How does transport in London for children work and how much does it cost is one of the most frequently asked questions when traveling to London as a family, and knowing when it is necessary to pay for children to use public transport in London is undoubtedly an important factor when planning a trip to London.
Children are considered to be people under the age of 16, and when using public transport in London with children, it is necessary to know that prices and conditions are different depending on their age. It is also possible to get reduced rates for ages 16-18, but it is a bit more complicated.
Fares and transport cards in London for children
Below I explain how transport works in London for children and what are the transport cards available for transport in London for children. The transport cards are valid for the underground, overground, DLR (docklands light rail) and public bus in London zones 1 – 9, as is the case with the adult transport cards.
Children under 11 years
Children under 11 travel free on London’s public transport network as long as they are accompanied by an adult, and for each adult a maximum of 4 children under 11 can travel free. It is not necessary to take out any special ticket or transport card for children of this age, as long as the adult carries a ticket or transport card they can travel without problems.
To enter the London Underground with a child (or more) under 11 years of age, it is advisable to use the access doors that are larger (without turnstiles) through which suitcases and baby carriages fit, as they are wider and they don’t close as fast as small single doors. When passing the transport card through the reader, the doors will open, allowing the adult and children to pass at the same time.
Children 11 to 16 years of age
Children between 11 and 16 years old can travel at a reduced rate on the London public transport network but it is a bit complicated since there are several options, so below I will summarize the different options.
Children from 11 to 16 years old can also travel with an adult transportation card ( oyster card or travelcard ). Sometimes, this is the easiest way to travel with children of these ages, although adult prices will apply, without reduced fare. So that children between the ages of 11 and 16 can obtain a reduced fare when using public transport in London, we have the following options:
Option 1: Oyster card with Young Visitor Discount
This is really the best and easiest option when it comes to using a London transport card for children if you come to visit, and it is the one I usually recommend. You must buy an Oyster Card (either at a self-service machine or at a window) or a visitor oyster card to be applied at the window. You can have this discount applied to an oyster card or visitor oyster card at any London Underground station, including Heathrow Airport Underground Station, at TFL rail train stations, visitor centers and at the National Rail station in Victoria. Many metro stations no longer have ticket service, but there will always be people in the area where the self-service machines are that you can ask. To activate the discount they will ask you for your data to register the oyster card in the name of an adult, and they usually ask for some form of identification of the child to verify the age. With this discount, each trip on public transport costs half of what the journey would cost for an adult, and is valid for 14 days. After 14 days you can continue to use the oyster card but normal adult rates will reapply. At the end of the trip, it can be returned, thus recovering the deposit and the unused balance, as is the case with the normal adult oyster card.
Option 2: Children’s Oyster card (Zip Oyster)
The children’s oyster card is called the zip oyster photocard, and a zip oyster photocard can be purchased for children ages 5-10 and ages 10-15. This is the card that children living in London usually have, and with this card children under 16 can use London transport with reduced prices on tube journeys and travel for free on London public buses.
If you do not live in London, it is possible to request this card online, and for this you must fill out a form and send a photo at least 3 weeks in advance on the official London transport website. You can then pick up the zip oyster photocard at a London visitor center (there are several: Liverpool Street Station, Victoria Station, Euston, Gatwick, King’s Cross Station). You have to pay a £20 handling fee to order this card, and you can’t return it at the end of the trip like you do with a normal oyster card.
Option 3: Daily Child Travelcard – Child Day Travelcard
There is a daily child travelcard for London transport zones 1 to 4 and another for zones 1 to 6. As with the adult travelcard, this card allows unlimited travel at any time of the day on public transport from London as long as you travel within the chosen areas. But being a daily card means buying a child travelcard for each day. It can be purchased at any London tube or train station or online. In my opinion, I think this travelcard is a bit expensive, and for several days I would buy the oyster card with the young visitor discount before buying a daily travelcard. Of course, if we buy this travelcard at a train station or online it will be valid for that specific day for 2×1 discounts.
Option 4: Child 7 Day Travelcard – Child 7 Day Travelcard
To buy a weekly child travelcard in London there are 3 options: 1 – Incorporate a weekly travelcard in a zip oyster photocard. This is undoubtedly the most complicated option, since it is necessary to ask for a zip oyster photocard beforehand, as I have explained before, and ask at the window or at a self-service machine to include a weekly travelcard. 2 – Buy a 7-day child travelcard online. In this way, they send you home a children’s travelcard for the areas you have chosen. This 7-day children’s travelcard is valid for 2×1 discounts. 3 – Buy a 7-day travelcard for children at a train station (not a metro station) and have them instantly make you a paper card like the adult travelcard, but at the price of a child. This weekly child travelcard will also be valid for 2×1 discounts.
Children 16 to 18 years of age
There is a zip oyster photocard for children aged 16 to 18, and this is the only way to get reduced fares for public transport for these ages. With it, a 50% discount is applied on subway and bus journeys when compared to an adult oyster card. It is also possible to add travelcards with reduced prices to this card.
For these ages it is not possible to buy reduced-price paper travelcards or apply the young visitor discount to a normal oyster card.
A zip oyster photocard for 16-18 year olds can be ordered from the official London Transport website for both children living in London and children visiting. But really, it’s only something I recommend if you’re going to be in London for a long time – for example a couple of months and you’re going to be using public transport a lot, as it costs £20 to process this card. If you are only going to be in London for a few days, I recommend using a normal oyster card, like an adult.
For more information on transport in London for children, you can visit the official London transport website here: Transport for London
Transport in London for children: From the airport to the center
One of the things that we also have to take into account when talking about transport in London for children, are the fees or tickets necessary for children to get to the center of London from the different London airports.
Stansted, Luton and Gatwick airports are located outside the London transport zones and have different prices for children, transport for children under 11 years of age is not free as it is within the London transport zones.
From Gatwick airport it is now possible to use the Oyster Card to go to the city centre, but please note that if you are traveling with children under 11, they will also need a train ticket to get to the center from the airport, even if they go accompanied by an adult.
Heathrow and London City Airport are located within the London transport zones, so the type of ticket and the price applied to these routes is the same as that explained in the article above.
Transport in London for children: Use public transport in London with a child’s stroller or pushchair
If using the public transport system in London can already be a bit complicated if it is the first time you visit London, because with a baby stroller the questions multiply.
Many parents who live in London use public transport with strollers a lot, and although it is not easy at first, it is a matter of getting used to it and knowing where it is best to go. Using the bus in London with a buggy is super easy as I explain below and many of the tube stations in central London are step-free (without steps) and are adapted for wheelchairs, but not all of them are adapted. The truth is that it can be very simple if you can choose accessible stations and routes, so I would simply recommend organizing well in advance if you are going to use the metro with a stroller.
London public bus with child stroller
London public buses have a special area for wheelchairs and strollers in the center of the ground floor. You can enter with the buggy either through the front door or the rear door of the bus, but do not forget to tap your oyster card on the reader to pay for the adult ticket. I have to mention that wheelchairs have preference, so if the wheelchair and stroller do not fit together, you must allow the wheelchair space. A maximum of two child seats are allowed per bus.
London underground with baby stroller
We use the London Underground with our son and his stroller almost every weekend, and honestly it is something that can be very simple if the stations are adapted. If you choose accessible routes, the truth is that it is very simple, so I recommend carefully planning the trip in advance with the accessibility map. Not all tube stations in London have a lift, so it’s important to keep this in mind. If two adults go, it will always be a little easier because one can carry the baby in his arms while the other carries the stroller to go up the normal stairs or escalators. Although it is not recommended for safety reasons, it is also possible to take the stroller up the escalator with the baby inside,
Most central London tube stations have escalators to get down to the platforms, but many of the stations still require going down a few steps after the first few escalators to get to the different platforms. Many of the stations also have elevators, but it is not necessarily possible to reach the platforms by elevator, as sometimes you also have to go down stairs afterwards.
London Underground Accessibility Maps
On the normal London Underground map, accessible underground stops are marked with a wheelchair symbol, which can be in two colours:
- Blue circle: the station is fully accessible, it is possible to go from the street to the same subway car without having to go up or down any steps, and there will be a higher area on the platform, avoiding any difference in level between the car and the platform.
- White circle: there are no steps from the street to the platform, but there is some unevenness when getting on the subway car. This for a person in a wheelchair can be a complication, but to get the child’s stroller onto the subway car is not usually a problem since it is just like climbing a step.
There is also another more specific map that explains the degree of accessibility at each metro stop in detail. It also explains how accessibility is between different metro lines at those metro stops where there is more than one line, very useful information if you need to change lines at some point. At first it is a bit difficult to understand, but once you get the hang of it it is very easy.
If you need help you can ask one of the station workers. If you ask for help to get the baby stroller up or down some stairs, for safety reasons the station staff will ask you to take the baby out of the stroller and to carry the baby in your arms and they will raise or lower the stroller.