Tips for the Tube: How to Navigate European Metro Systems

Underground rapid transit is both a convenient mode of transportation and an essential part of life for millions of Europeans. But unless you hail from one of the fifteen or so U.S. cities with metro lines, chances are you can count on one hand the number times you’ve used a subway. Never fear! Here are some tips for using the metro in three major European cities.

parismetro - Kelsey Dillon

London: Mind the gap! The world’s oldest subway system, the London Underground actually runs both above and below the ground. Lines are named according to the routes they service or popular stops. For example, the Bakerloo line stops at both Baker Street and Waterloo. Make sure to check the digital sign on the train for the direction it’s going before boarding.  If you will be in the city for a while, invest in an Oyster Card. These plastic cards can be charged with credit and used not only for the Underground, but also for those famous double-decker buses and other transport services. Remember to touch your card to the card reader both while entering and while exiting the tube. Out late? Check schedules and don’t miss the last train, otherwise you’ll be taking the night bus.

underground - Kelsey DillonParis: There are actually two train systems going through Paris – the Metro and the RER. The Metro services central Paris and has more stops, while the RER is a regional network for commuters that services airports and suburbs as well as a few key stops in the city center. These two systems meet at inter-city train stations, called gares. Paris is a commuter’s city and public transport gets crowded. Until you get used to the city, it’s a good idea to use the route planner at before you go. If you want to purchase RER tickets, make sure you have cash euros or a credit card with a microchip. The ticket machines do not accept non-chip cards.

Rome: This metro system is pretty simple to navigate as it only has two complete, connected lines – A and B. These lines cross one another at the main station, called Roma Termini. There is a C line in progress and a D line is the the plans as well. The abundance of culturally significant archaeological sites lying beneath the city has made expansion of the metro difficult. Because of this, expect to do a bit more walking after exiting the subway than you might do in another city.

In general, using the subway is easier if you keep right on the escalator, stay behind the yellow line, and especially: don’t panic. If you take the wrong train, you can always go back! Studying abroad is about more than just hitting the books. As we learn to find our way around a new city, we gain a sense of independence and self-sufficiency that we will carry with us even as we leave our doubts behind… Just one more step in carving out a place for ourselves in this ever-growing, ever-changing world.

Photo credits: 1.; 2. Amanda Bouldin


London Tube – Traveller Information.

RATP – Se Dêplacer.

Rome Metro Toolkit.


Kelsey Dillon is senior at the University of Kentucky studying Anthropology and French. Kelsey participated in the ISEP Exchange-Aix-Marseille Universite program in Spring 2015.