Plane (Emirates Airline),Train (Tube) & Automobile (Bus) lets Go
When I read mother_pukka’s Insta post about a new feature on free stuff to do with kids in London, #pukkafreestuff, I was surprised at the number of comments / replies from mums who said they were worried about travelling around London with kids on public transport.
Our grandsons are now old enough that we don’t have to worry about buggies anymore, so I hadn’t really thought about it much recently.
Although I don’t live in London I do know a bit about how public transport works in London as I’ve recently retired from Transport for London (TfL) after working for them for 24 years. I was Chief Planning & Reporting Accountant therefore I wasn’t actually on the front line, but all TfL senior managers must do a few days “front line” experience so I have experienced life at the sharp end; and believe me commuters have very sharp elbows. I was also lucky enough to spend the entire 2012 Games (Olympics) as a volunteer travel ambassador which was great fun; but I digress.
Back to getting around London with kids, TfL has some great online resources to help negotiate your way around the public transport system in London but if you don’t live in London you might not actually know about them. Here are a few hints and tips from me which I hope will point you in the right direction and help you plan a slightly less stressful time on London’s public transport.
You’ll see that I’ve including Walking in my quick overview as it can be a great way to get around London; and don’t forget the River Services and Emirates Airline (cable car) when planning your journey.
I haven’t included Cycling as you’re unlikely to want to do that with small children but if you’re child free for the day check out the TfL Cycling pages
Planning your Journey – when you want to know the best way to get from A to B start with the TfL Journey Planner as it gives you options for all the different modes of travel and you can specify if you want your journey to be totally step free or just escalators and not stairs, or just happy to negotiate the stairs.
Unless you really, really must, avoid travelling on the bus and tube during rush hour, which is generally between 0730-0930 and 1700-1830. Obviously I know you won’t want to travel in “rush hour” with small children if you can help it but you may also want to see what the quietest times are and on each of the TfL Tube stations and you can find that information on the pages Stops and Piers they have a graphic of the busiest times at the station which you might also find useful if you want a bit more information.
There are also some really helpful accessibility maps and guides that you can download these include “Avoiding Stairs Tube Guide”, “Getting Around London” and a really helpful one for anyone with kids “Tube Toilet Map” which shows the location of toilets and baby changing facilities at Tube stations.
London Underground (The Tube) – most people usually assume that taking the Tube to get around London is the best option and it is very quick and convenient but if you have small children negotiating stairs and escalators isn’t always easy so use the TfL Journey Planner to help organise your route to avoid these if necessary.
Most Tube trains have multipurpose areas suitable for buggies, except the Central, Waterloo & City and Bakerloo lines where you’ll just need to make sure you’re not blocking the doors. Many also have wheelchair spaces – which you can use if they’re available but just remember to give them up if they’re needed by a wheelchair user.
Just a quick tip, if you’re visiting the Southbank Southwark station is totally step free and just a short walk from the Southbank, Westminster for Big Ben and Green Park for Buckingham Palace.
Buses – don’t dismiss using the Bus, with dedicated wheelchair and buggy spaces and much easier street-level access, travelling by bus during off-peak hours is often easier and more flexible than using the tube. An added advantage is that there is an extensive bus network, so it is more likely you can be dropped closer to your final destination. You can use the TfL Journey Planner to plan your trip or find Bus maps here and there’s even a Bus map showing Bus stops for Central London attractions . If the bus is busy or there are wheelchair users, you may have to fold your buggy or wait for the next bus if you don’t want to fold it up.
River Boat – OK so taking the River Boat is only going to be an option if your journey takes you east or west along the Thames but if it does then why not sit back and relax on one of the frequent ferry services? With ramps for your pushchairs and friendly staff to assist, you can enjoy the view of London’s famous landmarks from the water. Taking the boat is more expensive than the Tube or Bus but is fast, frequent and enjoyable with a pushchair.
Emirate Airline (Cable Car) – crosses the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, just five minutes from the O2 by North Greenwich Tube station. Cabins arrive every 30 seconds and flights are approximately 10 minutes each way. You can take a buggy with you, but it must be folded up. Check out the TfL page for all the information you’ll need Emirates Air Line
DLR (Docklands Light Railway) – take the DLR to Canary Wharf, Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich, ExCel London, London City Airport, or Woolwich Arsenal. Find out more about DLR services.
Walking – can actually be quicker, quite often and particularly in central London, walking can be as, if not quicker, than taking public transport, especially travelling with a pushchair. It is also less crowded and a generally altogether more pleasant experience. What’s more, walking routes are now simply and easily signposted throughout most of London thanks to the Legible London project (those nice sign posts).
Again, TfL has lots of useful information such as walking routes, distance between stations etc check out the walking guides ; and obviously it’s free.
Paying for your Journey – a Visitor Oyster card is a smartcard with pay as you go credit that allows you to travel on most public transport in London. Buy one online and have it delivered to your home so that it’s ready to use as soon as you arrive in London. That way, you won’t have to queue to get one.
Pay as you go fares are cheaper than buying paper single tickets. You can also use your contactless debit or credit card to pay as you go on London’s public transport, but do remember to “Touch in and out on the yellow card readers”
Check out the fares pages for River Boat & Emirates Airline
If you’re using National Rail you may want to get a One Day Travelcard which will cover unlimited journeys on the Tube and Buses.
Don’t forget Under 11s go free on Tube, DLR and London Overground if they are travelling with an adult who is using pay as you go or has a valid ticket (excluding Group Day Travelcards), a Freedom Pass or an Oyster photocard (up to four children per adult).
Under 11s can travel free on London buses and trams at any time, they don’t need an Oyster card or a ticket.
If you’re travelling with older children the cheapest way for 11-15-year olds to travel is to use an 11-15 Zip Oyster photocard. They can travel free on buses and trams and travel at child-rate on all other TfL services in London.
And; check out the combined ticket packages such as the Museum & River combined ticket which includes a flight over the Thames, a river trip and entry to London Transport Museum. For more information have a look at Explore London and Emirate Airline experience
Final Tips – It can get very hot on the Tube in the summer so make sure you carry some water with you and you’ll be surprised how helpful and kind people can be in general if you’re struggling a friendly member of staff or passer by will usually stop to help.
Happy travelling, I hope you found this Thoroughly Modern Grandma ‘s post useful and if you have any questions or tips you’d like to share please let me know.