When visiting London, one of the most important sights to see has nothing to do with London’s rich history or unique architecture. In fact, it is not a single sight; it is an unparalleled network of interconnected stations that transports thousands of busy Londoners every day. It is the London subway system, affectionately known as “the Underground.” The Underground has served as a reliable source of transport for London residents for over 150 years, so perhaps it’s rather historical after all!
Historical and Modern Uses
During the London Blitz of 1940, the Underground served as a shield from German bombs. During air raids, Londoners found that taking refuge in the underground stations protected them from the bombs and falling debris that accompanied the attacks. Thanks to the London Underground, many lives were saved and British resistance and morale were strengthened.
Today, the London Underground consists of 11 lines and more than 270 stations from London into parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. The famous Oyster Card was introduced in 2003, and in the 2011/2012 fiscal year, the Underground was found to have carried over 1 billion passengers.
The 11 lines, including Bakerloo (serving Elephant & Castle to Harrow & Wealdstone), Central (Ealing to the M25 motorway), Circle (Hammersmith to Edgware Road), District (Upminster to Ealing Broadway, Wimbledon and Richmond), Hammersmith & City (Hammersmith and Barking), Jubilee (Charing Cross to Stratford Station), Metropolitan (Aldgate to Buckinghamshire), Northern (Mill Hall to Morden), Piccadilly (Cockfosters to Northfields), Victoria (Brixton to Walthamstow Central) and Waterloo & City (Waterloo to Bank), operate under the authority of Transport for London. The longest line is the Central line, covering 74 kilometers (or approximately 46 miles) of rail and serving 49 stations. The shortest is the Waterloo and City line, which only serves two stations and is only two kilometers in length.
Individual tickets cost anywhere from 1.80 to 12.20 pounds, depending on the distance, and passes are available. The official figures provided by Transit for London, the governing body that oversees the London Underground, report that the Underground is a very prompt system. This differentiates the system from most other transit systems in the world in terms of punctuality. Travelers, however, beg to differ with the numbers. A BBC consumer report from 2011 showed that many riders noticed a discrepancy between the official punctuality report and what they were seeing in the Underground during a renovation, arguing that Transit for London factored days on which the system was not operating into the report, thus skewing the results. Taking this into account, when traveling on the London Underground, it is important to remember to leave plenty of time to allow for delays on the train.
Some additional tips: consider getting a Travelcard or Oyster card for using the Underground. Paying by cash each time can add up quickly. If it’s a warm day, dress in clothing you can shed; the Underground can get very hot! Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Most Londoners are friendly and proud to help out a tourist!
When planning your trip to London, allow for some time to get to know the Underground. Not only is it an essential part of London’s history, but you will almost surely need it to get to your destinations within the city.