For some, London conjures up visions of royals, British style, theater, and world cuisine. For others, it’s a historical wonderland, where you can learn about life in Victorian times and life during the Blitz all in the same afternoon. But for those traveling with children, the vision might be marred by the usual big-city concerns when traveling with kids: long lines at various attractions and being stuck inside for too many hours, not to mention the expense.
I admit I once harbored those same concerns myself. But now? London is one of my favorite cities to visit with kids. As a family, we’ve enjoyed its many parks, accessible historical sites, and eclectic markets, and we found that a London stay doesn’t have to break the bank–if you know where to go.
Here are my tips for making the most out of your trip to London with kids, including some fabulous places to stay and eat along the way.
Activity 1: Frolic Like a Lost Boy in the Diana Memorial Playground
Located in Kensington Gardens, the Diana Memorial Playground is a fantastically whimsical park based on the theme of Peter Pan. The main feature is a huge pirate ship, surrounded by sand. There are also teepees, a sensory trail, and other play structures. Try to go during the week as it can get crowded on the weekends.
Tip: Pick up a picnic lunch and enjoy lunch at a picnic table while the children play. Also, if it’s a warm day, you might want to bring a towel and change of clothes. There are some water features and it will be very tempting to get wet.
Activity 2: Build your own Harry Potter Tour
London has no shortage of Harry Potter themed tours but for some of us, the idea of cattle-prodding the children to keep up with a tour group, seems like something Lord Voldemort might dream up. If your kids are Potter fans, why not do your own tour, at your own pace? You can find a listing of Potter-related sites on the Visit London website, including Platform 9 ¾ and Diagon Alley.
Activity 3: Shop and Nosh with the Locals at the Sunday Upmarket , Brick Lane
Shopping might not spring to mind as an obvious activity to undertake with kids but the Sunday Upmarket is indoors, has amazing food, and is in a very cool part of London—one that isn’t overrun by tourists.
Food vendors here serve every type of food you can imagine, from Moroccan tagine to Italian meatballs to scrumptious cupcakes—just the type of choices we enjoy when we’re traveling as a family.
If you’re looking for a gift, a stylish souvenir, children’s clothes, or a “statement” piece of jewelry, this is your spot. Kids will enjoy the hustle and bustle of it all, choosing their own food, and picking out the perfect gift for Grandma.
Activity 4: Besiege the Tower of London
Yes, it will be busy, but a visit to London with kids is not complete without touring the Tower of London. You’ll learn London history from Norman times in 1100 to today, see the crown jewels, and imagine yourself sitting on a real throne. Although you will hardly be alone in your visit (it’s one of England’s most popular tourist attractions), if you get your tickets ahead of time, you won’t be waiting long to get in. There’s also plenty of open space inside to stretch your legs.
The Yeoman Warder tours are highly recommended but, in our antsy opinion, it might be difficult for a family to keep up with a giant group. You might want to opt for touring on your own and supplementing your visit with some good old-fashioned out-loud guidebook reading. London is one of my favorite cities to visit with kids. As a family, we’ve enjoyed its many parks, accessible historical sites, and eclectic markets, and we found that a London stay doesn’t have to break the bank if you know where to go.
Tip: Keep younger kids occupied trying to spot the ravens inside the castle. Legend has it that if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress, the tower will fall. They have seven, just in case.
1 Great Place to Eat: Darwin Brasserie
The beautiful thing about Sky Garden’s Darwin Brasserie is it lets you kill two birds with one stone: 1) You get to have a great dinner out with the family and 2) You will be treated to phenomenal views of London, thus avoiding the lines and cost of riding the London Eye.
The menu is gastro-pub style, focusing on British food. You will find fish and chips or a hamburger but also nice salads, pasta, fish, and meat dishes. In other words, the whole family should be happy.
The food is good but the main event here is definitely the view so decide if you’d like to see it after dark or during the day. We were there at dusk and it was breathtaking.
Tip: Make a reservation well ahead of time and aim for an earlier dinner time or lunch for more availability. When you arrive, do not be alarmed by the lines to get in. These people do not have reservations but you do so you can go right on in.
Stay: The Georgian House Hotel
Finding affordable, stylish, family-friendly lodging in London is a tall order but The Georgian House offers just that. The hotel is made up of several Georgian-style town houses. A big draw for families are the Wizard’s Chambers suites–inspired by everyone’s favorite young wizard, which are large and private. The hotel also has triple rooms, connecting rooms, and even a few apartments so there are plenty of choices for all kinds of families. The décor is boutique-chic, quirky and fun.
The breakfast here is particularly good, with a choice of entrees, ranging from the full English (eggs, beans, toast, sausage, mushrooms, and tomatoes) to a scrumptious yogurt, fruit, and granola platter.
The Georgian House is on a quiet street just a few blocks away from Victoria Station. You can walk to Westminster or Buckingham Palace in about twenty minutes.