London Underground (Tube) Map

When you come to London, one of the first things you will familiarise yourself with is the map of the London Underground, also called “the tube”. Colour-coded, it is easy to navigate:

However, this map is also quite misleading as it is NOT an accurate depiction of the underground network, and even less of London. In order to be easy to read, it has been simplified to the maximum:

  • You probably would have guessed that the lines are not completely straight in reality.
  • This map is absolutely out of scale:
  • Because most people travel in the centre and because there are more stations in this part of London, the centre shows as larger than the outskirts.
  • The distances between the stations are also not to scale.
  • Some distances appear worth taking the underground, but the stations are really within walking distance (Charing Cross to Embankment or Leicester Square to Covent Garden are only a few hundred meters and a short walk away from each other; definitely faster than going down the escalator, waiting for a train and going back up the escalator).
  • What looks like the same station are often two or three parts of one station that share the same name but will take you up to 10 minutes to walk from one part of the station to the other (for example Paddington or Elephant & Castle).

This is one of the most abstract and distorted, yet also one of the most used maps in the world, demonstrating that accuracy can be an undesired feature for a map. The reality would look more like this:

My advice to visitors of London: Walk or use the bike. It’s the only way to really get to know the city, not only in its realistic geography but especially in its colourful diversity.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
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7 Responses to London Underground (Tube) Map

  1. Pingback: 5 years after 7/7 in London | Publish or Perish – Andreas Moser's Blog

  2. John Erickson says:

    The City of Chicago did a map like this for the CTA (commonly, but incorrectly known as the “El”). When it was first released, the news agencies in town said that no one could use it, because it was nowhere near geographically correct – including lengths of track that were simply omitted. Oddly enough, the maps caught on immediately, and have been expanded (but not technically corrected) since then.
    I’d like to think the success is due to Chicagoans’ intelligence and ability. I fear the real reason is that many Americans can’t find the US on a map, so what’s a few hundred yards’ error here and there? :)

  3. Michael C Hunt says:

    Amen to that Andreas. There is something odd about going ‘underground’ in London, research shows a frightening figure of time that people spend there. When I lived in Highbury and spent a lot of time in Kensington I was shocked how easy it was to cycle. It wasn’t quicker than the ‘Tube’, it was quicker than the bus – but the wonderful memories of stopping off in garden squares and eating street food, as well as watching the different regions (which fly by on a bike as they are in reality tiny islands of difference) which give one a sense of observing/belonging cannot compare to the psychological off switch you have to endure under the ground. Well said. One suggestion, put one of those ‘sticking out’ tabs on the rear wheel to avoid being ‘bussed’ – the bus drivers will leave you room if you do that. The other thing, I had 5 bikes stolen on D locks in 3 years. Then I never let it out of sight, do people use ‘Boris’s bikes?’ Being in Malaysia now I’ve not had the chance to see if they have caught on or not?

  4. Pingback: Venice by Boat | The Happy Hermit – Andreas Moser's Blog

  5. Karin Berryman says:

    Yes the Tube map isn’t to scale, correct in it’s depiction of places etc., but it works for the Tourist who’s going to have a lot harder time working out the bus routes, standing in all weather for the bus which takes forever, then comes in a convoy of buses all headed for the same destination, and who is going to have to have separate change for each bus. Discovered your blog today Andreas (my daughter just arrived London yesterday), will be pleased to keep up with you, thanks

  6. radius says:

    When we lived in London between 1993 and 1996, people used to nickname the black “Northern Line” the “Missery Line”. Mornington Crescent was permanently closed, and at Kennington or Brixton you could have been pickpocketted.
    But we used the “Missery Line” on Sunday, to visit friends in Golders Green and Edgeware Road and enjoy jewish restaurants.

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