When planning a family trip to London, one of the things we need to think about is how we are going to get around London, and in particular, how travelling in London with kids works.
You are probably asking yourself what fares children have to pay on London´s public transport, and you may even need to know how to use London´s public transport with a buggy.
Travelling in London with kids: Fares and transport passes
When travelling in London with kids, it is important to know the different TFL Child fares on London´s transport depending on their age. There are transport passes for children, valid for London´s underground network, buses, DLR, overground and trains within London travel zones.
Children under 11 years of age
Children under the age of 11 travel free on London´s buses and trams, with or without an adult, at any time, and do not need a ticket.
Children under the age of 11 also travel free on London Underground, DLR (docklands light railway), overground and Tfl rail without a ticket as long as a paying adult accompanies them. Up to 4 children can travel for free with an adult with a valid ticket.
When entering the London underground with a child (or more) under 11, it is advisable to use the larger access doors. These doors are wider and don´t close as fast as individual doors, and are designed for people travelling in London with kids, people travelling with luggage or disabled people.
Children 11 – 16 years of age
Children between the ages of 11 and under the age of 16 can travel at a reduced rate on London´s public transport. Still, it can get a bit complicated to understand what tickets are more suitable as there are several options, so I am going to summarise the different options below and hopefully, you will be able to decide which option is more suitable for you if you are travelling in London with kids.
Children from 11 to 16 years old can also travel with an adult oyster card or travel card if necessary. In this case, they will not benefit from reduced rates on travel.
Option 1: Oyster card with Young Visitor Discount
This is the best option if you are planning a family trip to London and planning on travelling in London with your kids. An oyster card with a young visitor discount will apply half adult rates for 14 days. After 14 days, this discount will expire, and the oyster card will charge full adult rates again. The oyster card can also be returned at the end of your trip, just like a normal oyster card.
All you have to do is buy an Oyster Card or a Visitor Oyster Card, either online or at an underground station, and then ask a staff member to set the Young Visitor Discount. This discount can be applied at any underground station in London, including the underground station at Heathrow Airport.
An adult will need to give their personal details to register the oyster card before the discount can be applied, and you might be asked to confirm the child´s age. You and your child will need to be together when asking for the Young Visitor Discount to be set onto an oyster card, and an adult can request the young visitor discount to be set for up to 4 children (on separate oyster cards).
Option 2: Zip Oyster Photocard
The zip oyster photocard will entitle children up to 16 years of age to reduced fares on the underground and overground and other TFL services, as well as free travel on trams and buses. The zip oyster photocard is normally the best option for children that live in London, as the process to get an oyster photocard for a child can take some time and there is an initial registration fee of up to £20 – so this is normally not the best option for tourists.
- To get a zip oyster photocard if you live in London, all you need to do is fill in a form that you’ll find at your local Post Office and return it to the Post Office. You will also need to include a passport-sized photo and a copy of the birth certificate or passport and pay the fee. You should get the zip oyster photocard in 2 weeks.
- If you are a UK resident, you will need to do the process online on TFL’s website, and you should get the zip oyster photocard within 4 weeks.
- If you live outside the UK you will need to do the process online on TFL’s website. When applying, you will need to choose which London Visitor Centre (Liverpool Street Station, Victoria Station, Euston, Gatwick, King’s Cross station) you want to collect the zip oyster photocard from, as it will not be sent to your home address. You need to apply at least 3 weeks in advance but can apply up to three months in advance.
Option 3: 1 Day Child Travelcard
A one-day child travelcard will allow unlimited travel at any time of the day on any form of public transport in London for the chosen London Travel Zones. No ID is needed to purchase this one-day child travelcard, but fares using an oyster card with a young visitor discount are normally cheaper. If you are visiting London for several days and choose this option, you will have to buy a one-day child travelcard for each day, and this will work out a lot more expensive than using an oyster card with a young visitor discount.
Option 4: 7 Day Child Travelcard
To buy a 7-day child travelcard in London there are 3 options: 1 – By adding a weekly travelcard into a zip oyster photocard. This is undoubtedly the most complicated option, as you need to request a zip card oyster photocard first and then add the 7-day travelcard onto it. 2 – Buy a 7-day child travelcard online. This is probably the easiest way of getting one, as you don’t need a zip oyster photocard, and they’ll send it to your home address before you travel. 3 – Buy a 7-day child travelcard at a national railway ticket office (not an underground station).
16 – 18 years old
People aged 16 to 18 can also apply for a 16 – 18 zip oyster photocard, which will apply half adult rates on any form of public transport in London. Travelcards at a reduced price can also be added onto zip oyster photocards.
You don’t need to live in London to be able to apply for a zip card, but there is a processing fee which makes it hard to justify if you’re just visiting London for a few days. In this case, I’d recommend using a normal oyster card (adult rates) for anyone over 16.
For more information about travelling in London kids visit: Transport for London
Travelling in London with kids: Travelling to Central London from the airport
Stansted, Luton and Gatwick airports are all located outside London’s Travel Zones, so fares when travelling with kids too and from these airports are different to fares when travelling in London with kids, so under 11 years old’s will need a ticket.
An oyster card is valid for travel into Central London from Gatwick Airport, but children under 11 also need a train ticket to get to central London from Gatwick Airport, even if they are accompanied by an adult.
Heathrow and London City Airports are both inside London Travel Zones, so fares are as explained above. Children under 11 travel free, and Children under 16 can travel with an oyster card with a young visitor discount.
⇒ More information: London Airport Transfers
Travelling in London with a buggy
One of the things we need to think about if we are going to be travelling in London with kids is if we are going to need to travel around London with a buggy. If you are planning a trip with a baby, it may be that you wish to bring your buggy to London, or if you have older children, you will probably need to use a stroller if you are planning on spending the whole day walking around London.
When you first become a parent in London, using public transport with a buggy isn´t easy at first. Still, you eventually learn how to get around and quickly learn how to read London´s accessibility maps and find the best routes. The truth is that travelling in London with a buggy can be very easy if you know which route is best, or it can be a complete nightmare if you have to go up or down 300 steps when there are no lifts.
This is why we are going to explain how to travel on London´s public transport with a buggy.
Travelling on London´s buses with a buggy
Public buses in London have a dedicated wheelchair and buggy space as well as easy street-level access, and travelling by bus with a buggy normally is the easiest option to get around London. You can enter the bus via the back door, which makes it a bit easier too. Up to two pushchairs are allowed in the dedicated buggy space on a bus, but do bear in mind that during busy periods you may be asked to wait for the next bus or collapse your pushchair.
Travelling on the London Underground with a buggy
The trick to travelling in London with kids using a pushchair is to check London´s accessible underground map in advance and choose your route carefully. Being able to plan your route by choosing accessible stations makes life much easier, and it may just mean that you need to get off at the next stop and walk 5 minutes, rather than having to take a buggy and a baby up 100 steps.
Unfortunately, not all underground stations in London are accessible. Most underground stations in London will have escalators, and many stations will also have stairs before reaching the platform. Many other stations have lifts to some platforms, and some stations are completely accessible, with lifts from the ticket office to the platform.
Travelling in London with a buggy and two adults is much easier if you have to go up or down stairs, as one of you will be able to carry the baby or take the toddler whilst the other one can take the buggy. But if it´s just one adult taking a buggy then I would encourage you to check the best route first. Whenever I had no choice and had to get off at an underground station that wasn’t accessible with a buggy, there has always been someone willing to help me. If you need help going up or down the stairs and you ask a staff member for help, for health and safety reasons, they will ask you to carry the baby and take the buggy for you. I have to say that a lot of people will use the escalators with a buggy, but I would recommend that you use stations with lifts.
London Underground Accessibility Maps
On the London Underground map, you will see that accessible underground stations are marked with the symbol of a wheelchair, in either a blue circle or a white circle.
- Blue circle: the underground station is fully accessible, which means that it is possible to go from street level onto the underground carriage without any steps at all. In these cases, the platform will have an area that is slightly elevated to avoid any steps when getting into the train.
- White circle: this means that there are no steps from street level to the platform, but there is some unevenness when getting onto the train. This is important for someone using a wheelchair, but it normally isn´t a problem when taking a buggy onto the train.
In addition to this map, there is Step Free Tube Map, which is a lot more detailed and the one I recommend you check when travelling on the London Underground with a buggy. This map highlights the degree of accessibility at each station in detail and explains how accessible it is to change between underground lines at different stations. You can see this map here: Step Free Tube Map.