Whether you’re a UK resident who rarely ventures into London’s streets, or are exploring the UK for the first time, one simple factor of your trip may well trip you up – the London underground. Famed for its fast city links, uniquely mechanical smell, and heaving peak time platforms, the underground has been a highlight of London travel since as far back as 1863. Yet, despite its rich history, the underground’s spaghetti maps and sprawling tunnels can feel like a brand new language for London newbies.

If you aren’t careful, taking the wrong trains could eat up significant portions of your stay, especially if you intend a quick weekend city break. But, fear not – getting the underground right is surprisingly easy once you know how. Just buckle up and read on for the best top tips on how you can easily traverse London’s famed, historical travel system.

Tip 1: Always plan your route

For London locals with a strong grasp of the city’s geography, the coloured spaghetti strands of London Underground maps couldn’t be easier to navigate. For the rest of us, these maps look more like some kind of abstract art. And, abstract art isn’t exactly going to help when you’re rushing to catch your next train but haven’t a clue what section you’re supposed to be in. So do yourself a favour and plan your route.

Simply visiting the TfL website can be a great help for this, allowing you to take time over which underground line your station falls on. Equally, there are now some great apps for helping you plan your journey, including the Citymapper app, which can help with everything from your underground route to any connecting buses or taxis. All of which will save you from struggling in the crowd as you try to navigate impossible maps on the day.

Tip 2: Lighten your load as much as possible

The London Underground gets BUSY, especially during peak hours of around 6.30-9.00 and 16.00-19.00 on weekdays (which are best avoided altogether if you can help it!). Finding space for just yourself on a train can be tricky, let alone carrying luggage, shopping bags, or whatever else. It’s also worth noting that the underground is a real hotspot for pickpockets, who will be able to operate easily if you’re carrying a big load. So, lighten up as much as possible.

Body bags are great for this as they allow you to sleekly carry your valuables underneath your clothing. Equally, if you’re not able to check into your hotel right away, you can save yourself a load of hassle by looking at popular secure luggage drop-offs around the city, like the luggage storage in Victoria Station. That way, you can easily hop onto a busy train without worrying about things like theft, luggage loss, or just generally having nowhere to put your bags.

Tip 3: Make sure the tube is quickest

It’s also worth noting that the tube isn’t always the quickest option. Yes, really! Okay, a lot of the time the tube will be best, especially if you’re unsure where you’re going or are heading out of the central stations. However, if you’re sticking to central London, it’s often worth considering walking if your location is ten minutes or less away. This is especially true during peak times when you risk having to wait for the next train after waiting in line at the ticket barriers anyway. Even better, inner-city locations are pretty well signposted to stop you from getting lost. Failing that, there’s always Google Maps!

Tip 4: Consider your payment options

Payment options can feel like another daunting element of the underground, but they’re well worth considering in advance. Oyster cards are perhaps the most popular option for underground travel across two or more days and, for an upfront fee of £7, they allow you to enjoy quick ticket purchases, underground discounts, and a daily cap, after which your travel is free. It’s also possible to buy a daily underground pass, which is available in both off-peak and peak-time packages, and cover your whole-day travel. And, of course, you can always just buy individual single or return tickets, which may work out cheaper if you’re only intending to hit up a few London locations.

London’s travel links are one of its undeniable strong points, but they can also feel daunting if you aren’t a regular in the city. Get the upper hand on the underground with these tips next time you take a trip to the UK’s Big Smoke.