Take Your Kids To London!

This historic city will entertain and educate your family any time of year

By Felicity, World Traveler

London is a special place, a city that’s brilliant to visit alone or as a family, at the height of summer or during winter’s most dreary days. Centuries of history and a diverse modern culture mean endlessly curiosities for kids to explore—I promise you will never be at a loss for what to do next! Here are some of the many reasons you should visit England’s capital as a family, and how to do it with kids of all ages:

View of London Bridge at dusk


Why is London such a family-friendly place to visit?

  • There’s a staggering abundance of fun things to see and do, with many of them being educational and/or free!
  • There’s no language barrier. Just remember to ask for “the toilets” instead of bathrooms, that a lineup is called a “queue,” the word for dessert is “pudding,” and that the phrase “you alright?” is simply the English way of saying “hello/how are you?”
  • If you’re generally sticking to Zone 1 (the central area), London is an incredibly walkable city -Transit is efficient, quite clean, well-marked, and easy to use
  • You can find food options for every taste, including the pickiest of eaters
  • There are a huge number of direct flights daily from all over North America to London’s major airports
  • You have your choice of many wonderful, family-friendly hotels

Getting Around

As much a London institution as Big Ben or double decker buses, the Tube system is truly a great way to get around. Trains come frequently, are usually on time, and Londoners are courteous with one another onboard. As with any major train system, avoid traveling at rush hour, and I’d also recommend getting an Oyster card, a re-loadable form of payment you can use on both the Tube and buses.

Sign for Tube station in London England

Tip:
If you have a stroller, opt for the bus over the Tube! Some stations are wheelchair and stroller accessible, but more often than not there are stairs involved. That said, there will always be someone willing to lend a hand.

When to Go

London is beloved for many things, but impeccable weather is not one of them. As long as you’re ok with bundling up and packing an umbrella between late autumn and early spring, however, fun can be had at any time of year. My favorite time to visit is October, when the summer heat has subsided, every second Londoner is donning a beautiful wool peacoat, and brisk air makes a Sunday roast taste even better. The most popular time with visitors is June to September, when temperatures range from 69℉ to 73℉, with the occasional heat wave thrown in.

Two kids looking out over view of London

When it comes to activities, London’s offerings are endless. Here are some favorites:

The London Eye

Start your trip with a spin on this 453 foot tall ferris wheel; it carries you up, up, and up above London takes, with one full rotation lasting about 30 minutes. There’s an interactive tablet that kids can use to spot major landmarks, which is a good way to get your bearings and get excited about the places you’ll be visiting over the coming days.

Smiling blonde children looking out over view of LondonImage: Shutterstock

Tips: Book your tickets ahead of time, and pay the extra for the Fast Track queue—it’s worth it, especially with toddlers. Also, don’t forget to use the toilets beforehand! They’re located in the London Eye Ticket Hall.

Museums

One of the best things about London is its outstanding collection of free or low-cost museums (though a small donation of about 5 pounds is encouraged). They offer exceptional programming for kids of all ages, and are beloved by local and visiting families alike. Here are some that’ll please toddlers, kids, tweens, teens, and their parents:

The British Museum
An icon! One of the world's most renowned, this museum houses objects all the way from prehistoric times up to the modern age. They also offer free activity backpacks, regular free events, and kids will love the Digital Discovery Centre.
Nearest Tube station: Tottenham Court Road

London Natural History Museum
One of three museums along “Exhibition Road” in South Kensington, it’s hard to know who will gasp louder—you or your kids—upon spotting the life-sized blue whale skeleton. (My bet is on you). Conceived of as a “cathedral to nature,” this breathtaking 19th century building is filled to the brim with all kinds of wonder. Take your kids to hands-on exhibits like the Investigate science lab, or get “shaken up” at the Earthquake Machine (FUNNNNN). Some charges apply.
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington
Tip: To beat the crowds, go on weekdays either first thing in the morning or later in the day.

Science Museum
Also on Exhibition Road and next to the Natural History Museum, this museum is often less crowded than its neighbor, but no less exciting! Their inventive programs are designed for everyone from toddlers to teens and are packed full of learning resources; you can even visit their website ahead of time to access planning itineraries for different age levels. Learn about space, the human body, electricity, engineering, underwater life….you name it, they’ve got it.
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington

V&A Museum of Childhood
Warning: adults may cry from such lovely nostalgia. With free daily activities (including Animal Magic and Art Smarts for under 5 year-olds), this fascinating museum has everything from storytelling and treasure hunts to an extensive collection of dolls’ houses. In fact, the museum holds over “26,000 objects and 61 archival collections that span 400 years, from 1600 to the present day.” Over the next year the Museum of Childhood will be transitioning from its current home in Bethnal Green to a purpose-built Collections and Research Centre in Stratford's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. In other words, it’ll soon be even bigger and better.
Nearest Tube station: Bethnal Green

HMS Belfast
Enjoy the unique experience of boarding Europe's largest preserved WW2 warship. From the Captain's Bridge to the sailors’ mess area, you can tour nine different decks, each steeped in history and full of hands-on activities. 
Nearest Tube station: London Bridge Tip: Free family audio tours are available.

London Transport Museum
Conveniently located in Covent Garden, the London Transport Museum produces exhibitions that deal with the city’s intriguing history of transportation. Kids who love big vehicles will lose their minds with excitement, as there are more than 80 on display including a classic red London bus and the world's first Tube train. And of course, plenty of the exhibits are designed for children’s play, including an interactive area called Interchange.
Nearest Tube station: Covent Garden

Horniman Museum and Gardens
Open since Victorian times but lesser known to foreigners, this museum is heaven on earth for the entire family. It was founded by Frederick John Horniman, an English tea trader who in 1901 opened his house and its extraordinary collection of objects to the public. Since then it’s grown to include an aquarium, a hands-on centre, a Nature Base, lots of great free programming, and ground that are perfect for a picnic. There’s even a weekly Sunday food market in the gardens from 10am to 3pm! Some charges apply.
Nearest Tube station: Forest Hill

Royal Air Force Museum
Simply put, a dreamworld for aviation enthusiasts of all ages.
Nearest Tube station: Colindale

Other classic sites include the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and the London Zoo (which, having been around since 1826, is a piece of history unto itself).

Two giraffes standing in a British zoo


Explore All Things Harry Potter

For the HP fan (ie, every child over the age of six?!), start at Platform 9¾ in King’s Cross train station. Your kids get to “push” a cart luggage through the magical wall of this platform, making for the best photo opp of your trip! They even get to pick which Hogwart’s House scarf they wear. This is free, but you’ll more than likely have to stand in a queue.

Small boy dressed up as Harry Potter and holding a wandImage: Shutterstock

Second of the Harry Potter ‘must-visits’ is the actual Warner Brothers studios where most of the movies were filmed. Tour the different sets; practice wand magic; learn about the props, costumes, and special effects; ride a broomstick using green screen technology; hop aboard a mockup of the Hogwarts Express; and much more. 

Tips:
-Reserve your tickets as far in advance as possible! The studio can only host a limited number of guests per day, so you do NOT want to show up and be turned away.
-The Warner Brothers studios are located twenty miles north of London, so you’ll also want to plan your journey ahead of time. Travel by train, bus, or—if you’re brave enough to drive on the left-hand side of the road—by car (parking at the studios is free). The Warner Brothers Harry Potter website offers extensive instructions for each of these transport options.

See a Show on the West End

Like New York, the theater scene in London is phenomenal—you’ll have a hard time choosing from the many amazing options (think The Lion King and Matilda the Musical, for example).

Exterior of theatre in London with Greek architectureImage: Shutterstock

For older children, you can also look into theater, music, and ballet tickets for performances at the Royal Albert Hall or the Royal Opera House, and keep an eye on TimeOut, which regularly updates ticket options for toddler-appropriate plays. The Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge, for example, specializes in performances for 2 to 21 year-olds.

Princess Diana Memorial Playground

Located next to the late Princess’ home at Kensington Palace, this whimsical playground is just the place for your kids to let loose. The number of children playing at any given time is regulated, so you may have to wait in a short queue.

Do High Tea!

London has plenty of choices for doing afternoon tea the kid-friendly way. Here are some of the best:

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych: for the imaginative child
  • Children’s Afternoon Tea with Daunt Books at The Langham: for the avid reader (includes a book that children select themselves from a library that’s been carefully curated by Daunt Books)
  • Children’s Afternoon Tea Menu at Fortnum & Mason: a classic spot for the child who’s been itching to sip tea with their pinky finger raised
  • Kids’ Sci-Fi Tea at The Ampersand: for the child who’s just been to the science museum!

Hang with the Locals

If you’re looking to get out of Zone 1 and into some green space, take the Tube to Hampstead Heath. North of central London, this massive hilltop park with woodlands and ponds is a favorite of London families.

Woman running between trees in English park

Walk and run around, enjoy a picnic on the grass, kick a ball, and even go for a swim! On a nice day, kids can take a dip in the Parliament Hill Lido; for those unfamiliar with the term, a lido is a public, open-air swimming pool or beach. Take note: this particular lido is unheated so unless your offspring have particularly thick skins, this is best for a hot day.

Where To Eat

There are plenty of spots around London to enjoy quick and/or casual meals with kids. Here’s how and where to seek them out:

Overhead shot of cafe at large museumCafe at the British Museum. Image: Shutterstock

  • Conveniently, most museums have a cafe, often located on the main or lower levels. They’re reasonably priced, have good menu items for children, and—best of all—they couldn’t be more conveniently located!
  • Food Markets such Borough Market (nearest Tube: Borough Market) or Maltby Street Market (nearest Tube: London Bridge or Bermondsey) are fun to explore and have a diverse selection of foods for kids to pick from. If you choose the Borough Market, first wow your kids with this fun fact: it was first opened in 1014 (meaning it’s over 1000 years old!), then seek out nearby Neal’s Yard Dairy, a shop that specializes in cheese from around the UK.
  • Giraffe: a chain with internationally-inspired dishes for adults and healthy + appealing options for kiddos.
  • Shake Shack: located in Covent Garden. Always a winner if you need something quick and easy.
  • Wahaca: a hip, design-forward Mexican chain with build-your-own-tacos and cheesy quesadillas for children.
  • Pret a Manger, EAT, M&S Food Hall, or almost any grocery store: they’re ubiquitous, and perfect for picking up pre-made sandwiches and snacks
  • The Goat: located in Chelsea, their “Kids Club Sundays” allows parents to enjoy a leisurely bottomless brunch while kids are entertained in another room by professional performers. There are varying themes each week and it’s popular, so be sure to book in advance.
  • Bread Street Kitchen: for a ‘fancier’ night out! This Gordon Ramsay restaurant near St. Paul’s Cathedral is designed for families, with free two-course meals for kids up to 12. They also offer a “Family Brunch + Kids Pizza Masterclass” on Sundays, and again, it’s best to book in advance.
  • Admiralty: overlooking Trafalgar Square, head to this refined but kid-friendly pub for classic British fare like fish & chips and steak and mushroom pie.
  • Go for Sunday Roast: the most iconic of all British meals and a very London thing to do. Many places happily accommodate families—try Admiralty, Hixter Bankside (by renowned restaurateur Mark Hix and where children under ten dine for free), Spaniards Inn (in Hampstead Heath), and The Windsor Castle (a delightfully old-school pub in Kensington).


Interior courtyard of hotel with tall palm trees and tables

The Landmark London

222 Marylebone Road, London, United Kingdom

  • Early check-in upon availability
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • High-Speed/Enhanced Wi-Fi
Interior of hotel room with colourful bedspread, furniture, and floral wallpaper

Haymarket Hotel

1 Suffolk Place, London, United Kingdom

  • Complimentary daily full breakfast for two
  • Early check-in upon availability
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • High-Speed/Enhanced Wi-Fi
Interior of refined restaurant with white tablecloths and bold wallpaper

St James Hotel and Club

7-8 Park Place, London, United Kingdom

  • US $100 Food & Beverage credit
  • Complimentary Continental breakfast for two daily (in room)
  • Early check-in upon availability
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • High-Speed/Enhanced Wi-Fi

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