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Travelling with kids on the London Underground

London Underground for kids

It’s a well-known fact that transport in London can put a serious dent in your savings if you’re not smart about it. The locals know all the tricks and of course it seems simple to them, but to a visitor the system can seem ridiculously obscure and intricate – at least that’s what we assume when bands of tourists stand gawping in front of the Oyster gates (kidding!) It gets even more confusing when concession fares are factored in with pensioners, children and students. If you’ve been wondering how to absorb the cost of London Underground fares into your family holiday budget, wonder no more. Here’s a simple guide to who needs to pay what and at which ages.

  • Kids under five:

Young children and babies can travel for free on the London Underground, buses, the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, trams and ferries – they just need to be accompanied by an adult who has their own valid ticket.

  • Kids aged five to ten:

Older children can travel for free on the trains if they are with an adult who carries their own valid ticket – one adult can accompany up to four children. You can also obtain a 5-10 Zip Oyster photo card for each child if you want to be absolutely sure that everything goes smoothly or if you plan to be in London for an extended period of time. You can apply for a Zip Oyster card online before you travel to London. Kids this age can also travel for free unaccompanied and without a photo card on trams and buses – though we don’t recommend allowing children at this age to travel alone while you visit London. In such a big city it’s very easy for them to become lost!

  • Kids aged 11 to 15:

Teenagers aged up to 15 years old will need an 11 to 15 Zip Oyster Photo card; they can then travel on the Tube, London Overground and DLR on a child fare, and for free on trams and buses. They don’t need to be accompanied by a fare-paying adult. Without the photo card, they may need to buy a paper ticket and pay an adult fare to avoid being fined – though this is fairly unlikely for younger travellers.

  • Kids aged 16 to 17:

A 16+ Zip Oyster card is required for young people aged 16 and 17 to pay child rates on Tube, London Overground and DLR journeys. Without one, they will usually have to pay adult fares or risk a fine. The Zip card also allows them to buy travel cards for their Oyster at child rates – these allow the card carrier unlimited travel on all forms of London public transport within the chosen zones for a period of 7 days, 30 days or longer. “Zones” are set out in concentric circles beginning in the centre of London with Zone 1 – the further out you go, the more zones you will pass through. You can choose which zones to include in your travel card depending on where you are based and where you plan to travel; for example, if you’re staying at The Marble Arch by Montcalm London and sightseeing around the city centre, a Zones 1 and 2 travel card will suit your needs. A travel card is an excellent idea if you plan to be doing a lot of travelling within London for a week or two – you’ll save unprecedented amounts on tickets!

If you are a visitor to London aged over 18 years, you will need to pay adult fares on all forms of transport – but when buying tickets on trains heading overland out of London, keep an eye out for student discount opportunities. It’s always cheaper and easier to book your tickets online before you travel if you can.

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