Britain’s capital city is filled with a million and one things to see, do, and taste. Where do you even begin to start planning a trip with your children? There are so many choices. We’ve found a few highlights that both parents AND kids can enjoy as you explore the sprawling city of London.
Play in the park
We all know that kids love a good park. What you may not remember is that we, the parents, love parks too, and there are none more gorgeous than in London. Explore the city’s green spaces, lush rose gardens, playgrounds, and fountains. You may find yourself being a kid again in no time.
- Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It’s hard to know where Hyde Park ends and Kensington Gardens begins. The fact is that the gardens used to be part of the park, so really there is no easy distinction. Their websites even list some of the same attractions as being in their space. Either way you get to see two fabulous outdoor spaces with your kids. Tube: Queens Way, Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park, Knightsbridge
- Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. This is a not to be missed. It’s a huge pirate ship on it’s own sandy beach in the middle of the park. IF that doesn’t tempt both parent and child to start digging I don’t know what will. Note: Bring your own shovels and buckets if you want to build a sand castle, but there is so much fun to be had you might not need them.
- Boating. Take a row boat or pedal boat out onto the Serpentine, or hop aboard the UK’s first Solarshuttle, a silent vessel powered only by the sun.
- Diana Memorial Fountain. Gaze at the tribute fountain to the future king of England’s mother. This Cornish granite made fountain flows in two directions, and has 3 bridges for you and your children to enjoy.
- Peter Pan Statue. For anyone who has ever wanted to fly this is a must when wandering through the gardens. The sculpture was commissioned by J.M. Barre, the author of Peter Pan, and is a favorite for admirers young and old to pose next to.
- The Italian Gardens. If you don’t know any better you may just think this is a series of pretty fountains, when in fact this was commissioned by Queen Victoria, and can be a delightful way for your children to play, and you to look at a work of garden and artistic beauty. And if you are a film buff, you can know you just walked through a spot in the movie Wimbledon and Bridget Jones Diary: The Edge of Reason.
- Regent’s Park. One of the royal parks of London, Regent’s Park is home to the largest grass area for sports in Central London. It is also home to the London Zoo, several playgrounds and a rose garden fit for a queen. Tube station: Regent’s Park or Great Portland Street
- ZSL London Zoo. Okapis, Pygmy hippos, Meerkats, oh my! If animals you’re your family excited then a stop at the London Zoo is a must. With over 750 species to see you may need to reserve a whole day. Most exciting will be the new Tiger Territory opening in Spring 2013. £23.50 adult/ £17 child / under 3 is free / £62.55 Family Pass (confirm prices via website. Discounts available if ordered online)
- Playgrounds. There are four playgrounds housed within the park. Most notable is the space at Hanover Gate. In 2010 a treehouse play area was built for older children with a sandpit next to the lake.
- Wildlife Garden. This inspiration garden was built to show what can be done, even with the smallest of garden spaces. Local children have been helping with the artwork, but most exciting is the 8-meter long newt built out of dirt, turf and flowers.
- Queen Mary Rose Garden. Named after the wife of King George V, this is London’s largest collection of roses and known across the globe. There are 85 different roses along with a treasured Delphinium border and Begonia garden housed along with shrubbery to add dimension to the landscape design.
Check out the museums
The beauty of the London museums is that most of them are free. If your child gets bored or starts to throw a tantrum you can leave without thinking about all that money you just lost.
- Science Museum. Grab your budding engineers, a copy of the Kid’s Science guide (£5), and explore the 5 levels of this part science, part history museum. Ask the guides where you should start for your child’s age, or check the website. They have broken down by age which sections would be best suited for your kids. Just don’t let their guide stop you from exploring what interests you. The Garden and the Pattern Pod are geared towards younger children. Caution: they can get very crowded. Automobiles throughout the ages designed, planes used in wartime and peace, and even the evolution of the toaster will engulf your child (and in my case husband) in all things with motors and wires. Tube station: South Kensington Station
- Free; open 10am- 6pm year round except December 24-26th
- Natural History Museum. Build a volcano and watch it blow, meet aliens, and hunt for fossils, before meeting a few dinosaurs that haven’t moved for 56 million years. Explore and discover the Baryonyx, found in 1983, liked to eat, and what that huge, curved claw was for. Tube station: South Kensington
- Free; open 10am-5:50pm year round except December 24-26th
- National Gallery. Make a game of your explorations. Mom and/or dad should check the map for their favorite rooms. Head that way with your kids and help them look at each room and find the image they love the most. Tube station: Charing Cross
- For example, I love French impressionist. Dek and I wandered around the galleries. He declared he did not like Degas (horrors!), but he did like Monet. At 3 years old he may not know who these masters were, but he sure knows what he likes.
- Don’t miss the gift shop for a few special treats for the whole family.
- Free;open daily 10am – 6pm, Friday 10am – 9pm year round except December 24-26th, and January 1
- Tate Modern. An art museum that not only allows children through the doors but they welcome them in with open arms? How refreshing. The Tate Modern provides open studio time for families, an interactive zone, visiting tips for parents to engage their children through art as they walk around the galleries, and a portion of their website dedicated to kids. Probably one of my favorite features that we have sadly not gotten to visit is the Under 5s Zone. It brings to life a Cubist still painting. Kids can slide down a violin, run inside a bottle, climb over grapes, and even peer into an apple. Tube station: London Bridge or Southwark
- Free; open 10am-6pm Sunday through Thursday, 10am-10pm Friday and Saturday year round except December 24-26th, and January 1
Got older kids? Check out Things to do in London with Teens
Do some shopping
Oh how I love shopping when we are in London. It’s so tempting to go crazy, but the exchange rate is quick to remind me why I have to only scoop up unique items I couldn’t find anywhere else. London is home to one of the world’s most amazing toy shops, but also to fabulous open air markets that even the youngest kid can enjoy.
- Hamleys. Just like parents shouldn’t miss a browse around Harrods, you should never deny your child the opportunity to go gaga at Hamleys, a company celebrating over 250 years of toy madness. Be prepared to spend more time than you thought you would. There are multiple levels, and if it is a weekend or school holiday you will be competing with the locals for room in the elevator. Pack up your stroller, carry the baby, and let the toddler go wild, but stay close so you don’t loose him. We like to start at the top and work our way down. It’s less crowded this way and we are sure to see all we want before we leave. Set yourself a spending limit, or even you the parent will find yourself grabbing stuff you wish you’d had as a kid. While you’re in the area make sure you drag your kids into a few mom and dad shops. You are on Regent Street after all! Grab a bite at a pub (I recommend the Shakespeare’s Head) on the Carnaby Street behind the store. Tube station: Oxford Circus
- Covent Garden. Pop the baby in a stroller or your carrier, and grab your toddlers hand for an adventure in this bustling neighborhood. We love to walk from Trafalgar Square into Covent Garden, but you can just as easily take the tube. Go during daylight hours when the Apple Market is humming away; it’s a great place to pick up a few trinkets or prints by local artists. Your kids will be over the moon when you bring them down into the lower courtyard to ogle Eric Snooks, a toy store no one of any age should miss. Just watch your wallet; you may spend more than you plan on some of the more unique items they carry. Pop into the London Transportation Museum if you get chilly, or your kids need a break from the shops. Tube station: Covent Garden
- Portobello Road. My family is used to me dragging them through outdoor markets, and what is better than the one at Portobello Road. Yes, you can hum the Mary Poppins song as you browse the vendor tables, dream about which scarf to buy, and indulge your child’s sweet tooth (and yours) at the bakers’ tables tempting you to dive into a cupcake or two. Movie Buffs: Look for the blue door that marked Hugh Grants house in the movie Notting Hill. Tube Station: Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill Gate
London walks with kids
Even though we do a lot more than walk with our kids, walking is one of our favorite ways to explore a city. London is filled with self-guided walks, and walking tours lead by locals and tour companies. Anywhere in London you can pretty much pick a major sight and then find the next one you want to go to and walk to it, but with kids you might want to be a bit more particular. Here are a couple of our favorites.
- Tower Bridge. One of the most iconic bridges in all of London is the Tower Bridge. If you children (or you) aren’t up for a tour of London Tower, you can still walk around the fortress and then take a walk across the Thames. You are able to go up into the bridge to enjoy the views, but be prepared for a climb. The views from the bridge is just as interesting, though maybe not as high. Tube station: Tower Hill
- Parliament to Trafalgar Square. Thanks to the movie Cars 2 by Pixar all parents can con their young offspring into walking past Parliament to see the clock tower where Big Bentley (Big Ben to non-Cars 2 enthusiasts) is housed. Lucky for you Westminster is just across the street. If you really want to tackle the abbey, do so in the morning when little wanderers are fresh and less likely to meltdown. If you find yourself there in the afternoon, skip the abbey and walk around Parliament. There is a lovely park on one side where kids can run around and stretch their legs. Once you have finished head up to Trafalgar Square. The walk isn’t too bad, about 15-20 minutes, and the kids can see horses outside of the Horse Guards Parade, and you can peek down at number 10 Downing Street. Tube station: Westminster
Ride the public transportation
Something as simple as a black cab, tube, or bus ride can get your little traveler excited about their next adventure, or maybe to them the ride is the ultimate adventure.
- Children under 10 years old ride free. They must be accompanied by a paying adult.
- Parents grab an Oyster Card or Travelcard. Both work on London public transit but the Travelcard does not work in the outer areas of London, just the central zone. The Travelcard is also only available for 1, or 7 consecutive days. The Oyster Card works across zones, and is does not have a day limit; you simply pay per ride. Instead of paying per ride with cash, the Oyster Card will save you quite a bit, making it an economical method of getting about the city. Now you can travel a ton with the kids.
Now that you have your list of things to do in London with kids, what are you waiting for? Plan that trip! Book those tickets! We may even see you there.
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