London underground – using the tube with kids
If you’re visiting London, whether that’s a day trip or a longer break, you’ll find yourself on public transport at some point.
And as you can no longer use cash on any Transport for London buses from July 2014, the easiest and cheapest way to get around is using an Oyster card.
So if you’re baffled by the thought of using the world’s oldest underground system, here are my top 10 tips on travelling on the tube with children.
1. Get an Oyster in advance
The cheapest way to get around, a visitor plastic Oyster card costs £3 and you don’t need a photo. Although you can get one at underground stations, save yourself the queues and order it online then have it posted to you – it never expires, you can top it up with cash at station machines and shops, and it automatically caps the amount you spend. Up to four children aged under 11 travel free on one valid adult card.
2. Touch in and out
Not such a strangely coded message as it sounds – simply that if you don’t touch your card on the yellow readers as you go in and out of stations (or onto buses), you’ll find yourself getting a penalty fare as a result. Don’t forget, even if barriers are open.
3. Do take the bus
Depending on your journey, it can sometimes be quicker and easier than lots of line changes underground, especially with a buggy. A couple of routes will take you past some of London’s top sights too for a bargain tour.
4. Don’t go at rush hour
London at rush hour isn’t fun, even if you’ve had practice. Cramming yourself into a carriage of surly commuters with a pushchair, toddler or suitcase is even less fun. It’s not always possible to avoid peak times entirely, but bear in mind the crush will be worst from 8am to 9am, and 5pm to 6pm, then allow at least half an hour either side when it’ll be busy too. It’s also cheaper.
5. Walk when you can
London’s sheer size means that if you want to explore, you really can’t do it all on foot. But there are a few spots where it’s simply not worth taking the tube – all Londoners know it’s far faster to walk from Embankment to Charing Cross, or from Leicester Square to Covent Garden than venture down the escalators. There’s a helpful map showing walking distances between stations or try walkit.com for routes with walking times to compare to the journey underground.
6. Be prepared for stairs
There are more than 250 stations, and only a fraction have step-free access – Tfl’s Journey Planner can rule out stairs though it’ll be limiting. That means you’ll encounter steps at some point, although long stretches will usually have an escalator, including the 60m whopper at Angel. Consider a baby carrier or sling, or at least bring the lightest pushchair you can get away with.
7. Indulge in trivia
If you’re spending a while with bored kids on the tube, there’s masses of trivia to keep you amused – you won’t be striking up conversation with your neighbours, I promise. Check out these 150 facts celebrating the underground’s 150 years, including the two station names containing all five vowels, and the one station which doesn’t have any letters of the word ‘mackerel’ in it.
8. Stay behind the yellow line
Really. There’s nothing between the platform and the train (except occasionally a gap, mind that too), so keep kids behind the yellow line to be safe. If you’re travelling with a buggy, reversing in is often easiest.
9. Get online
The Tfl website is packed with surprisingly helpful information – there’s FAQs for visitors and more details on fares for 11 to 15-year-olds who get either free travel or reduced prices on different transport, but will need an Oyster photocard.
10. Flag a cab
Overwhelmed? Footsore? Fed up? Black cabs can take pushchairs so you needn’t worry about not having a car seat – simply pop the brake on, and settle yourself back.