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Family Travel in London

(I am new to the travel forum, so please forgive my asking about this, as I was unsure how to search previous posts on this topic.)

I would love any advice about cost effectiveness/best method to pay for travel about London.

A bit of background: four of us, two adults, one 16 year-old and one 12 year-old, plan to visit London over spring break, 7 days total. Day one, we will arrive at Heathrow in the evening, having been on a day flight from the US. (Our hotel is in central London, about 50 or so minutes from the airport.) Days two, three, four, five and six are full days in London, one day of which is designated technically to visit just out of the city for the Harry Potter Warner Brothers studio tour. Day seven is a travel day, so back to Heathrow to head home.

I anticipate we will primarily walk, tube and train to get around.

Here are options I have looked into thus far:

  1. Visitor Oyster cards for each of us, adding the Young Visitor Discount to my 16 (who was 15 on August 31st 2022, so apparently qualifies for the 11-15 discount) and 12 year-old's cards.

  2. Contactless payment, which might be an option for each of the two adults, if our credit cards are acceptable.

  3. Travel cards

Thank you for help!

Posted by
23434 posts

Unfortunately it has been about five years since we were in London. So not up to date on any changes to travel cards. We just used the travel card but I think there are some newer applications using just a credit card. If you don't get a good answer, the TI near the boarding area for the Tube has very good information and will explain all your options. I am sure some of the London based posters will be along with better information.

Posted by
16726 posts

It isn’t simple when you are traveling with kids. They are entitled to discounts (the 16-year -old) or free travel (the 12-year-old) on London buses, trams, the Tube, and the Uber Clipper boats, but they each need a Zip Oyster Card as photo ID. You can read how to obtain those here:

https://tfl.gov.uk/fares/free-and-discounted-travel?intcmp=54647

For the parents, contactless payment with a “tap and go”:credit card is quick and easy, and most likely cheapest as well due to the “daily cap”.

If you want to travel as cheaply as possible around London, that would be by bus, where the adult fare is only £1.65. It is also a lot more fun thar nixing the noisy underground tube, especially if you head upstairs on a double-decker bus. It is slower than the tube, but for short journeys maybe not, especially if there are bus stops at or near your point of origin and your destination. Here is a schematic map of the main London bus routes and the major sights they serve:

https://content.tfl.gov.uk/bus-route-maps/key-bus-routes-in-central-london.pdf

As for getting from Heathrow to your hotel and back after your trip, the options are Tube ( including the Elizabeth Line), the Heathrow Express, or car service.

Our strong preference—-and I admit we are outliers here—- is for the fast and comfortable Heathrow Express. People say it is “too expensive” but if you buy your tix 90+days in advance they are only £5.50, cheaper than the Tube ( and kids 15 and under are free). The other objection is that it only goes to Paddington Station, which is true. When we are making a short stay in London, we stay near Paddington and walk to our hotel. For longer stays (more than 2 nights) we take a ride on a black cab ( from the taxi stand right outside the door to the street) and enjoy the sights as we drive through London. You, and especially your kids, might enjoy it too. It has cost between £15-20 when we have done this, depending on the location of your hotel.

Here is more information on the Heathrow Express:

https://www.heathrowexpress.com/tickets-and-offers/book-early-to-save-money#/

Many people here will advise you to take the Tube, especially if your hotel is near the Piccadilly Line (or now the Elizabeth Line as well). I suspect many of those advisors are traveling solo or as a couple, which is easier than traveling with a family and luggage. My objection to the Tube, apart from the fact that it goes underground and is noisy, is that it is crowded—-too crowded with luggage. There is no place to put it other than to hold it by your feet. The advocates will point out that you board an empty car at Heathrow so will have no trouble finding seats. True, but the one time we did take the Tube ( because the HEx was not running), the car quickly filled up with people standing bumper to bumper in the aisles and blocking the doors so it was difficult to exit, especially with luggage. It was not a pleasant experience and we won’t do it again.

Posted by
2 posts

Much thanks for responses.
I do appreciate any and all practical experience folks might share.