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Tube travel with a family during rush hour

Hello London experts!
Any advice on traveling with a family of four on the tube during peak times? I'm used to rush hour public transit systems in many metros but my wife and two kids, unfortunately, are not. Our reservations have 9:00 and 9:30 am start times at a few places...Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, etc. Our hotel is at Kings Cross/St. Pancras, so I planned on using that as a starting point, but this puts us bang in the middle of rush hour. Any thoughts on how crowded that particular station and the lines from there are around 8 or 8:30 am on weekdays? Both kids are just above 11, so will need their own Oyster cards. Should we stick with the tube during rush hour or explore other travel options like the bus lines or a cab?
Thanks in advance.

Posted by
227 posts

Since your kids are 11+, it might be a good experience for them to learn about the Tube system. Take some time with them (and your wife) looking at a map, even before you arrive in London, so they can understand the basics of how to get to a desired stop (color of line, direction, etc). Before entering the station, confirm with everyone in the group what the plan is. Try to have oyster cards and contactless credit cards ready before approaching the turnstiles (and getting in the way of fast commuters). We used ApplePay on our phones which eliminated the need to keep opening our wallets constantly in a crowd.

Then have an emergency strategy that everyone understands, like if everyone doesn’t make it onto the train at a station, those on the train will simply ride to the next stop, get off, and wait for the others who know to get on the next train. Maybe one kid sticks close to you and the other to your wife? That way nobody should be left completely alone, and if both adults have phones, at least you can contact each other if separated.

And teach the kids the basic etiquette of letting passengers off the train before you get on, along with reminders about keeping money and cell phones secured. It’s easier to be a pickpocket target in crowded situations like rush hour trains.

Posted by
14 posts

We stayed at Kings Cross/St Pancras in July and used the Tube exclusively, even for 9am reservations at Buckingham Palace and others. My twins are 12 and they honestly loved navigating it and figuring out the route the night before. There were times when the trains were plenty full and we had to stand but we always made it on and off at the same time. Honestly the mornings weren't as bad as the evening rush hour, it seems to me (and see below for the one crazy busy time).

We did have a plan that if one person got left on the platform, they should just stay where they were and the others would come back, or if one person got on the train, they should get off at the next station and wait on the platform for the others. It never happened, not even close.

We had one weekend afternoon where we had returned to the hotel and went back out and there were literally 300 people trying to get through 8 gates at the station. It was a school group and it was crazy. But I grabbed one kid's hand and my husband grabbed the other and we just met on the other side once we were through.

Also, there is a visitor's center at your station. We used this to buy our Oyster cards the first day and they were awesome in only loading the kids' Oyster cards with what they thought they needed for our 7 days in the first two zones and then the two trips outside the zones. I feel like they saved me quite a bit of money than if I had bought them based on my research at one of the ticket machines.

Posted by
5634 posts

The main thing I’d suggest is to have a plan if your group gets separated (e.g., doors close and someone is left on the platform or doors close and someone did not get off the train). For example:
1) If a kid is left behind, tell them to stay on the platform and wait for you to make their way back.
2) If a kid gets on the train (and you don’t), tell them to get off at the next stop and wait on the platform for you.

I’d also make sure your kids have your mobile numbers on them.

You should be fine. Just be prepared. If a train looks too crowded, wait for the next one.

I used to live in London and one time I saw a bunch of teenagers running to make the tube. The doors closed before their little sister (about 7 or 8) got on and they were panicked as the train pulled away. The young girl was ok as one of the tube employees saw the incident and told her to wait with them until her sister returned.

Posted by
3192 posts

And be sure to stand well back from the tracks while waiting for trains.
I always find an empty bit of wall on the platform, and stand with my back to that.
I think your kids will love travelling under the city.
Lots of videos about The Tube on YouTube.

Posted by
332 posts

Lots of great advice. In addition to having an emergency plan should family members be separated, we also employed the “family sandwich” technique to lessen the chance of this happening in mass transit. Adults are the bread. Going through turnstiles, getting on and off, one parent always goes first and one parent brings up the rear with kid(s) in between. We came up with this plan after that time we were leaving the NY subway through one of those cage style roundabout exits. The 7 year old went first then the cage jammed with both parents stuck on the other side. : /

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you to all the contributors for the great advice and tips. The tube it is!

Posted by
4817 posts

I've seen it happen where a child made it onto a London Underground train without their parents.

The good news, people on the train came to help the child (age was maybe 10 or 12,) The helpful people all had questions and suggestions, with the best intentions, but adding confusion.

The children need to be able to clearly state - " my family has a plan for this. I am supposed to...."

They must be able to confidently communicate their plan so that well intentioned adults can help them execute their plan, not confuse them into some other plan.

A practice session might be valuable with kids and chaos of different people all asking questions and making different suggestions.

Good news, I saw the child reunited with their family.

Posted by
1332 posts

I assume kids above 11 have their own mobile phones. Buy local sim card for them, so you can contact each other if lost - or even if deliberately going different ways.

It will cost you, but how valuable is peace of mind?

Posted by
14153 posts

Great advice!

I’ll add that the technique the RS guides use with groups is when getting off the train to “go to the wall”. Everyone regroups there and you make your way out at the tail end of the other passengers.

Posted by
963 posts

At 11 your kids will almost certainly work out how to use the tube quicker than you. Give them access to a tube map ahead of the trip and let them work out how to get to your various destinations. After a couple of rides they will be telling you what to do and where to go.

Bear in mind that mobiles won't work underground on most of the tube network so don't set a plan that relies on calling each other.

Finally, and most important of all, stand on the right on escalators unless you want to walk up or down them!

Posted by
11 posts

All good points! The kids do not have mobile phones yet (that is intentional) but we will follow the suggestions in the other posts to keep us together, and have a back-up plan in case we get separated. Thanks again.

Posted by
3192 posts

Each family member, including kids, could have a small card on them with everyone else’s phone numbers, and the name and address of where you are staying.
Tuck them away safe on their person.

Posted by
8802 posts

Just a reminder about pedestrian and motor traffic flow.

When using escalators in the Underground stations stand to the right. Pass on the left.

At street lights wait for them to change before darting into the street like others might do. Your thought process is to look left, then right. In London its the opposite. Look right then left to. You’ll adapt BUT for safety simply wait for the street lights to change! No need to rush or jay walk.

Posted by
4522 posts

At British intersections and crosswalks look down, there is often a graphic with feet and arrows showing you which way to look

Posted by
366 posts

Yes, make sure all the kids have a card with everyone's phone number and the address of the hotel. Also enough money to get a taxi to the hotel. Because sometimes phones are lost, or the phone dies and the kid doesn't have a charger with them.

Posted by
3803 posts

You have 2 adults, 2 kids. On the tube, pair up; one adult, one kid; "glued" together.
Two sets like this.
Hold hands or have the adult hold onto the arm of one kid. Or intertwine arms, bodies right up against each other. No letting go.
Exit the tube at the station as a pair stuck together....two sets like this.

Suggest getting familiar with the London city buses. There are lots of convenient routes and most of the time they are less crowded than the tube. It would be much harder for someone to be left behind. The bus driver will not close the door and drive away until all passengers who are standing at the door have exited onto the street.
You can always yell, "Stop! My son needs to get off the bus!"
Better because the bus driver is right there by the door for you to yell to, rather than having an automated tube car pulling away.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you for that recommendation. It is precisely what we plan to do...along with the address cards and other tips to get to our destination together.
I'd like to add that I am so impressed by the genuine concern and goodwill expressed by contributors at this forum...not just to my post, but to all the others as well. It is like being part of one big family!