One thing I neglected to research before leaving was accessibility in London and Scotland. Did you know that the majority of Tube stations in Central London, where the bulk of tourists spend their time, do not have elevator access for strollers or wheelchairs? I do now! Here are some suggestions for getting around London with young kids (the ones who can’t walk far).
The London Underground is not your friend
When we went to Hong Kong with our then two year old, my mother warned us Hong Kong’s subway system wasn’t very stroller friendly. It turned out to be okay, though not great. Let’s not sugarcoat this: the London Underground is horrible if you need to use a stroller or a wheelchair.
Look at this website before planning your trip to London. When an official page detailing how hard it is to find elevators exists, you know you’re in for it. When I booked the Hyatt Regency Churchill, I didn’t bother to look into any of this stuff. I saw that it was near a Tube station (Marble Arch) on the Central line. Perfect, right? Woops.
Our first experience on the Tube, we wanted to take the subway six stops or so, from Marble Arch to Bank (gotta see London Bridge even if it isn’t falling down). Like the unprepared geniuses we are, we left the house with two strollers, diaper bag (in the caddy), and a backpack.
To be honest, I blacked out that experience. Our stress levels were high but somehow we got the kids down (and up) 5 or 6 flights of stairs and a long escalator. We returned home via a ferry and walking.
The next day, we decided to take the Tube again – twice. This time, infant in carrier, preschooler in umbrella stroller (with shoulder strap – key), no diaper bag, just a backpack. We made it down but it was still pretty rough. I understand it’s an old system and all, but unless you are gluttons for punishment for us – skip the Tube. With two young kids it’s really tough, if you have just one, at least one parent can carry the stroller down and the other can escort the kid.
Bottom line: if you are parent to a young child, don’t think being next to a Tube station makes life more convenient. Oh and make sure you get Oyster Cards, even if you don’t return them you’ll probably save money if you take public transport at all.
Buses and Ferries are much more family friendly
If you want to stick to public transportation, the buses and ferries work much better for families. We didn’t take a bus but those famous double decker buses all seem to have a dedicated section for wheelchairs/strollers (“buggys”). They even lean over to make rolling onto the buses easier.
We also took a nice ferry ride from the Tate Modern over to Embankment (near Trafalagar Square). The ferry system uses the same Oyster card system as the rest of public transport so you can save a few pounds. Riding on the water brings a sense of calm and peace and the kids seem to enjoy it. You can ride all the way up and down the Thames if you’d like!
We also enjoyed the ferry because there was a lot more room to spread out and it was much less crowded. Bear in mind we never traveled during rush hours, we do not love punishment THAT much.
London Taxicabs and Uber work well
I probably should Uber more but…I don’t know, I don’t have a good excuse. I’ve read that Uber runs well in London, so putting that out here first.
We did use taxis, which I thought were pretty great. London taxis have this neat feature where all the luggage goes in front of you. They are these funky black cabs where you can fit 5 people in the back and/or luggage. This works out well for strollers: they can go in the back without the need to open the trunk, etc. etc. I just found it super convenient. We are not heavy cab users (except Cab Sauv RIMSHOT) but for those of you who are, I found the London system pretty family friendly.
Walking works great but be prepared to go slowly
I’d say we averaged 5-6 miles of walking every day in London. We walk because we love it; with the kids we add on the benefit of stroller naps. From Marble Arch it’s a 30-45 minute walk to Covent Garden or the Theater District; we did that multiple times.
One thing I noticed with the kids that I hadn’t noticed before is just how crowded London is. Without kids impatient Americans can just cut in and out of the crowds with ease. With strollers, even when we split up, it took a bit of navigation. Oxford Street proved especially difficult: TONS of tourists.
Still, we love walking and really enjoyed walking through all of London with our kids. The real benefit of visiting a city multiple times is you know it well enough to focus on what you love and can use energy to explore as you wish. This works out really well with kids since you have to expend so much energy managing them!
Quick thoughts on the Heathrow Express
I really love the Heathrow Express and the Hyatt Regency is just a quick 10 min cab ride away from Paddington Station where it drops you off. If you book 90+ days in advance, tickets only cost like 6 quid which is a steal. The express train runs every 15 minutes and gets you from Heathrow to London in 15 minutes.
However, since M was still feverish the night before we left, we opted to take a loss on our return ticket on the Heathrow Express and take a cab all the way to Heathrow (about 70 pounds). Up until the very last second we considered pushing her, but ultimately decided taking a more expensive and convenient route would be best for her health and the family’s sanity. Parenthood.
Other than the Underground, London feels pretty accessible for young kids. So make sure you don’t plan to use it unless you are staying near an accessible station (and only plan on visiting accessible stations). The odds of that are low. Still, everything else is great and feet work great too! If you are one of those crazy step counters, London can do wonders for your goals!