How to get around using the London Underground and Railway Trains

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On our trip to the Greater London area in Ocbober 2016, we needed to figure out how to get from the Country in Great Missenden, where we were staying, to Central London. What was the London Underground? How did we get there? Did we need a Travelcard or an Oyster Card? HELP!

It can seem daunting, trying to figure out how to use the train system and London Underground much less buses and taxi’s right?

I mean, in Seattle, we don’t really have anything like the London Underground. We only have had light rail for a couple of years and there really isn’t anything like it though. We have been to NYC before so we did have a little experience using the Subways so that prepared us a little bit for the London Underground but not the Trains or how to pay for it all.

Here’s what we did:

We had purchased a Friends and Family Railcard from Virgin Train lines at the Manchester Train Station the month prior. It cost us £30 to purchase. You MUST have it with you when you travel on the trains just in case anyone ever asks to see it. No one ever asked for ours, even when booking travel at various stations in person using the pass. I think the honor system is alive and well in this regard.

There are a LOT of different rail passes you can purchase depending on your personal situation and you can use up to 3 of them on one trip to get the lowest rate possible. Check out National Railway online or call them for advice or help with any trip you are planning whether across the UK or just from one town to another. They are super helpful.

Now, you don’t need any rail passes to travel by train. You can just purchase tickets as you go but for us, with traveling all over the UK for 2 months, it was a wise investment. We can use it for up to 1yr.

I also downloaded the App from Trainline to see schedules and keep track of our bookings HOWEVER, I preferred to Book on their Desktop version as it had more options. Whatever I didn’t book in person, we booked online with Trainline.

When you book a trip, all of your London Underground and other above ground trains are included in your trip at the time ranges specified.

As an example, when we booked our trip by train from Edinburgh Scotland to Great Missenden, the trip and each ticket, included the appropriate TUBE (London Underground) trains as well as the cross country train into Kings Cross Station (think Harry Potter) and then the tram from London to Great Missenden. We didn’t realize this though when we initially purchased the tickets and having no prior experience nor help online (and believe me I searched) we didn’t know our tickets worked on each leg of our trip until we found an agent to help us (which are few and far between BTW)

For us, we had to go from Great Missenden to Central London more times than I can remember – so Sam could dance.

I’d order them online in advance and then receive a Collection Code via email and on my app. When we’d arrive at the station I’d use the machine out front to enter in the code along with the card I used to pay for it. More on the prices later.

We had to take a Train from Great Missenden for about 50 minutes. It only goes to London Marylebone Station. These are above ground train/trams. No reserved seats just first come, first served. There are even quiet zones on the train if you don’t want to hear people chatting about or on their phones gabbing.

Once in Marylebone Station you make your way out to the main hall but must have your Railpass with you if you want to exit out as you need to insert them into the machines.

If you need to take more trains, subways (London Underground) or even buses, you will want to make sure that your purchased a Travelcard.

Originally, when researching pricing and how to get around, we thought we’d have to by a visitor Oyster Card or a Travelcard separate from our train purchases so we could use the Underground and buses. If we had, it would’ve been so much more expensive so DON’T DO THAT!

We always needed to have an “Open Return” as we never knew what time we’d be done in London each day so make sure to check the appropriate box

How to BOOK your Train Tickets to Get around London and all the UK:

The initial form to fill out to figure out your trip pricing and times.

See how I used the Family & Friends Railcard in there? Alex is considered an adult and as long as Sam was traveling with us we could use this Railcard for a discount. It’s supposed to save us about 1/3 off.

This is the next page where you pick out what you want/need. I circled in RED the important thigns to look for when picking out your trip.
*The Date/Time
* Off or On Peak
* Underground Symbol
* Travelcard

Once I paid, the email would come with my Code. Collecting Tickets is really easy. A little planning the day before makes travel a breeze – once you get the hang of it.

The first time I did all of this I was confused and also hopeful I did it all correctly.

Also, it’s worth the few extra dollars to get the Travelcard if you are walking around the city or need to go to a few more stops or take a bus. Many times just one of us would take Sam to dance so the cost was around £12.60 for the day Travelcard Tickets.

What the OFF PEAK DAY TRAVELCARD Option does for you is give you unlimited access to London Underground and buses around the Zones you are traveling in.  Look up the zone info online. I’m not giving you the link because I don’t want you to accidentally purchase it and you’ll get lost on the page with all the options.

One time I did try to use the machine at the Train Station to order tickets but there was no Travelcard option and it got all messed up. I had to take the tickets to the counter for help. Also, on your Trainline App there is no Travelcard Option either so PAY ATTENTION before you check out.

Every time I booked our tickets online I selected Off Peak. Now, that doesn’t mean that we always traveled off peak. What are Off Peak Train Times?

Sometimes a dance class was cancelled so we ended up heading back early which was during peak travel times.

The first time this happened I was worried that the little machines you insert your tickets into wouldn’t work and instead of showing the Green Circle it’d show the Red X. Rest assured that we were good to go and they still worked in Peak times.

It could get messy however if a Railway employee were to ask to see your ticket. Oops. There might be fines for traveling outside your allotted times.

Sometimes it was less busy on the Underground Trains and on the way home during Peak times but crazy crowded at 9pm – Off Peak.

Also, it’s good to note that the transportation system is on a tight and strict schedule. They keep to it so don’t be late. Be early. Especially during busy times because you might not get a seat if you aren’t.

We did get to one train home about 5 minutes before it left but it was too full and we couldn’t board. We had to wait 30 minutes for the next train.


We didn’t take a single one which is weird since we took lots of buses at every other city and town we stayed in and visited. That was unexpected. The Travelcards work for the buses as well FYI. Again, make sure to check the zones and research this some more because we never actually tried using our tickets on a bus.

Make the London Underground your Bitch!

The London Underground is simply their Subway System.

London Underground Map

Let’s face it, you will need to get comfortable squeezing up next to people. You may have to stand for over an hour on a train or even just try to jump out of the subway when the doors open for just 1 minute when Londoners don’t feel like being polite and moving for you. Good luck if you have any bags or luggage with you in these instances.

There are 11 Underground Train lines with 270 Stations being served. We traveled on 6 of them and all are color coded. We used the Bakerloo (Brown), Piccadilly (Blue), Victoria (Light Blue), Waterloo (Turquoise/Aqua), Northern (Black) & Jubilee (Grey). We only went on the Southern Line to get to the Airport our last day in England.

At first, this sea of colorful lines on the map is very confusing and daunting. The passages and signs seem overwhelming initially especially when you are in a large station like Kings Cross and there exits leading to many of these lines.

Then the issue is – which direction do you go in? Northbound, Southbound, East? CRAP!

In most hallways leading you to one of the lines, such as Piccadilly for example, you will see a chart at the wall. One will say Southbound with a list of stops in order from Top to Bottom. The next hallways will have a similar Chart but in Reverse and will say Northbound.

Here’s what you do to figure it out if you don’t know which direction you should head in: Read from the Top and find the stop/station you are currently at. If the stop you need to get to is BELOW the one you are at, then that is the direction you head in. If the stop you want is ABOVE yours, then that is the Wrong Direction.

We only messed up once so we were pretty pleased with ourselves.

Most people you ask aren’t as helpful as you’d hope. They just sort of say “I don’t know” and keep moving. Maybe they are tourists like you are perhaps they just don’t want to be bothered with you. Either way, you don’t need there help if you follow this advice.

Once you travel on a few lines you will feel pretty damn good about yourself.

* Do NOT go up the stairs at the Covent Garden Station. It’s about 11 Flights of stairs. There is NO Warning that this is a steep and long climb up with no other way out except for the Top. Our daughter vomited after completing this trip. The rest of us were fine but we hadn’t eaten and kind of weren’t prepared for it. The next time we were there Sam did it for fun…his thighs were sore for a bit after though because he went up fast.

* Follow the crowds. In general, if you want OUT then just sort of fall in line. For example, some stations have only one or two ways out after you hop off the subway. The signs are all above you and easy  to follow if you just breathe.

* Don’t stress about missing a London Underground Train/Subway. The next one will be there in a couple of minutes. Really, I stressed out the first few times thinking we would miss our connecting subway but I was wrong. They come like every minute or two. It’s crazy.

* Have your Ticket easily accessible when you hop off the trains/subway. There is always an attendant there who can help you if you lose it or get stuck but make sure you have it so you have an easy time.

* To INSERT your Ticket into the machine: it slides in on the Right of the stall you want to pass through just near the front top area AND it pops up in the top center of the machine. Take it before you pass through BUT, make sure you are going at a good pace because Londoners have no time or patience for being blocked up by stupid tourists. You should be walking the entire time if that makes sense.

* Getting on and off the Subways can be daunting when they are full. Push your way in. This isn’t the time to be passive. Get up in there and secure your spot. But, make sure you don’t go too deep if you are getting off at the next stop. I find that getting on is much easier than off.

* The inside and top of the subway cars show you the stops map. If you know what stop you got on at then you can see how many stops before you need to get off at. For example, If you are at Piccadilly and need to get off at Covent Gardens, you can count how many stops there are before you need to get off. Also, each stop has the name of the station along the walls and the trains all say, in an English accent, what stop is coming up so listen if you can’t read!

* On Escalators, stay to the Right so people can pass on the left. If you don’t you will be banged into. The same goes for Stairs. Follow the traffic to ensure you aren’t shoulder checked.

How to get to the Airport via Trains and the Underground

This is a more expensive situation than trying to get into London but it’s the EASIEST way, by far, to get to an airport in England. Do yourself a favor and take Trains. Really. Why wouldn’t you?

Here’s what we did:

Our family of 4 headed from Great Missenden, To London Gatwick Airport (LGW). Our plane leaving to Sri Lanka was out of London Gatwick. There were several ways to have gotten there but most were more expensive than the trains. If you had rented a car while in town then I’m sure you are dropping it off at the airport so that is perhaps easiest for you but it’s a long drive in traffic.

To figure out what time would be best to arrive at the airport I used the 3hr rule. We like to be at Security 3hrs before our flights take off due to traffic or other issues that could delay us. 

In the future, when traveling from the UK, we won’t ever arrive that early again. You NEVER can find out what gate you are supposed to go to until about 30 minutes before it’s ready to board. It’s CRAZY if you are from the states and use to much different airport experiences. I will NEVER Complain about US Airports ever again – at least in terms of early access.

Security was pretty easy for us too as long as you had all of your liquids in CLEAR Quart sized baggies. We all got stopped at security and had to open our bags… and it still only took minutes to sort it all out again.

You can see from the photo above what it cost us. Also, you can see that there are 3 different travel ways we had to go. Chiltern, Tube and the Southern line.

I had called the National Railway to verify that booking this way allowed us to take the TUBE from London Marylebone to the Southern Line. They confirmed that it did and we had a 2hr window to get to the Airport with these tickets.

Additionally, we arrived extra early to the Southern Train line and were able to hop an Express Train to Gatwick 30 minutes earlier than originally scheduled. WHEW!


The only taxi’s we took were in Great Missenden. We didn’t have a car and were deep in the country so if we wanted to get to the Train Station or go to the Grocery Store, we had to call a Taxi.

Taxi Tip: If you are taking a Taxi from any Train Station outside of London, make sure to call and book it in advance as you might have to wait, like we did, all but 1 time, for a taxi to come back after taking the pre-booked clients home first. Super fun waiting every night for 30 minutes in the cold.

All in all, traveling around and in London was a breeze – once we did it a couple of times.  I especially love the London Underground as it’s way easier than the Subway system in New York. I feel like getting around NYC will be a breeze now that we’ve done so well in London.

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!




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