London, England is one of Europe’s most vibrant cities, with plenty of fun activities for kids of all ages. To make the most of your unforgettable visit to England’s capital, check out these 5 tips for traveling on London Transport with kids:
1. Choose the Right Ticket
There are a few options for travelling around central London including the London Underground (fondly known as the “the tube”), buses, trams, and light rail. For all of them, you can use either a paper Travelcard, or the the pay-as-you-go Oyster Card, both available at any London Underground station (tube station).
An Oyster Card is easy to use, and can be loaded up with credit at virtually any tube station. Every time you see a ticket barrier or a bus driver, just look for the yellow disc… and tap in! Each time you tap, the gates will open (or the bus driver will nod) and your card will be debited, to a maximum amount per day.
As a tourist, you have the option to pre-order a Visitors Oyster Card to be sent to your home address in advance, but to be honest, I wouldn’t bother. It’s really just as easy to buy one when you get there (and you will save money on the postage!)
2. Choose the Right Time
People who live in London walk fast…like, really fast. All 6.83 million of them…especially when they are trying to catch the tube at rush hour! It doesn’t matter if there is a train expected every 2 minutes; if Londoners see an underground train approaching, they will run for it, leap for it, dive for it – sometimes sliding through a crack in the closing door (because they know it will automatically re-open for them). Then they will squeeze into the pack of sardines, grab a discarded METRO newspaper if they can find one, and avoid eye contact with everyone for the duration of their journey.
Yes, London at rush hour certainly makes for excellent people-watching if you’re a 20-something single tourist, but if you are a family of four from Canada trying to enjoy a peaceful journey back to your hotel after a day of sightseeing, travelling during peak hours could scar you for life. And, as a nasty side-effect, you may come away with a generally negative impression of Londoners, who at other times, are actually super-friendly. So please, avoid rush hour.
3. Use the Wide Barriers
If you are travelling by Tube with suitcases, toddlers or strollers, look for the wider ticket barriers at the end of each row, labelled with a blue wheelchair symbol. These are usually manned by one or two TFL (Transport For London) workers, who will watch you tap, and then usher your family through.
4. Kids 10 and Under Travel Free
One of the great things about London is that kids 10 and under travel free on buses, trams and the tube when accompanied by an adult. London even likes large families, with up to 4 kids allowed per grown-up! If you are travelling with ticket-less kids, just head for those wider barriers I mentioned above, and your entire family can flow through the system.
If you are travelling with young children on a London bus, just tap in (or show your paper Travelcard), smile at the driver and usher your kids on, preferably to the top deck, where they will get good views. London buses are totally great.
If you are travelling with a child between the ages of 11-15, it’s slightly more complicated… but not really. You just need to request that a Young Visitor Discount be applied to your child’s Oyster card. This will give your tween/teen half price off London travel for 14 days. There is also the option of buying a child’s paper Travelcard, which some say is a better deal. At the time of writing a daily (zone 1-4) Travelcard was only £6, so they could be right.
5. Mind the Gap, and Stay Behind the Yellow Line
When you alight (i.e. get off the train), please “Mind The Gap”. You will hear this again and again during your journey through London. The main caution here is that some gaps are wider than others, and at some train stations, the gap is indeed wide enough for a child to fall through. Just remember to use caution, and be aware that each station is different.
Most importantly for safety, please show your kids the yellow line that is painted at the edge of every train platform in England. Always stay behind this line until the train is ready for boarding, and discourage kids from looking onto the tracks. The reason? At some stations, the track could be shared by a high-speed train which could come without warning and knock you off your feet.
Wherever your journey takes you in London, have a great trip..and Mind the Gap!