Family trip to London
London is such a historically and politically significant city, and hides many interesting and delightful things for families to enjoy. Read on if you would love some help deciphering where you should stay in London, what you can do with kids and where to find tasty food. The beauty of this article is that I have tried to include plenty of fun and free things to do in London with kids.
Along with the many well- known tourist attractions of London, kids will be excited by the green spaces and parks where they can play and run, and you just never know when you might stumble across something to draw your attention like when we unexpectedly passed a full mounted horse guard procession on its way up to Buckingham Palace.
With so many wonderful things to see and do in London it is hard to narrow a list of family activities down to my favourites but I have done my best below to give you some great ideas to get you started.
Although it is extremely rare for me to do this (as most things are thoroughly enjoyable and worth the time and effort) I have also included a little tip on what I wouldn’t recommend doing in London. You will have to read on to find out what left us wishing we hadn’t visited!
LONDON FAMILY ATTRACTIONS
Visit Buckingham Palace
Considering that we have two little girls it was an easy sell to go and visit the Queen’s palace, albeit their version of the Queen is a little more Elsa and a little less Queen Elizabeth. Nevertheless, kids will find it intriguing to visit Buckingham Palace and watch the soldiers marching in the front courtyard or even a changing of the guard.
If you are particularly organised and book well in advance you can also visit some of the rooms in the Palace. We left this way too late so be prepared to consider this months in advance.
Climb Tower Bridge
Our kids loved the climb up London’s Tower Bridge where they could walk across the glass floor to see the road and boats below. To make this a real adventure for the kids make sure you time your visit with a ‘bridge lift’ that occurs on several occasions on most days. Visit the Tower Bridge website on your visit day to double check the ‘lift’ times and position yourself either at the base of the exit pylon or looking through the glass floor to watch the lift unfold.
Princess Diana Memorial Playground and Memorial Fountain
Tucked away in a green and leafy corner of Kensington Gardens is the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. It is a spacious and thoughtfully designed park where kids can play on the large structures such as the pirate ship or a timber fort with slides and climbing ropes, or find their own quiet patch tucked away in private gardens with swings, musical instruments and sand pits.
In such a bustling and often crowded city it is a lovely place to find some quiet and open space for the kids to stretch their legs.
It’s not all about the kids either with a lovely café attached to the park that caters well for parents.
We visited the park first thing in the morning as I had heard it gets very busy with line-ups at peak times. Early on we had no trouble with crowds and the kids had a great play.
Once the kids have run themselves silly and gotten all hot and bothered it is the perfect time to stroll past Kensington Palace over to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. A favourite spot for the kids to cool off by splashing and playing through the large flowing water feature while mum and dad can chill out underneath a tree.
Explore Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park
Although a little untamed in places, Kensington Gardens have a sprawling and open design that can be enjoyed with a simple picnic or chilling out by the round pond while gazing at Kensington Palace. If you are feeling more active then it is a great place to ride a bike or go for a run.
Venturing further along you will reach Hyde Park, the more manicured and formal sister to Kensington Gardens. Filled with beautiful flower beds, mini waterfalls and squirrels scurrying between the trees to steal food from unknowing lunch-goers, Hyde Park is a green oasis in the heart of London. It is the perfect spot to unwind with the kids away from the city streets and if the weather is particularly warm and sunny you can even rent some paddle boats to laze on the ponds.
Take in a West End musical
Each time we visit London we try to take in a live show as the shows on the West End have never failed to amuse and entertain. Returning to London with kids for the first time, I opted for Matilda and my oldest daughter and I were wowed from start to finish. Such amazingly talented kids perform in Matilda and fun staging and music makes it very appealing for kids.
Visit the London Transport Museum
An inexpensive outing for kids in London and perfect for a rainy day is to take the family to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Kids enter for free and can entertain themselves climbing and exploring the showcases from London’s transport network over the years.
Ride an iconic red bus
London has a number of companies offering sightseeing bus tours and I highly recommend the Original Sightseeing Company which offers a combination of tourist loops that are fantastic for insightful and entertaining information on London. Even better is that they offer a kids commentary option, include free river cruises and other great discounts.
However, if you are visiting London with younger kids whose concentration spans are not so great a perfect and cheaper way to see the sights in London is on board one of the red double decker buses. With loads of different inner-city routes, you can sit up the top with views out the front of the bus as you cruise past all the iconic sites of London.
Although not as fast as the underground, the buses provide great views and the opportunity to hop off wherever your interests might take you.
See the sights from the London Eye
Kids absolutely love big ferris wheels and the London Eye really does give a lovely birds eye view of the London skyline. While the kids enjoy the ride in a giant bubble, the adults can take in the sights.
Take a stroll
London willingly rewards those who are willing to take a walk to explore all the highlights. Whether it be meandering along the Thames to see Big Ben and Westminster, wandering through the quirky and trendy laneways or bustling your way through the street markets, London is such a diverse and fascinating city best experienced by the whole family on foot.
Of course, a city the size of London has so many wonderful and interactive attractions with many we simply didn't have time to experience this time around. At least we know we will definitely be back...
So back to the what not to do with kids in London.
I hate to be a downer when it comes to fun things to do and this place certainly has the ingredients for a great day out. Unfortunately, there was just too much wrong to make it enjoyable – especially for parents!
For those of you not aware of the Kidzania franchise, they are ‘kid cities’ where kids enter with a boarding pass into a land where they can role play a large number of professions all while earning money to be spent at the end of the day. It is becoming hugely popular, is located in numerous big cities throughout the World and something we had been looking forward to visiting with the kids after hearing some great reviews.
So where does it all go pear shaped?
We had prepaid our tickets online and despite having the email with the voucher and barcode on our phone were told we had to have a printed version of the ticket. Explaining to them that as international travellers we did not have access to a printer made no difference and we were refused entry.
We then proceeded by emailing the voucher to the ticket desk three times from three different email accounts and none of the attachments could be opened. An hour and a half later, and with very agitated and upset kids and parents the ticket staff were finally able to open the attachment and gave us entry.
I will note here that at this same time there were three other people with exactly the same problem who all had to stand around for well over an hour with useless staff providing no assistance or decent trouble shooting.
Once we finally made our way into Kidzania we put on our smiley faces and attempted to enjoy what was left of our day only to be left continually disappointed and frustrated. The place quite simply was understaffed with many activities closed for long periods. The lines were long and wait times slow and once finally in, our kids were often bumped out of getting to actually do anything by other bigger kids.
What grated the most for me was the necessity for professional photographers to crawl the place for cheesy photos which required even more wasted time every room the kids would enter. This was merely so the staff can then jump in front of you whilst you attempt a hasty escape from the place to try and add some additionally exorbitant photos to the cost of your day.
My advice, save your pennies and visit many of the other way more worthwhile attractions in London.
Getting to London and Getting Around
London is serviced by nearly all the major International airlines and a huge number of discount carriers making it one of the most accessible cities in the World to visit. Once in London it is also an amazing place for cheap European flights making a ‘hop’ over to any other European destination super convenient. We have frequently flown with EasyJet to connect from London and whilst their planes are pretty basic the service is generally good and their prices are like nothing we can find in Australia.
Once you reach London it is best to navigate your way via public transport as the roads are heavily congested. The underground can’t be beat for convenience and coverage, however if you are travelling with infants or toddlers you will find it tricky as many of the stations do not have lifts. Whilst you can attempt to take strollers and prams up the escalators, be warned that some of the escalators are very long and steep which would be difficult to keep your balance.
A great alternate are the red public buses, not as fast but far easier to hop on and off with prams with the added benefit of sightseeing along the way.
To use the public transport system simply purchase an Oyster card on arrival at the airport, top it up with some credit and then away you go. Kids up to ten years old travel free on public transport when travelling with paying adults and when you are leaving the UK you are reimbursed any remaining credit on your Oyster card.
Family Hotels in London
London is notoriously expensive for accommodation and it is even more difficult to find hotel rooms to cater for families of four or more. Indeed, finding an affordable and family friendly hotel in London will likely be the most time consuming and painstaking task of visiting.
A wonderful option for families is to book an apartment through HomeAway which sources private holiday rentals in many places around the world. Find a location close to one of the underground stations in London and enjoy cooking for yourself, spreading out and living amongst the local Londoners.
We have also regularly stayed in the Travelodge hotels including staying at the Travelodge Covent Garden which gave us basic but very clean and perfectly comfortable accommodation, which included wi-fi and a simple buffet breakfast.
The Travelodge hotels are a budget brand in the UK and they are very reasonably priced for Central London and cater well for families, with all hotels offering family rooms. Covent Garden and Marylebone are our two favourite areas to stay in London and easily top as some of the best areas to stay in London for familiy travel.
Where to eat in London with kids
I love keeping it basic in London by visiting one of the historic old pubs for dinner. Simple menus and casual, chilled out vibes make it the perfect solution when travelling with kids and you don’t need to search far with pubs on every corner throughout the city.
If you are looking for something a little different, a place I highly recommend if you are close by Covent Garden is a Mexican place called Wahaca. Completely discreet from the street, you enter and head downstairs into the basement which is decked out with a cool interior and an energetic soundtrack.
The service was relaxed but efficient and the kids’ menu was a pleasant change with healthy options loved by our girls as they received a platter of Mexican finger foods and salads that they could ‘construct’ however they liked.
For the adults, the menu options were also healthy, inventive and delicious. Oh and feel free to be tempted by one of their slightly intoxicating cocktails.
If you need some ‘cheap’ eats in London this is also easy to find on the run. The Tesco and Sainsbury supermarkets found every couple of blocks have plenty of fresh salads, sandwiches and even some buffet style food options in the larger stores. There is also a wide spread of convenience stores throughout the city for light meal options such as Pret a Manger and EAT.
Be sure to share this info with any friends of family who might be looking to visit London with their kids. Happy travels!
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