Why this New Yorker loves the London Underground (and Tube gifts)

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The London Underground, London Buses, Black Cabs– you really can’t go wrong with any of London’s transport options.

But the Tube is my favorite. As a New Yorker, I should be bragging that the New York city subway runs all night and costs next to nothing, but my heart lies with the London Tube.

Why this New Yorker Loves the London Underground

London underground sign london tube sign1.  The London Underground is visible. Is there a tube nearby? No need to consult a stranger or an app. Just take a quick look to the left or to the right– like a beacon alerting you to save that cab fare, the tube’s iconic rondel design is visible from several blocks away.

Marble arch station sign london2.  The London Underground’s stations and lines are given real names. It always gives me a secret thrill to hop on the royal sounding “Jubilee” or “Victoria” lines instead of on the more mundanely named  4/5 line. And who wouldn’t prefer to get off at the grand sounding Marble Arch Station instead of the ho-hum 59th Street? Love the names as much as I do? Try learning this song from comedian and musician Jay Foreman:

Video by Jay Foreman, used with permission. Click here to see Jay’s YouTube feed.

3.  The London Underground is (mostly) quiet. That goes for both the trains themselves (far less screeching) and for the overall din of the crowds. And I never have to worry about an impromptu “performance” on a train involving someone performing back flips mere centimeters from my face.

london underground passage way london tube4.  The London Underground has wide, clean passageways. While you might encounter an occasional busker, it’s unlikely you’ll trespass on the home of a full-time resident.

IMG_10595.  The London Underground’s easy to use, “slap and go” Oyster card ensures the gates open every time. If you’ve ever mis-swiped your card and slammed into a NYC turnstile you’ll know what I mean here.

DSCF35016.  The London Underground does not allow lollygagging tourists to clog its escalators. Why can you quickly run up a London escalator but not a NYC one? Because of this simple sign directing people to “stand to the right.” In the absence of said sign, non-commuters tend to take up as much space as possible by drifting to the middle of the escalator or by standing side by side, both equally annoying. Be prepared for dirty looks if you try to get by.

london underground dogs must be carried sign

Heed the sign, it says that dogs must be carried. Who am I to argue?

7.  Charmingly, the London Underground has signs requiring you to carry dogs on its escalators! I struggled to find a dog to carry so as to comply with the rules but was unable. Fortunately, I have since learned that if you can’t find a dog on short notice there is now a rental service.

London underground london tube platform8.  The London Underground’s countdown clock is awesome. I am obsessed with watching it tick down and love the ridiculous frequency of trains. Oh I missed that one? There’s another in two minutes.

9.  The London Underground’s Fluffers. Just like magical elves, an unseen cleaning crew called “fluffers” works through the night polishing the train top to bottom. I can’t help but picture this crew joyfully whistling and swirling giant feather dusters as they go about their duties.

way out London underground london tube platform

While most “way out” signs lead you to the exit, this sign in the Gloucester Road tube station seems to be confused. Photo by SunriseEspresso, used with permission.

10.  The London Underground’s “way out” signs. Have you ever been tricked by a parking garage’s “exit” sign? You follow the sign and realize you’re not really at the exit. You see another exit sign and hope for the best. Nope, not yet. You might see a dozen exit signs before you actually get out of there. The Brits have no time for this tomfoolery and rightly call the sign exactly what it is– the “way out”.

London buses lined up three in a row head to tail

You know what they say– the bus never comes then it shows up in threes.

Although the Tube is my favorite form of transport, London buses are not far behind.

Sit on the upper level and get a great tour of the city through the big picture windows.

london double decker bus night piccadilly circus

Warning: do not stand too close to the street– the buses hug the curves at lightning speeds.

While buses are fun to ride during the day and evening, avoid the notorious “night bus”.   I learned what this meant when we missed the last train and experienced the night bus ourselves– as an overly affectionate stranger stroked my friend’s hair, we started to consider other options.

red telephone box and black cab londonAlways there in a pinch, what more can I say about London’s beloved Black Cabs?

I love stepping into the spacious cab, making chit-chat with the driver, never concerned that my knowledge of the city streets might be better than his.  If I I could afford it, I’d have a black cab sitting at the ready as my personal chauffeur and never worry about driving again.

When you think of how much-loved these London transport options are, you’ll want to learn more about them at the London Transport museum. We’ll let you read about the museum in your guidebooks, or better yet, let you discover it on your own.

london transport museumAfter touring the museum, the London Transport Museum shop is a great place to bring back memories of one of the best things about London, its transport.

london transport museum gift shop souvenir moquetteMany of the items in the London Transport Museum Shop are made from moquette– you know, that heavy-duty, thick pile woolen fabric you’ll find on Tube and bus seats.  When I read this, I thought– seriously, fabric from bus seats?  But when you see the items in person and realize that moquette design has a long history behind it, you’ll understand why it is loved by visitors and locals alike.

The fabrics are still woven in Yorkshire, using traditional techniques that are required to match exacting standards. What can you buy made out of moquette?

london transport museum gift shop souvenir moquette wash bag toiletry bag

Moquette wash bag. £59.

london transport museum gift shop souvenir moquette ipad case

Moquette Ipad covers, £45-60

London Transport museum shop gifts door stop

Unique moquette doorstops (for those traveling home by car only). £22

london transport museum gift shop souvenir moquette pillows

Cushions can upholstered in your custom choice of moquette fabric, £45.

london transport museum gift shop souvenir moquette pillows and doormat

And other fun items like these moquette bolster cushions.

If you are looking for something softer than moquette but still crave the iconic tube and moquette designs, these scarves, made in local mills,  are a great option. london transport museum gift shop souvenir books

london transport museum gift shop souvenir book

The book selection is not to be missed, I came home with a book about the history of station names and this book of Black Cab Wisdom.

london transport museum gift shop souvenir luggage racksThe London Transport Museum has rescued a few original 1960s luggage racks from decommissioned trains. I can see these racks working perfectly in my hallway to toss my bags and hats on when I come in. If you aren’t already at your carry on limit, one of the racks could fit in the overhead compartment.  Prices start at £75.

london transport museum gift shop souvenir mind the gap

Who doesn’t love hearing the stationmaster call, “Mind the gap.” You’ll find all sorts of items emblazoned with this classic British phrase.

london transport museum shop chair anthony

This chair was specially commissioned by the London Transport Museum for the 150-year anniversary of the Underground.

Finally, if you have £4000 to spare, consider snapping up this fabulous Anthony Hartley chair, combining the colors of the tube lines with the eccentricity of British design– yes, they’ll ship.  The rest of us can just gawk and admire it.

What do you love about the Tube, London buses and black cabs?  Have you ever bought transport related souvenirs?  Share in the comments below!

Want to read more London posts?  Start here:
Fashion Forward Brits Declare Love for the Onesie– Not just for Babies
Big Ben, the British Flag and a Telephone Box:  Why we love British Kitsch
I got it at Primani, dahling.  Why frugal tourists love London’s Primark.

A walk through the Harry Potter gift shop at Platform 9 3/4, London

London Transport Museum shop souvenir shopping details:
London Transport Museum Shop
Covent Garden Piazza
LondonWC2E 7BB
Sunday – Tuesday 10.00 – 18.30
Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 10.00 – 19.00
Friday 11.00 – 19.00

Special thanks to my TA friends, Original_Bobelinks, Bluebreezer54, parklandwalk, Wansteader, LauraRW, FlannerUK and SunriseEspresso! And to everyone else who participated in way out v. exit discussion.

Photo credits:
All photos by Souvenir Finder copyright 2013 except creative commons photo and photo used with permission as follows:
#9 Dogs must be carried / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0#11  Photo by SunriseEspresso, all rights reserved, used with permission.

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16 Responses to Why this New Yorker loves the London Underground (and Tube gifts)

  1. fingknitcoolgal 11/15/2013 at 2:33 pm #

    I am so glad that you like London Transport! Even though the rush hour is hard to love, I find them, especially the tube, indispensable for my daily life. Wow, London Transport Museum’s gift shop is great!! Even though I live in the city, I’ve never been to the museum. I must go and check it out. Thank you for reminding me (^0^)

  2. Kristin Francis 11/15/2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Rush hour on any train is a pain, no doubt. But you can’t imagine what a difference order and cleanliness make until you ride a grubby train every day. I got a tip about this gift shop or would have skipped it– it’s fun to browse even if you don’t buy anything. And conveniently located near lauduree.

  3. Sandra 11/15/2013 at 11:31 pm #

    Love your blog. Miss London. Moved here from England in 1995 and most of the time love it here, bit love love London. Your ar right. The rush hour is a grimy mess.

    • Kristin Francis 11/16/2013 at 9:06 am #

      Aww thanks so much for the compliment! As a new blogger these bits keep me going! I feel like London is a village compared to NYC– there is much I love about NYC too but I love taking a break from it for sure.

  4. Tripping Blonde 11/16/2013 at 8:29 pm #

    I love the names of the stations. I always see tons of pictures of people standing in front of their favorite station sign.. My favorite of course is Baker Station because I love to bake,..simple as that! The first time I rode the London Underground, I could not believe how deep some of the stations were,

    • Kristin Francis 11/16/2013 at 9:38 pm #

      I can see you with a photo in front of Baker station with your chef hat! Can’t wait to check out the Stockholm stations on our next trip!

  5. 11/18/2013 at 6:40 am #

    Fabulous post Kristin. I rode the London tube, buses and cabs for 3 years while I worked there … and loved them all. On the weekends it was fun to watch “future cabbies” ride around town on their scooters “doing The Knowledge.” You found some fascinating souvenirs – who knew that moquette was so versatile! 🙂 ~Terri

    • Kristin Francis 11/18/2013 at 5:56 pm #

      Thanks so much for the compliment Terri– that means a lot coming from you guys, my favorite storytellers! Oh to live in London for a few years– every weekend a different country! I saw the documentary about learning the knowledge and the scooters– how entertaining to see it all happen. : )

  6. Lindsay @ Frugal Frolicker 07/31/2014 at 10:33 pm #

    I love this! And I agree with every point – the Tube is fantastic. My only gripe is that it’s kind of expensive, especially in comparison to the NYC subway. But then again, look at all the ways The Tube kicks the NYC subway’s ass – it’s probably worth it to have clean, reliable trains!

  7. Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds 07/31/2014 at 11:41 pm #

    The London tube is one of the best I’ve been on, you’re completely right. The only thing is that whenever I go to London, I feel like I spend more time underground than above, since the city is so damn huge. (Glad the tube is so clean though, if I have to be spending so much time in it!)

  8. Susan Schwartz 08/01/2014 at 3:44 am #

    I’m with you. After living in NY and now in London, I love everything about the tube EXCEPT how far down it is. You just can’t rush – which actually is a great thing. No express trains either! Love the dogs need to be carried sign – do you remember where that was???

  9. culturalxplorer 08/01/2014 at 1:23 pm #

    You certainly make a good argument for the Tube. It is convenient and extensive however it was too small for me. I really did like the black cabs though, so spacious!

  10. Anne 08/01/2014 at 1:41 pm #

    I LOVE London and the tube is no exception! Such a great post – reminds me how badly I want to plan another visit 🙂

  11. Mindi @ 2foodtrippers 08/03/2014 at 6:25 pm #

    The tube is awesome, especially right after the pubs close. After reading this, I now need something that says “mind the gap”. Love that phrase.

  12. Nick Huggins (@NicksTravelBug) 08/05/2014 at 12:04 pm #

    The Tube is so much cleaner than the subway in New York. Plus, the cushy seats are a lot more comfortable.

    • Kristin Francis 08/08/2014 at 12:09 am #

      Ah I forgot to mention the cushy seats you are totally right!

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