London, UK :
London with Kids: The Ultimate Guide
London is one of most popular tourist destinations in the world but what many people don't realize is that London is also one of the most family-friendly cities on the planet. With loads of free and paid activities all through the year, beautiful city parks and a real life Queen (!), London with kids is always a blast. Read our complete guide on where to stay, eat and play in London.
Getting to London:
London is one of the easiest places to get to because of its status as one of the world's largest global cities. London is served by five airports but Heathrow (LHR) is the largest in terms of international traffic from Europe and the rest of the world. From Heathrow you can get to the city fairly easily by the Heathrow Express Rail or by the regular underground. A taxi will cost you GBP 45-60 but may be worth the money if you have tons of luggage and the kids. If you are in Europe, London is fairly accessible by train and by car. Either way, you have plenty of options to get to London.
Getting Around London:
If you are in central London, don't even think about hiring a car. The tube, buses (particularly the red double decker ones that will give the kids a kick) and good old black cabs (where you can take the stroller without folding it up) will suffice for your London visit. Use the government-issued journey planner to find your way around.
Read Momaboard's Everything You Need to Know About London Public Transportation and Kids.
Where to Stay In London:
If you are visiting for a short period, it's best to stay central (Zone 1). There are hundreds of hotels and service apartments all over London. To be close to the parks and main attractions, look for accommodations around:
- Kensington/South Kensington
- Oxford Street/Circus
- Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus
- Marlybone High Street
- Covent Garden
- Notting Hill
Fun Things to do in London with Kids
You will find out soon on your London visit that this is a city that really cares about its kids, judging from the number of activities available. From that standpoint, is one the most child-friendly major cities in the world.
Parks: First and foremost, if the weather is conducive, ditch everything and head to the parks. You have a number of options and frankly, can't go wrong with any of them:
- Hyde Park: London's largest park offers endless squatting grounds, a lake with paddle-boats, horse-riding, and Serpentine, a well-regarded restaurant. In the summer, kids will love the Diana Memorial Fountain and if it's warm enough, dip into the lake for a swim. At the end, pop into Serpentine Kitchen for a glass of wine and something off the kids' menu.
- Kensington Gardens: This is by far the most popular with my kids because of the pirate ship in the Diana Memorial Playground. But don't stop there, walk around the playground and enjoy some of the most imaginative play structures you will see, including a giant storytelling chair and a whole section of mini tree-houses. There is a very clean restroom and kiosk for snacks. When you are done, walk down to the lake and feed the (greedy) ducks and swans some bread! Kensington Gardens connects to Hyde Park.
- Holland Park: Holland Park is a big neighborhood park in the Holland Park neighborhood of London. It has two playgrounds, one for babies and toddlers, which is basically a giant sand pit and one for older kids with cool climbing structures like a rocket ship and zip-lining cord. (There is also a small section for younger kids so you are not torn between your kids). Holland Park is delightful to stroll around and the cafe is not half-bad, although the lines can be very long on a sunny weekend. Holland Park is also a great place for a friendly game of football or tennis.
- Regent's Park: In the northern park of the city lies Regent's Park, home to the Britain's largest open air theater and the world-famous Queen Mary's Gardens. The London Zoo is also here and worth a visit for animal lovers (although it's quite pricey at 24GBP/adult and 17.50GBP/child - save by booking online).
- Hampstead Heath: If you are looking for a more rustic experience, make your way over to this heath in northern London to forget that you are in the city at all. Wade in one of the heath's parks, stroll through the endless fields and have a swing at the adventure playground. No London visit is complete without a dip in the wading pool.
Art and Museums: London also has some of the most interesting museums in the world, and the best part is that many of them are free (a welcome relief!):
- The Natural History Museum: This free museum is probably my kids' favorite. They were sold at the entrance, at the sight of the giant T-rex. The Dino exhibit is the natural first stop but make sure to explore all the levels of this fascinating and beautifully exhibited museum.
Check out more pictures of the Natural History Museum.
- The Science Museum: Also in South Kensington, like the NHM, and also free, this interactive museum will keep the kids entertained for hours on a rainy day.
- The London Transportation Museum: If you have a child who's as obsessed with cars and trains as my 5-year old son, you must visit this beautiful museum in Covent Garden. It's not free - but you pay once for the entire year (a bit of a con for tourists who will likely only visit once, I agree). The kids will love posing as the driver of a double decker and the underground simulator. Check out the top levels for a history of transportation and a cool model of London after the major earthquake that razed most of the city to the ground. When you are done, enjoy the street artists, stores and restaurants of Covent Garden.
- The Tate Modern: Entrance to this contemporary and modern art museum is free, but it's well worth the 10 pounds for upto four audio guides to do the Family Experience - a set of tasks designed to help the children understand and appreciate the art. There are also tons of hands-on activities for the kids including make your own sculpture and your own painting. Your little ones might turn into mini Picassos by the end of your London visit.
Check out more pics from our day at the Transportation Museum.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum: The V &A has an amazing collection of free and paid exhibits. You can buy tickets for the V&A events the day of, but if you are interested in something with limited availability, it's probably best to book online. This gorgeous museum is a treat for adults and children alike; check out their special family events. The V&A is in South Kensington but the V&A Museum of Childhood is in Bethnal Green, a good 30 minutes away. It's more geared to children with a collection of historic toys and story readings, but I personally think the main V&A is a much more enriching experience.
Other things to do with kids in London:
- The London Eye: London's South Bank is a relatively new area and quite fun on a sunny weekend. The London Eye is its biggest attraction and although it's expensive (book tickets online to save money and time), your kids will appreciate the experience of riding in a giant Ferris wheel. The ride is 30 minutes long and they will ask you to fold up your stroller as you get on and off but if there is room in the carriage you can open it up once inside. The views on a clear day are spectacular and I am sure at night it's quite magnificent as well. Definitely a must-do on your London visit. When you are done, grab a meal at Giraffe's or Wagamama's (see Where to Eat in London with Kids below) and take a stroll for a closer look at Big Ben and the UK Parliament building. The Aquarium and the London Dungeons are also here, if you have the time and inclination.
Check out more pics from our day at the London Eye.
- Madame Tussauds: This is more for kids aged 6 and up, I think. Walking through myriads of lifelike wax statues of historical figures and celebrities is a great way to brush up on their general knowledge.
- High Tea: There is nothing more English than tea and crumpets. The high tea at the Ritz is the most famous, and the Dorchester is the most upscale (men must wear a jacket) and the Kensington Hotel does a monthly one for kids with story-telling and people dressed up in costumes.
- Notting Hill: I put this in here because it's one of London's most upscale residential neighborhood, home to names like the Beckhams, Richard Branson, Robbie Williams and Claudia Schiffer. (The Royals: Harry, William, Kate and baby George live in nearby Kensington). On my last visit there we got to stalk Jonathan Rhys Meyers who cracked a half-smile at my 2-year old who was mid-tantrum, on the ground. Oh well. Even if celebrity sighting is not your thing, Notting Hill is worth a visit. Go to Ottolenghi for a taste of gourmet heaven, or walk up Ladbroke Grove for some luxe kid's wear.
- The Royal Albert Hall: The Royal Albert Hall's location between the parks and museums of South Kensington is not coincidental. It was designed to be a center to promote an understanding for the Arts and Sciences and indeed it does. Try to catch a performance (older kids only) or at least tour the building to complete your london visit.
- Buckingham Palace: My kids were most intrigued at the concept of a Queen that is not mummy and enjoyed the grandeur of the Palace. No London visit is complete without watching the Changing of the Guard once. (Twice, if you have kids with leanings towards the monarchy). Grab the schedule here.
- West End Plays: This is the land of Shakespeare. Watch a play. Some of the most popular ones for kids are The Lion King and Matilda but there are often smaller productions for kids that are very fun as well.
Dining in London:
There is no dearth of dining options in London and you can find eateries to suit every taste and budget. The following chains are everywhere and a safe bet: Giraffe (global food), Pizza Express (pizza pasta), Byron Burgers, Nando's (chicken and pita), Wagamama (noodles, Japanese faire), Pret A Manger (grab and go sandwiches), Paul (French patisserie, great hot chocolate).
Some of our other favorites include:
- Dishoom: A lively Indian restaurant with a location in Covent Garden and in Shoreditch with a kids's menu. Beware the line could be long on weekends.
- Ranoush/Maroush: London has some of the best Middle Eatern cuisine in the world so if you run into one of these (you inevitably will), pop in for a kebab and some hummus. Toning down the spices works well for the kids.
- Taqueria: If you are in Notting Hill and craving a bit of Mexican food, head over to Taqueria for beautiful people-watching, some margaritas and one of the most inventive kids' menus I have seen.
- Portobello Ristorante: Everyone has a favorite pizzeria in London and this is mine. Enjoy pizzas, pastas and wine in a traditional Italian setting where they speak just enough English and kids are very welcome.
Shopping in London:
The two best places to shop for kids toys are Harrods (the toy department is amazing) and Hamley's (on Regent's Street, equivalent to NYC FAO). Of course, you can't go too wrong with Selfridges either. The shopping district on Oxford and Regent Streets can be very busy and tricky sometimes to navigate with a stroller. Same with Portobello Road in Notting Hill. The market there on Saturdays is amazing for antiques, but the crowds are thick. And any area that is extremely crowded should be approached with caution in terms of pick pocketers/purse snatchers.
Resources for your London visit:
- If you can't find a cab on the street use Uber or Hailo on your phone
- Use City Mapper or Google Maps to help you get around
- Time Out London has a good list of what's going on in the city on any given day
- For what's hot in the city (primarily for adults), I love Our Little Black Book!
- For kids, we love this series of interactive books by our very own Mombassador Natalie Tanner.
London Visit: General Travel Tips
Although English is spoken in London, there are a few words that are different in the Queen's English than in US English. In particular, the following are important with kids:
Pushchair = Stroller
Lift = Elevator
Queue = Line
Nappy = Diaper
Dummy = Pacifier
Rubbish Bin = Trash Can
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