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Well, nothing good is ever free, but the Tube is a pretty good bargain if you play your cards right - your Travelcards to be precise. To get on and off the tube, you need to buy a ticket, called a travelcard.
There are electronic gates as you enter and leave most stations (and large fish-and-chip eating inspectors at the ones without them) that insist that you have the correct ticket for getting on and off the system, so make sure you hold onto your tickets for your entire trip, you won´t be able to leave your destination station without it. Also, if you are on a train without a proper ticket, a roving ticket inspector may fine you ten pounds, which is not nearly as bad as the embarrassment of having the entire train know you´re a tourist. Really. Being John Major´s PR person is less embarrassing.
To find out what type of ticket you need, you need to know a quick something about zones. The London Underground (and bus system for that matter) is divided up into six Fare Zones, Zone 1 being the central city, (roughly bounded by the yellow or Circle Line), Zone 2 being the first ring around Zone 1, Zone 3 surrounding Zone 2, etc.
If you´re typical, you´ll probably be staying in Zone 2, and will need to go into Zone 1 where all the fun stuff is, so you would have to buy a ticket good for both Zones 1 and 2, (which is obviously more expensive than a single zone ticket). Fortunately, that´s the most common type of ticket.
Most ticket machines unfortunately look like something Scotty would use to beam John Major´s electrons into outer space (like ANY good Scotsman would...) but if you look closely, there´s a small blue button which says ´Zone 1 and 2 Travelcard´ which you can push and get a card that you can use all day long as long as you stay in Zones 1 and 2. Get to know this button, it´s the only one you´ll probably ever need.
If you have a Zone 1 and 2 ticket though, and want to sneak out into Zone 3 for a quick trip, you´ll have to buy an ´extension´ card, but fortunately, there´s also a ´single zone extension´ button as well. (Quick note: on some lines, you´ll want to start and end your trip at stations that are both in Zone 2, but the line makes one stop in zone 3 en route - for this trip you actually need to have a ticket that covers zone 3, but the machines at either end of the journey won´t know you were ´out of zone´, so if you want to risk seeing an inspector, and if you´re unlucky and find one, pretend you don´t speak English, and maybe he won´t charge you the ten quid. (Don´t count on it though).
Also, there are some stations which are actually in two zones - just on the line. For these, you just need a ticket for the cheapest zone of the two, whichever that would be.
For the trivia wonks, here are some famous places, and their zones:
· Parliament: Zone 1
· St. Paul´s Cathedral: Zone 1
· Piccadilly Circus: Zone 1
· Covent Garden: Zone 1
· Baker Street: Zone 1
· Camden Town: Zone 2
· Greenwich: Zone 2 & 3
· Wimbledon: Zone 3
· Wembley Stadium: Zone 4
· Heathrow: Zone 6
There WILL be a quiz.
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