London is a huge city, divided into six zones, with a wide and well-structured transport network. When you visit London, getting around the city can be expensive. I get around London daily with the contactless, and in this post we will see whether it is worth buying a prepaid card or not.
I confess I had to spend some night to prepare this post, as the information aren’t often updated and there are many options to evaluate. However, I hope this post can help you to find the best value on how to get around London with kids.
If you are traveling to London for the first time, you might be interested also in First time in London what to do.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY THE OYSTER CARD OT THE TRAVEL CARD
Travelcards and Oyster Cards, can be used on all London public transport: buses, metro, trains and Docklands Light Railway, including “Night Buses”.
- Save time, avoid buying individual tickets each time.
- Also avoid the usually long queues for tickets.
- You do not run the risk of buying a wrong rate or an incorrect ticket.
- Save a lot compared to buying ordinary tickets.
- Indispensable for those visiting London, if you think that the cost of a ticket for a single journey starts at £ 4.90!
- Arrive in London with your Travelcard / Oyster Card in your pocket, ready to be used.
FARES FOR CHILDREN AND KIDS
- From 0 to 4 years: travel for free, no ticket needed.
- From 5 to 10 years: they travel for free, if accompanied by an adult (max 4 children for each adult) you do not need a ticket.
- From 11 to 15 years: boys rate. (Oyster Card is not able to manage child rates, we recommend that you buy a 7-day Travelcard for kids which is less expensive).
- From 16 years up on normal adult rate.
HOW TO GET AROUND LONDON WITH KIDS: THE OYSTER CARD
The Oyster Card is a prepaid card that allow you to pay every means of transport in London, including ferries and the transfer from Gatwick Airport. Please note that you CANNOT use the Oyster card on the Heathrow Express or the Stansted Express. Children under 11 years old travel for free on Tube, DLR, London Overground and TfL Rail, when accompanied by an adult who owns an Oyster card. Children between 11 and 15 years old travel for free on tube, DLR and London overground at a reduced rate, provided they have a badge with Oyster Zip 11-15 photo. You can find all the information on the Oyster ZIP Oyster card on the Transport for London website.
The Oyster card can be purchased in all the tube stations with a deposit of £5 which will be refunded if the card is returned at the end of the trip.
With the Oyster Card you have a maximum daily cap for zones 1 and 2 that, at the time of this post is £6.40 (consider this amount for 3/4 trips), if you use only the tube and £4.50 if you use only the buses.
The card can be recharged, and if there is some credit on it, you can collect it when you return it.
NEW RATES FROM JANUARY 2020
From 1 January 2020, the daily and weekly spending limits will change slightly, as well as weekly, monthly and annual passes.
Travelcard fares will increase by 2.8% from January 2020:
Day Travelcard: increases from £ 13.10 to £ 13.50
7 Day Travelcard: increases from £ 35.10 to £ 36.10
Pay as you go cups (maximum daily spending in zones 1 and 2):
Daily: £ 7.20
* rates updated in January 2020
HOW TO GET AROUND LONDON WITH KIDS: THE VISITOR OYSTER CARD
The Visitor Oyster Card is only for tourists, you can buy online from abroad and you will be delivered directly to your home. Or you can buy it in London at the airport and in some train stations, but not in the city centre.
Unlike the Oyster, the Visitor oyster Card costs £5 not refundable, but it entitles you to some benefits and discounts that you can consult at this link, but I honestly do not see this great advantage. I don’t see any major benefits included, especially since most of the museums are free, and some of the most expensive attractions such as the London Eye are not included.
Children aged 5 to 10 years can travel free of charge anywhere and anytime without a ticket if they are with a paying adult. If you are traveling with children aged between 11 and 15, purchase a Visitor Oyster card online before the departure, and when you arrive in London, you can ask for the young discount, and your child will travel with a discount of 50% for up to 14 days.
You can load the 7-day-Travelcard only on standard Oyster cards (but not on the Visitor Oyster card). If you are in London for more than 5 days the Travelcard is the most convenient choice.
HOW TO GET AROUND LONDON WITH KIDS: THE TRAVEL CARD
The Travelcard is a prepaid card, daily or weekly, that allows you to travel without limits on Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and buses in London in areas 1-2 (central London).
These are the rates of the Travel card that can be purchased at this link:
- OFF-PEAK ONE DAY: £12.70 (Adults 16 +) It means that you can not use it at peak times, but only after 9.30 in the morning from Monday to Friday. It is valid for all zones 1-6.
- DAY ANYTIME: £12.70 only for 1-4 zones; £18.10 including ZONE 1-6. It can be used at any time on the day of validity and for any trip that starts before 04:30 the next day.
- 7 DAYS: for zones 1-2 costs £34.10 (Adults 16 +) can be used for 7 days during the period of validity and for any trip that begins before 04:30 the day after the expiration date.
So if you plan to stay in London for more than 5 days, the 7-day formula is definitely convenient.
TRAVELCARD VS OYSTER CARD: FIND THE DIFFERENCES
The Travelcard is valid for 1 or 7 consecutive days. For example: if you have purchased a 7-day card, and you are using it, for the first time, on a Thursday, at any time, the card will expire at 03.00 am on the following Wednesday and Thursday.
The Oyster Card does not have a specific deadline: you can start using it whenever you want and the days when you use it can also be non-consecutive. For example: if you have purchased a card to travel 3 days in zones 1/2 (credit charged 20 £) and you use it for the first time on a Thursday, you can travel all day, unlimited (always in zones 1/2). You could then decide not to use it at all on Friday and resume using it on Saturdays and so on. After 3 days of use, always with unlimited travel, the card will have exhausted its credit.
HOW TO USE
The Travelcard must be inserted in the special readers to access the metro and trains. Operation to be repeated even at the exit, so keep it always at hand. For buses, you have to go up front and show it to the driver.
The Oyster Card must be “swiped” on the special yellow readers to access the metro and trains. Operation to be repeated even at the exit, so keep it always at hand. For buses, you have to go up front and “crawl” it on the yellow reader. Pay close attention when you approach your Oyster to readers entering the metro. NEVER repeat the entry swipe twice. If you have any doubts: the gate cannot be opened, you cannot pass in time or anything, immediately contact the station staff, always present at the turnstiles, they will be happy to help you and you will avoid incorrect charges
HOW TO GET AROUND LONDON: THE CONTACTLESS
All the tube stations in London are covered with some manifestos advertising that the contactless can be used to pay at the same rates as the Oyster. The advantage is clearly that you do not have to charge money and reload an Oyster card and if you do not use the entire credit, you won’t need to recollect it. The possible disadvantage is that you might feel not to have the idea of how much you are spending with the contactless. You should check your online account that however we all have today.
As the Oyster works, also the contactless recognize a daily cup, but the two technologies do it in a different way. You can understand better with the video made by two journalist of the Londonist: the contactless applies the discount from the second trip in zone 1, thus saving on subsequent journeys. The Oyster, on the other hand, calculates the three single journeys in zone 1 at full price, and then reduces the cost only on the last trip from Zone 1 to Zone 6.
HOW TO GET AROUND LONDON: IS THE TRAVEL CARD WORTH PAYING?
By purchasing the Travelcard, you are entitled to have a series of offers 2 per 1. Be aware that you need to buy a “paper” Travelcard (not the electronic one) in any London railway or tube stations.
Travelcards loaded on Oyster cards are therefore not valid for offer 2 for 1. You can’t go wrong: If you don’t see the National Rail logo on your ticket, you’re not entitled to discounts.
Many attractions are included and the formula 2 x 1 let you spare lot of money: for example, the London Zoo, the London Eye, Madame Tussaud, the Tower of London, the ship Cutty Sark, the Tower Bridge. At this link an interactive map shows all the attractions affiliated with the offer 2 x 1.
- A nice saving for a family of 4 people with children older than 5 years
- Procedure not exactly simple, having to print all the vouchers before departure and buy the attractions early from abroad.
- All the attractions can be purchased online, and generally saving 10%. Also, you can choose the time slot and this means that for many attractions you can skip the queue.
LONDON PASS: IS IT WORTH TO BUY?
London pass is a credits package allowing you access to more than 80 top attractions, tours and museums. You don’t need to buy a ticket. Attractions included are Tower of London, London Zoo, Windsor Castle and many more. Some attractions include the option to skip-the-queue, enabling you to jump the line and walk right in. It’s also included a 1-Day Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour, to see London’s top landmarks with over 60 stops across London including Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Circus.
A 4-day pass for an adult (+16) and a child (5-15) costs 241£. It is worth to buy for 4 days as there are some expensive attractions included with this pass such as London Zoo (a single ticket costs 26£), London Eye (a single ticket costs 23£). You can have more information here.
YOUR LOCAL GUIDE IN LONDON: PLANNING SERVICES FOR YOUR TRIP
Do you want to experience London as a local and discover itineraries outside the usual tourist spots? Do you want us to create a personalized itinerary based on your specific interests (shopping, nature, culture … )? Living in London I can organize your trip with particular attention to family activities. You can request the service for a whole weekend or the itinerary for just one day. For more information click here or on the image below.
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I hope this post has been exhaustive and helpful, let me know in the comments if you have any other questions.
Disclaimer – Please note that this post contains affiliate links and any purchase made through such links will result in a small commission for myself with no charge for you.
Why do you need to buy a prepaid Oyster card and Travel cards?
Travelcards and Oyster Cards, can be used on all public transport in London: buses, underground, trains and Docklands Light Railway, including
What is the Oyster Card?
The Oyster Card is a prepaid card used to pay for all means of transport in London, including ferries and transfers from Gatwick Airport.
What is the Visitor Oyster card?
The Visitor Oyster Card is reserved for tourists only, can be purchased online before leaving and will be delivered directly to your home.
What are the differences between Travel card and Oyster card?
The Travelcard is valid for 1 or 7 consecutive days. For example: if you purchased a 7-day card, and use it, for the first time, on a Thursday, at any time, the card will expire at 03.00 of the night between Wednesday and following Thursday.