This is the first part of the review of our weekend to London with the kids. This part covers getting into and around London using the car, train, underground tube and bus services in London.
Our eldest daughter was fine walking about (although was tired by the end of the day), but our youngest is a toddler and although we sometimes take him to places without his pushchair we did take one with us due to the amount of walking we were expecting to do.
Rather than take our usual pushchair we decided to buy an very lightweight pushchair specifically for this trip and a trip to Paris planned for later in the year. The pushchair cost about £25 and is about half the weight of our normal pushchair. It feels very cheap and not particularly strong, so I wouldn't recommend one as a main pushchair, but it is is good for the trips we have planned. Whilst it may seam extravagant spending £25 when we already have a pushchair it is only about 2% of the cost of our Paris holiday. It's still worth it for the trip to London alone (compared to cost of a Taxi fare in London).
It was well worth getting a lightweight pushchair for navigating around London.
Travelling to London by Train
When travelling to London I sometimes take the train and sometimes the car.
We have a train station near home in Redditch, but to get to London via train from Redditch involves changing at Birmingham and it is usually quicker to instead park at one of the parkway stations either Birmingham International (near Birmingham Airport / NEC) with Virgin Trains or Warwick Parkway (off M40 / A46) with Chiltern Railways. Weekday tickets and normally very expensive, but tickets are much cheaper at the weekends. Chiltern is usually the cheaper, but the Virgin train is usually more comfortable and faster as it has fewer stops. The Chiltern railways train goes into Marylebone station, whereas the Virgin trains go into Euston station.
Travelling to London by car
On this occasion we went in the car.
The car can be easier when travelling with children and is usually cheaper (especially if there are several people travelling).
In the past we have stayed at hotels outside of central London either at Wembley or near Heathrow Airport. If staying in Wembley then I recommend the Wembley Park Premier Travel Inn and not Travellodge Wembley. Heathrow is not so good for the underground as you first have to get a bus into the airport to get to the underground station.
Hotels on the outskirts of London usually have parking available at reasonable cost and avoids having to drive through the traffic of central London which can be a challenge if you are not used to driving in busy cities. It also avoids paying congestion charge (congestion charge does not apply on weekends).
The hotel that we stayed at in Southbank also had a car park at £15 per day subject to availability (it is not possible to book). There is also limited on-street parking nearby, which is free at weekends.
Car parking at Hillingdon underground station
On this occasion we drove to Hillingdon tube station which is conveniently located on the A40. It has outdoor "secure" parking that is very reasonably priced (only £ 1 per day at weekends). It was then possible to get the underground into London.
I used the postcode provided on the NCP car park on my TomTom satnav, but that appeared to show it as being on the A40 whereas it's just off the A40. After getting lost I found it by instead searching for the station as a point-of-interest on the TomTom.
Day Tickets for Underground, DLR and Train
If you are planning to take more than a few underground trains / buses then a day ticket usually works out cheaper than buying individual tickets. It's also more convenient than having to purchase the appropriate ticket at each station.
If you are staying in Central London then Zones 1 to 2 is usually sufficient as this covers most of the tourist attractions, but if you are going further out such as from a tube station with parking or in a hotel outside of the central area then you may need to get one with more zones. These can be purchased from the ticket booths or electronic machines at each Underground / DLR station and allow unlimited travel across the Underground, bus and Docklands Light Railway within the appropriate zone. They may be valid on certain national rail trains and can also be used to get a discount on the Thames Clipper (waterbus) service.
Children under 10 normally travel free when accompanied by a paying adult (but check details if they are travelling unaccompanied or you have more than four children per adult).
Whilst the underground train systems can have it's challenges it is an efficient way of getting around London. The stations that are not located underground normally have some kind of disabled access which can be used by those with pushchairs.
We didn't realise at the time, but that is the case at Hillingdon. We carried the puschair up the stairs when we first arrived (after all we hadn't actually put our child in it yet so it wasn't such a big deal anyway), but later found that there is a ramp with a locked gate. Press the buzzer and it is opened electronically by an operator and then gives access to one of the platforms (travelling away from London towards Uxbridge) and the lift to the ticket office. We used the ramp on the way out.
The recent stations (eg. Jubilee line extension) have disabled access, as do a small number of the other stations. There is also good disabled access on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) platforms. The trains do have spaces that allow for pushchairs to be used unfolded, but at busy times expect to have to fold pushchairs.
Most other stations may involve a long escalator ride and often have stairs as well. You may also find some stations that are having escalator upgrades may not have an escalator service and instead involve a long stair climb (normally down). This was the case at Marylebone station (although we weren't planning to travel through Marylebone station - we did due to an underground rail replacement services - see below).
The good thing about the underground railway system is that the stations are usually easy to find and there are fairly clear directions inside the stations. You can pick up a free tube map at the stations and it's usually as simple as getting on the platform that is going in the right direction and getting the next train.
Occasionally a platform is shared between two lines (circle and district line) and in a few stations there may be multiple platforms for the same direction, in which case look at the electronic message boards for details of the next train.
If you are travelling outside of zones 1 and 2 then the trains may not go the full length of the line. Again look at the message boards for the destination of the next and subsequent trains.
Underground planned engineering work
One issue with travelling on the underground at weekends is that there may be disruption on certain lines due to engineering works. This may mean needing to take an alternative route, or they may provide a replacement bus service (or in our case switching to a national rail train service).
Some bus services may also be affected by road closures. On a previous visit we found our bus diverted from Oxford Street due to London Gay Pride, so we got off the bus and walked instead.
The public bus network can be confusing at first, but it's worth considering as unlike the underground you get to see some of the sites as the bus travels around. This is the first time we've really used the buses when travelling in London and we are glad we did.
There is a unique feeling of going passed Nelson's Column on the top deck of a traditional red double decker bus that other forms of transport just can't compete with.
If you can manage to walk up to the top floor on the double decker buses then you get a great view of some of the landmarks for a fraction of the price of the tourist bus tours. It can also be easier getting on a bus than having to navigate up and down the escalators in the underground stations.
You can also get a copy of the Transport For London visitors guide which includes the bus and underground maps.
One thing that can be difficult is in finding the position of the bus stop. At some of the key locations there may be many bus stops located on different roads around a main junction. If you go to the nearest bus stop there will usually be a map that shows where you need to catch the train depending upon your destination or route. In most cases this worked well, but the signs at Baker Street appeared to contradict themselves and we gave in and walked across Regent's Park to London Zoo instead (the return was much easier to find as it was signed from inside the zoo).
Once on the bus it can be possible to leave the pushchair unfolded, but we normally found it was easier to fold the pushchair in advance of the bus arriving and carrying it on.
Bus tickets can normally be purchased from a machine at the bus stop or from the driver where there is no ticket machine. Or if you have a day travel card you can show that instead.
Thames Clipper Boats
We didn't use the Thames boat service this time, but have on a previous visit and found it to be a pleasant ride to visit the attractions at Greenwich. The Thames Clipper service is the public transport service which is much cheaper than the tourist boat rides, and offers a fast pleasant ride to Greenwich.
Embankment Pier is a good place to board as that is where the service starts from. There are some other piers along the Thames.
The boat service is not included in the underground day tickets but a discount is normally available if you show a valid day travel ticket.
More about the London Visit
- London with toddlers and children – part 1: Travel around London using cars, train, tube and bus
- London with toddlers and children – part 2: Holiday Inn Express Hotel Family Room
- London with toddlers and children - part 3: Shopping with kids
- London with toddlers and children - part 4: Day out at London Zoo
Our previous visit to London with a baby
- Trip to London with a Baby – Part 1 – Hotel at Wembley Park and travelling around London on the Underground
- Trip to London with a Baby – Part 2 – St. John’s Gate Museum and Priory tours, London Tourist Attraction
- Trip to London with a Baby – Part 3 – London in London with Babies and Children
- Trip to London with a Baby – Part 4 – The London Aquarium, Tourist Attraction