If you’ve snapped up a hotel bargain using The Piccadilly London West End loyalty program, then the next step is to plan activities for your stay in the city. Thanks to the London Underground, getting from your accommodation to where you need to be is a piece of cake! The service covers the whole of the city and provides a regular, efficient means of getting around.
Read on for our ultimate guide to this underground institution which has been keeping Londoners moving for over 150 years!
A brief history of the Underground
The London Underground was the original subterranean train system. It has been part of London since 1983, when the original line opened between what is now Paddington and Farringdon Street. The system first became known as the ‘Underground’ in 1908, and saw the arrival of the iconic roundel symbol. Before this, the Underground had earned its nickname, the ‘Tube’, back in 1890 due to the shape of the tunnels.
Throughout the early 20th century, the service expanded and continued to see upgrades such as automatic door, escalators and more electrified trains replacing the previous steam trains. During the Second World War, many of the Underground stations were used as air raid shelters.
When the Victoria line opened in 1969, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II drove the debut carriage on its maiden voyage!
Quick facts about the London Underground
The Underground is the fastest and most efficient way to get around London. The carriages travel at around 20 miles per hour beneath the streets, although some parts of the Metropolitan line reach speeds of up to 60 mph!
There are 11 Underground lines in total. The oldest lines form what is now the Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City lines. The youngest Underground service is the Jubilee, which was opened in 1979 by the Prince of Wales.
You can access complimentary Wi-Fi when in the stations and stationary on the platforms, but note that the signal drops whilst you’re travelling through the tunnels. Only 45% of the Underground is actually in tunnels!
Hours of service
Exact times of the first and last trains vary depending on the line, but most Underground lines operate between the hours of 5am until around 12.30am.
The Victoria, Central, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines operate a 24-hour service on Friday and Saturdays. This makes getting home to the Shaftesbury Hyde Park International from the theatre or late-night drinks simple and cheap!
Always check the Transport for London (TfL) website before travels at weekends, when planned closures are schedule due to track maintenance and line upgrades.
Fares and how to pay for your journey
The cost of your travel depends on how far you travel, the time of day, and what methods you use to pay. Zone 1 (Central London) carries the highest fares, and travelling through multiple zones will make your Underground journey more expensive.
The cheapest way to pay for your journey is by using either a Visitor Oyster card, regular Oyster card, or a contactless credit or debit card. You can also purchase single fare tickets and travel cards, provided as paper slips.
An adult cash fare on the London Underground for a single journey in zone 1 is £4.90. With a Visitor Oyster card, regular Oyster card or contactless payment card, the fare reduces to £2.40. Children under 11 travel for free on the Underground.
A Visitor Oyster card costs £5 to purchase and activate, and you will need to load the card with a credit amount of your choice. If you’re staying in London for up to two nights, £15 – £20 credit should suffice. If The Piccadilly London West End loyalty program has enticed you to extend your stay, top up further credit as you go.
Oyster and contactless credit card fares are a capped at a set amount, which means once you’ve reached the cap limit, any additional journeys come at no additional cost. Caps vary depending on the zone; for example, the daily cap in zone 1 is £7.20.
Stations can be easily recognised by the distinctive Underground logo, a red circle with ‘Underground’ in a blue box. To access the platform, you must tap in your Oyster card or contactless card at the entry barriers. Do not forget to tap out, even if the barriers are open. Alternatively you can purchase your ticket at the station.
How to plan your journey
TfL provide free maps to help you plan your journey. These may be picked up at any Underground station. Note that the distances are not shown to scale, and in some cases it makes more sense to walk between stations.
Visit the TfL website where you can use their journey planner to look up route options. The free app Citymapper is a handy resource for planning your way around the city whilst on the go. You can save the Shaftesbury Hyde Park International as your home location, and no matter how far you travel, the app will be able to provide you the fastest route home on the Underground.
If you are arriving into London by plane, you can ride the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to central London. City Airport arrivals may board the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and connect to the Underground at Bank station.
Tips for using the Underground
When tapping into a station, keep your cards separate to avoid card clash. Card clash happens when the sensor detects two possible means of payment, and can result in you paying two maximum fares twice.
Avoid travelling during the peak hours of 7.30 – 9.30am and 5pm – 6pm. Fares peak and the lines are are incredibly busy with commuter passengers.
Always stand on the right hand side of the escalator, and walk on the right side in the station.
Mind the gap between the train and the platform, and stand behind the yellow line for safety until the carriage comes to a halt.
During summer, the Underground gets incredibly hot so always carry water.