We will be visiting London for the first time in August with our 3 Year Old son.

I know for a fact that if we have to enjoy our stay in London we have to use the public transport system and not rent a car and I'm game for it. We have Oyster cards with us already with adequate credit for our trip.

Our son has never used public transport (except for air travel) and we always travel by our private cars in our home country.

London metro trains can be incredibly busy at times I have heard and always getting a seat is not possible. My wife and I don't mind walking and standing all the way through from one station to another but our son would definitely want to stay in my lap all the time when he sees a crowded station/train.

Can you please give us some tips which will make our travel easier in tubes and busses? Since we are tourists we can avoid the rush hour. We are native speakers and are very social so any communication aspect to it won't be a problem.

If it matters, we are staying 100 meters from Earls Court Station.


I'll partly answer both of your questions at once - I'd suggest getting the Picadilly line from the airport in. As the trains start at the airport, you'll be getting on an empty train, which means you can be sure of getting seats and having space for your luggage (there are spaces by the main doors of the trains for suitcases).

You'll also then be able to introduce your son to the concept and feel of an Underground train while it's still fairly quiet rather than jumping straight into a busy city-centre service, which should help him to acclimatise to it.

For the bus, I'd suggest doing something similar - get on a bus at it's first stop, while it's empty, and pick the upstairs front seat - he'll be too engrossed in the view to be scared! The tourist routes often run shorter journeys starting and finishing in the city, which can be good for this - e.g. Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill.

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  • Thanks Nick! That makes a lot of sense. I think that introduction will be very hepful – Hanky Panky Jul 13 '17 at 9:11
  • could you please help me with the second question about Piccadilly that i just added? Thanks! – Hanky Panky Jul 13 '17 at 9:54
  • I've never used it late at night I'm afraid (there's not trains from where I live to London at night), but the timetable suggests there is a train at 03:05 on a Friday – Nick C Jul 13 '17 at 10:24
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    Using an upstairs seat involves getting up and down steep stairs in a moving vehicle. At least one of the adults will have to be able to do that holding on with at most one hand while helping the child. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 13 '17 at 13:26
  • It's an idea to make sure your child boards the tube first, so you know where they are. We once lost my brother when the doors shut before he got on. – Sarriesfan Jul 13 '17 at 20:02

Although the tube is extremely busy in the morning in rush hour (about 7am until 9.30am), and quite busy in the evenings (about 5pm-7pm), when services are running normally things get a lot less busy outside that window, and some seats will usually available (although not necessarily three together). Unfortunately most lines have cars which don't have passenger accessible connections, which means that if the carriage you're waiting at happens to be full, you can't walk down the train to find an empty one (the new District and Circle line trains do allow this, as well as having working cooling systems, on the other hand it's not the more reliable service in the world). With enough time, it's possible to learn which bits of a train tend to be busy at a particular station, but that's probably not useful for you.

In general, things are a bit easier if you're heading out of central London in the mornings, and into town in the evenings, only crossing the centre near the middle of the day, but that would limit you to West London to a certain extent. If you have a lot of free time (i.e. over an hour) then the London Overground forms an "outer loop" which would usually be significantly less crowded than a trip through the centre, but obviously slower.

Finally, the Tube map has won awards for its clear design, but it lies when it comes to how close different stations are to each other. If you're making a short trip in the centre, check a street map, or else you can end up walking further to reach the platforms than you would to get there on foot above ground.

In terms of not annoying the locals:

  • Stand on the right hand side of escalators, and watch out for people walking up on your left hand side
  • If there's a queue at the ticket barriers, get your tickets out before you get to the front (and take your child to the wide manned barrier if there is one, since they'll be travelling free).
  • Some buses (the ones with three sets of doors, including a single door at the very back) have oyster card readers on each door, so you can get on these ones anywhere. If the bus has only has two sets of doors, the card reader is with the driver at the front and you'll need to get on there.
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  • Good answer, but if a bus has two doors, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't get on the back doors, e.g. 521 / RV1 – ediblecode Jul 13 '17 at 15:14
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    Re; The point on the underground map... My mother used to take students to London on trips (teens) and part of the exercise involved navigating from one station to another. On the map they're miles apart but in reality they're just 'round the corner, so she'd take a casual 5m stroll and half an hour later, students would start emerging. Personally, I find the "public transport" layer on google maps v. helpful as it shows the real position/route underground lines – Basic Jul 13 '17 at 16:42

Bonus 2

Here is a map showing night tube lines which includes Picadilly line between Earls Court and Heathrow. But 3 a.m. Friday is not "Friday night" so I checked further.

I tried to plan your journey: 3 a.m. on Friday by underground from Earls Court to Heathrow, and it advised the earliest train to leave at 5:21 a.m. However for Saturday 3 a.m. the advised train departs at 2:55 a.m. So sadly, the answer seems to be NO.

Other matters:

If believe there is a bus route app available which helps you to find routes and stops.

Don't overlook the river buses, I think you can get to Hampton Court by river bus.

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    It depends what HankyPanky means by "on a Friday", if he means the morning of a Friday, no; if he means the night following a Friday, yes. – Calchas Jul 13 '17 at 10:34
  • @Calchas OP says "3 AM Friday", and "very early morning flight out of T2 Heathrow on a Friday." Just because my rep is 121 doesn't mean I cannot read or consult a website. – Weather Vane Jul 13 '17 at 10:35
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    Didn't see your reputation (which I have just boosted to 131), it makes no difference to whether I comment on an answer or not. My comment was intended to confirm that the Night Tube does not run on a Thursday night. – Calchas Jul 13 '17 at 10:46
  • Thanks! Yes I meant early morning on friday after a thursday night – Hanky Panky Jul 13 '17 at 11:01

All above answers are correct in their remarks. And you can even receive realtime information to the millisecond in your smartphone, and program an apple-watch to vibrate at the optimum time to board a train.

However you can also go for the zen-way and just chill out and enjoy your family trip to London. Stay away from the tubes & buses on rush hour, and just enter the subway when you need it. If a train is terribly crowded, wait for next one and let your three year old amaze at the beat of the society.

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