London with kids – a day out with the Travelcard

My kids have wanted to ride the new Emirates Air Line (cable car across the Thames, in plain speak) in London ever since they first heard about it. My difficulty was trying to work out what else to combine the trip with. It doesn’t really link up with much in the way of attractions, unless you happen to be visiting its next door neighbour, the O2 arena.

Taking the “it’s better to travel than arrive” approach I eventually decided we should do exactly that – spend a day travelling in London using as many different types of transport as possible. Whilst my 7 year old son was excited, it was a harder sell to my tween daughter, but the prospect of a hearty fried breakfast, a boat trip and a ride on a cable car won her round.

So, what did we do?

Underground from Paddington to Embankment

Our arrival station was Paddington, so it should have been a relatively straightforward trip on the Bakerloo line to Embankment.  However we made a detour to the Regency Cafe in Pimlico for the aforementioned fried breakfast.  This added a fair amount of walking, and more than a few minutes trying to decipher Google maps, so whilst the cafe was first class I wouldn’t try to combine it with this trip again.

Thames Clipper from Embankment to North Greenwich

We boarded the Thames Clipper at the Embankment.  The Clipper is a regular everyday commuting boat so there’s no tourist commentary, which from my perspective is no bad thing. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than a dedicated sightseeing cruise.  You buy your tickets before you get on the boat, from a booth alongside the pier. Once on board there’s a snack bar and toilets.

View from the Thames Clipper
View from the Thames Clipper

We were the only passengers for most of the journey so the children had a front seat view. They were incredibly excited to begin with, pointing out the attractions they knew such as HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge, although this tailed off a little when we reached a long stretch of river with no obvious landmarks. Fortunately the pilot sped up and the trip took on a more exciting, James Bond-like, feel! At Greenwich you can see the restored Cutty Sark and then it’s just a short hop to the cable car.

Emirates Air Line from Emirates Greenwich Peninsula to Emirates Royal Docks

View of O2 arena from the Emirates Air Line
View of O2 arena from the Emirates Air Line

Despite its glorified name the Air Line is a cable car built, as you’ll probably guess, with sponsorship from a major airline.  Opened in 2012, the journey across the Thames takes about 10 minutes, although this is reduced to 5 minutes at peak travel times.

Even though it was half term there were no queues, and we were able to have an entire car to ourselves. Boarding is straightforward, and then you’re off into the sky.  For the first minute or so the kids were a little nervous, unwilling to move in case they rocked the car.  However they soon realised it was pretty solid and that the doors were unlikely to open mid-flight to deposit them into the Thames. The views over the O2 and back towards the City are fantastic and even though we visited on a gloomy day it’s well worth the money.

Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Royal Victoria to Tower Gateway

Front seat on the Docklands Light Railway
Front seat on the Docklands Light Railway

For those of you unfamiliar with the DLR, the trains travel above ground, often on elevated stretches.  It is operated through a computer system so there are no drivers.

We’ve been on the DLR a few times now, and always try to sit in the front seats in the front carriage.  The kids liken the ride to a roller coaster, although it would be a pretty tame ride in my opinion. Regardless, they enjoy throwing their arms up in the air at the slightest hint of a slope or bend.

Red heritage bus (route 15) from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square

The number 15 heritage bus route uses the traditional Routemaster buses, with a conductor on board and an open back platform. The bus takes about 25 minutes to reach Trafalgar Square, passing the Monument and St Pauls Cathedral on the way. If I’m honest, the ride was rather bumpy and I’d probably opt for the modern buses in future, but it was a fun experience.

Underground from Charing Cross to Paddington

Back to Paddington for our mainline train home – standing room only for the entire journey!

Our travels lasted around 3.5 hours, although we were very lucky with almost immediate connections and an absence of any queues. You can really mix and match the transport options in any way you like – or even add in others, such as a London cab or a Boris bike (for the brave).  Whilst all of the transport options above are well signposted and connect well with each other it’s probably best to bring a map too, in case you want to make any detours.

Kids view:

We liked the Clipper because it went fast, and the cable car because it was high.

General info:

  • The Air Line doesn’t always run in poor weather. Check the website before you travel to save a wasted journey.
  • The DLR, Thames Clipper, Emirates skyline and some Underground stations are wheelchair and buggy accessible. The route 15 Heritage bus isn’t easily accessible, but you can travel on a standard route 15 bus as these (and all other) buses have low lift floors.

6 thoughts on “London with kids – a day out with the Travelcard”

  1. Useful post thanks, this is a lovely idea for a day out with children. I’m planning a “London travel day” too but might throw in a black cab ride too (albeit a short one to keep the cost down)!

    1. Thanks Kate, I’m glad you found it useful. I think we enjoyed the sky ride the most, as it’s something a bit different.

  2. Great site. Me too love visiting different place, i like London best as there so much going on. I like walking along the river best, i do it a couple of time a week, as my office is next to it. Keep up having great visits round the country.

    1. Thanks Mark, London is a great city, don’t think you could ever run out of things to do there!

  3. This is the single best London-trip-tip I’ve ever come across.
    Me and my son turned the route around (ended up on Embankment to finish with a ride on the London Eye), but it was anyway was a big laugh and thrill from the onset.
    Thank you for making a Norwegian dad an son very happy!

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