Travel to London with kids? Yes, taking three young children to London is not something I would have ordinarily undertaken, but a couple years ago, we did just that. The reason for dragging the kids along is simple – my sister, who has lived in London for nearly a decade, got married.
At the time, we had three children, aged 7, 4, and 1. Because we brought them along for the wedding, we did a lot of planning and research to find things to do with kids in London. We wanted the trip include activities that were both fun and feasible with the kids.
We skipped the traditional museums and boring historical sights; instead, opting for a more kid-friendly approach to London.
Stay in a flat — Renting a flat for your family is so easy these days, and can save you hundreds of dollars. We found a 2 bedroom apartment in a central neighborhood and shared it with my brother and a cousin. We had more space than a hotel room, cooking and laundry facilities, and saved a lot of money. Also, you can basically stay anywhere in the city if you are looking for a flat to rent – you’re not limited to touristy areas with expensive hotels. Use these sites to help you find lodging: Airbnb and vrbo.
Eat quick — Taking kids out to eat is a pain, even in your own time zone. Luckily, London has lots of ready-made and quick-serve food options. If you’re renting a flat, there are even more options of easy-to-make meals available at grab-and-go restaurants such as Pret, Eat, Itsu, or at supermarkets. Of course, you’ll want to introduce your children to fish and chips, but save fine dining for another occasion.
Public transport — Familiarize yourself with public transport in London before you go. This is definitely the best way to get around. The only downside is that it can be a bit tricky with a stroller. If you have a very small child, you will want to go with a carrier rather than a stroller. Besides the hassle of using a stroller on public transport, they aren’t allowed in many attractions, and much of the city is difficult to navigate with a stroller.
Preparation – Traveling to Europe with kids is best when you make a plan. Our friends at Aciu share tips to make the trip a fun and relaxed vacation for parents and kids.
There are so many kid-friendly attractions in the London area, we had trouble nailing it down, and we spent over a week there! We planned just one thing per day, so the kids wouldn’t get overwhelmed, and would have plenty of time to rest and free play.
We took the Eurostar across the channel to visit Paris (more specifically, Disneyland Paris), and this train ride was one of our kids’ favorite London excursions. But you probably want to see London with kids, not leave it, so here are some great kid-friendly attractions in London.
This was an amazing excursion for the older kids (baby ended up being sick this day, so I can’t speak as to how much fun it would be with a 1 year old). We really wanted to take the kids to an authentic castle while in Europe, and decided on Warwick Castle.
Though authentic, it is quite set up for tourists and kids. The kids explored an old castle, ran around the grounds, learned archery, and watched a catapult display.
There was also a neat bird show and peacocks wandering the grounds. Spying out the castle’s arrowslits and admiring the stained glass windows were also very exciting for the kids.
London has plenty of parks for kids to enjoy running around in open space. Hyde Park is huge! There are pathways to explore, a big pond, fountains, gardens, statues, and a carousel. In the summer, you can rent boats and enjoy the wading pool, and there’s a Winter Wonderland in the winter. We enjoyed an outdoor walk, a carousel ride, and chilled under the trees while watching ducks in the pond.
The London Science Museum is free (suggested donation) and has tons of hands-on activities for kids of all ages. The museum has giant foam blocks for toddlers, thermal dance room for everyone, and displays of technology through the ages for grown up kids.
We are all Harry Potter fans, so this was absolutely the most exciting thing we did with our kids in London. The Harry Potter studio tour is not like the Harry Potter theme parks. There are a few activities, but mostly you just walk around and observe the sets, costumes, and props from the movies. Our older two had seen all the movies at this point and were very excited by everything. We had to work a little harder to entertain the one year old, but she loved all the animals and the animatronic mandrakes.
There are Harry Potter themed drinks and snacks available (including butterbeer!). You can take wand lessons, ride a broom over a green screen, climb into Mr. Weasley’s car and the Knight Bus, and walk along Diagon Alley.
At the end of the tour, there’s a gift shop that will entertain your kids for another hour.
In a more traditional historic vein, we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. We explored the main cathedral and sat for a while enjoying the beauty.
Be sure to climb the stairs to the whispering gallery, inside the dome, where you can try to whisper to someone else on the other side and hear each other. Young kids can easily make the several-story climb up to the dome. We decided to climb all the way up to the top and see the view from the outside of the cathedral. The steps are many and steep, but our 5 and 7 year olds made the climb on their own, led the way in fact, and were very proud. Then, it took us quite a while to descend as the 1 year old decided to walk down the hundreds of steps by herself. The view from the top is amazing. Who doesn’t love seeing a city from above?
Speaking of seeing the city from above, the London Eye is a fabulous activity to do with kids. The observation wheel gives you a view of the river, Big Ben, the houses of Parliament, and many other points of interest. Plus, it’s just plain fun to go up in the giant wheel.
Another way to see the city is a London Bus Tour. There are several companies that offer hop-on-hop-off tours, where you can buy your ticket at any tourist stop along the route. A recording gives you notes of interest as you drive around London.
A bus tour is a great way to see the city in a more relaxing way, or use it to hop between places you’re visiting. We got on the bus and sat there for three hours. The kids had a blast making fun of the recording, seeing different sites, and just hanging out and relaxing. The baby took a nap.
There are many places in London that you might like to show your children, but in which they may not be very interested. A bus tour is a great way to hit many of those sights. We hopped on a St. Paul’s Cathedral, crossed various bridges, swung by Buckingham Palace, and eventually got off to walk around outside the Houses of Parliament (not very interesting for kids, but a must see) before heading back to our flat via tube.
The Tower of London is not very kid-friendly. Not only that, it’s really expensive. On the inside, it’s basically a sparse and boring museum. But the surrounding area provided us with some fun on a morning when we only had a few free hours. We first walked across Tower Bridge and back. We like to do famous bridge walks when we travel to a new city. The Tower Bridge is one of the shortest we’ve done, an easy little walk for kids. Plus, the bridge itself is notable.
We then walked along the Thames, next to the Tower of London. There is space to run around chasing birds, there are boats floating by, as well as viewing the Tower itself. We bought ice cream and had a little picnic while enjoying the area, and did not pay to take our kids into the attraction, which they would not have enjoyed.
The London Zoo gets an honorable mention here. We did not take our kids to the Zoo this trip, mostly because we had enough London-specific activities to occupy our time, but it is worth seeing. What kid doesn’t like a visit to the zoo? The ZSL also offers Meet the Animals programs to meet and feed animals such as giraffes and meerkats (extra cost). The Zoo is located in Regent’s Park, which is also home to Queen Mary’s gardens and over 85 varieties of roses. It’s especially beautiful in early summer. Regent’s Park offers the same open air excitement as mentioned at Hyde Park above: plenty of space to explore and run free, fountains, statues, hidden gardens and more.
The activities we did were not what my husband and I would choose when taking a trip to London, but we don’t regret taking our kids. We found plenty of cultural, educational and FUN activities to do with kids in London, and they had a great time seeing the city.
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