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A definitive ranking of London’s Underground lines, by a self-proclaimed tube nerd

Are you even a Londoner if you don’t defend your favourite line with a passion?


Maybe you’ve just moved to the city; maybe you’ve already lived here a few years. Whether you pay much attention to the world’s oldest subway system or not, it cannot be denied that the tube is essential to every aspect of living in London. Using a very serious and unbiased scoring system, I’m here to advise you on which lines to avoid at all costs, which are tolerable even when you’re sober, and which are fabulous enough to live on.

Each line is put to the test in four categories, each worth a maximum of five points, which dictate the overall score:

1. Overall sensory experience: Are the trains a pleasant temperature? Do they make so much noise it’s impossible to have a conversation? Is it a line frequently packed with sweaty commuters at rush hour?

2. Speed: How fast do the trains go? Frequency also plays a part here.

3. Route: What does the line offer to Londoners? Higher scores might indicate popular central stations, a unique commuter route, or way to an airport.

4. Personality: Riding a unique and interesting line is usually more enjoyable than a bland one.

Plus: Extra points are awarded if it serves a station closest to a King’s campus.

14. Hammersmith & City: 2/5

Overall sensory experience: 4/5
Speed: 2/5
Route: 1/5
Personality: 1/5

If you ask someone to name as many tube lines as they can, chances are they’ll forget Hammersmith & City. With air-conditioned, spacious trains, travelling on H&C is quite nice. But that’s it. After the Circle line was extended down to Hammersmith in 2009, H&C became devoid of any unique stations. But because of its lack of originality, it’s rarely busy—so one to keep in mind if you just want to spend a relaxing, quiet afternoon riding the tube.

13. Central: 2.15/5

Overall sensory experience: 1.5/5
Speed: 4/5
Route: 2/5
Personality: 1/5
[KCL campus station: VWB, +0.05]

Overall sensory experience: 1.5/5
Speed: 4/5
Route: 2/5
Personality: 1/5
[KCL campus station: VWB, +0.05]

Overall sensory experience: 2.5/5
Speed: 4/5
Route: 1.5/5
Personality: 1/5

There’s not really much to Waterloo & City. All it does is shuttle back and forth between Waterloo and Bank every three minutes to keep the southern commuters happy. For this reason it certainly earns some points for speed, achieving its 1.47 mile journey in under four minutes. But if you’re reading The King’s Tab you’re probably not working a 9-5 in the finance district, so it takes the disappointing 12th spot.

11. Victoria: 2.5/5

Overall sensory experience: 1/5
Speed: 4/5
Route: 3/5
Personality: 2/5

Stepping onto a Victoria line train is like putting your head in an oven: Hot and stuffy, and sucks the life out of you. It’s a favourite for many due to its north-to-south route, speed, and frequency, but it makes me feel a bit sick. It’s a sensory nightmare. Not only is it constantly a temperature I never wish to endure, but it screeches so loudly I’m genuinely worried I might leave the train having developed tinnitus. I can’t blame Queen Elizabeth for never taking the tube again after riding the Victoria line in 1969.

10. Northern: 2.6/5

Overall sensory experience: 1/5
Speed: 3.5/5
Route: 4/5
Personality: 2/5

I’d love to take a look inside the mind of the idiot that designed the Northern line. Sure, it hits a bunch of important stations, but will you ever find your way to any of them? Probably not. Only trees should have this many branches, and I tend to avoid Northern at all costs because I know I’m going to take the wrong one, and then spend half an hour walking up and down grimy tunnels to find the right one. I suppose there’s comfort in knowing I’ll always have the resident Northern line rats to keep me company if I’m never able to find my way back up to the surface.

9. Circle: 2.85/5

Overall sensory experience: 4/5
Speed: 1.5/5
Route: 1.5/5
Personality: 4/5
[KCL campus station: Strand, +0.05]

The Circle is a bit of a rebel, defying the usual way tube lines are just… well, long lines. It even defies itself, as its route hasn’t been a circle since 2009. Unfortunately, its lack of unique stations makes it a bit useless; one too many times I’ve hopped on a Circle train thinking it’s District. At least it’s solidified its place in tube history: In 2008, the day before TfL enforced the drinking ban, thousands attended a drinking party on the Circle line that resulted in 17 people being arrested. Sounds like a solid night out.

8. Bakerloo: 3/5

Overall sensory experience: 3/5
Speed: 2/5
Route: 2/5
Personality: 5/5

Riding the Bakerloo line feels like you’re on one of those primary school trips to a model Victorian town. With a teddy-bear brown colour scheme and trains from 1972 that offer cosy booths, it’s very charming. But with some of the slowest trains on the network and a route unchanged since the 1930s, riding the Bakerloo is certainly more of an experience than a convenient mode of transport. It’s quite sad, really, the way it’s been abandoned by TfL, but it’s still useful for those who enjoy whipping out a newspaper and cigar on the way home from the cotton mill.

7. Piccadilly: 3.05/5

Overall sensory experience: 3/5
Speed: 3/5
Route: 5/5
Personality: 2.5/5
[KCL campus station: VWB, +0.05]

The Piccadilly line is… fine. It doesn’t really have much personality, and it’s a bit grubby, but it’s more than bearable to travel on and the route makes up for it. If you live in North London you probably rely on Piccadilly, and as well as stopping off at important central stations like King’s Cross, Holborn and Hyde Park, it stretches all the way out to Heathrow. Dull and a bit lifeless but it does the job, just like many other things in life.

6. Overground: 3.15/5

Overall sensory experience: 3/5
Speed: 2.5/5
Route: 4/5
Personality: 3/5
[KCL campus station: Denmark Hill, +0.05]

It’s a tube, it’s a train, it’s the Overground! Or is it? The jumbled result of what is essentially six unrelated lines rolled into one, this little orange line is stuck in a perpetual personality crisis. Filling the gaps left by the Underground, it’s an essential service, but it comes at a price. In a rush for a seminar? Delayed by 15 minutes. Want to have a life on the weekend? Too bad, engineering works! If you wish hard enough, we might be back up and running on Monday.

5. Metropolitan: 3.3/5

Overall sensory experience: 4.5/5
Speed: 4.5/5
Route: 2/5
Personality: 2.5/5

A gem that is sadly overlooked. As well as being an overall sensory treat, Met trains offer opposite seats arranged in fours that, though rare on Underground trains, are useful if you don’t feel like staring at a long line of miserable faces throughout your journey. I suppose it’s a plus that the line stretches all the way out to Zone 9, but do you honestly know anybody that lives in Amersham?

4. District: 3.45/5

Overall sensory experience: 4/5
Speed: 3/5
Route: 3.5/5
Personality: 3/5
[KCL campus station: Strand, +0.05]

With 60 stations on its route—the most of any line on the network—District is a bit of a show off. As well as being decorated a pleasant green, the trains have a huge amount of aisle space, so no need to worry about accidentally tripping over somebody’s feet when you’re trying to find a seat. All-in-all, if you take the District you’re guaranteed a rather pleasant journey. Well, that’s if you don’t think about the fact it’s the only line to have transported a dead body… twice.

3. Docklands Light Railway: 3.5/5

Overall sensory experience: 4/5
Speed: 2/5
Route: 3/5
Personality: 5/5

Why go to Thorpe Park when the DLR is right on your doorstep? Even if you’re unlucky and unable to grab the “driver” seat at the front, you can still enjoy the modern sights of the docklands from the comfort of a bright and colourful train. It feels more like a tin of sardines during rush hour, but that’s to be expected for a service that was literally built for finance district commuters. Not a line you’re all that likely to frequent unless you’re wealthy enough to live in the docklands, but if you’re a Bakerloo hater, you’re almost guaranteed to love the DLR.

2. Jubilee: 3.65/5

Overall sensory experience: 3.5/5
Speed: 4.5/5
Route: 4/5
Personality: 2.5/5
[KCL campus station: Guy’s, +0.05]

As the only line that interchanges with every other, Jubilee is incredibly convenient to travel on if you need to take a more complex journey. And thanks to its light grey colour scheme and air conditioned carriages, it feels airy and spacious despite minimal aisle space. Its downfall is the noise: It can be so suddenly loud at times that I’m not surprised I’ve never seen anyone with a baby on it, even wearing those giant ear mufflers.

1. Elizabeth: 4.3/5

Overall sensory experience: 5/5
Speed: 5/5
Route: 3/5
Personality: 4/5

In my heart the Lizzie line will forever have the top spot, and clearly the numbers agree. No, its route isn’t particularly practical if you’re travelling within London’s central zones. But everything else about it is so fabulous that I find it hard to care. The air conditioning is delicious. It’s a beautiful purple with a fun little pattern. It’s so quiet and smooth that if you close your eyes, it’s practically impossible to know whether the train is moving or not. To be fair, this is the least you would expect for a project that took 35 years to plan and blew billions over budget. But all is forgiven! My genuine biggest regret in life is not picking up a limited edition Elizabeth Line oyster card or pair of socks—what other tube line do you know that has merch? Lizzie Line forever!

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