what we need in London – be a bit more laid-back and relaxed.

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