- If you only hit up one museum the entire time you’re in London, make it the Natural History Museum. Not only is the museum a treasure trove of dinosaurs and other animals, including a gigantic skeleton of a blue whale that greets you in the foyer, the building itself is also a breathtaking architectural marvel. In winter, don’t miss the picturesque pop-up ice rink (booking is essential) and matching chalet.
- For a dose of royal British tradition, bring your kids to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Times are listed here, so make sure you check before you go.
- In central London, check out the London Transport Museum, the museum dedicated to the history and evolution of London’s extensive transit system. If you’re short on time or your little ones’ interest in museum-hopping is waning, just visit Covent Garden, which is next to the Museum and take in the many street performers (note: have some cash or coins on hand for tipping, which is expected).
- The famous London Eye, a gigantic Ferris wheel on the River Thames, is a great way to get an eagle eye view of the London cityscape. Book tickets in advance and make sure you time it during the late afternoon/early evening to take advantage of seeing the lights come on in London!
- Check out the bright lights and big screen at Piccadilly Circus, then walk over to Trafalgar Square to gawk at the big statuesque lions.
- If it’s one historical site you visit, make it the Tower of London, where the crown jewels are still housed today. The Tower is right next to the iconic Tower Bridge, making it a two-fer in terms of tourist attractions.
- Frequently overlooked in east London is the Museum of London, a museum dedicated to the history of evolution of London. It’s one of the few museums we’ve visited repeatedly and never had the same experience, thanks to a constantly rotating schedule of family-friendly special events; check their website for details.
- ZSL (London Zoo) is a compact but well-planned zoo in Regent’s Park. Although not as impressive as other world-renowned zoos, its proximity to Regent’s Park makes it appealing as a way to enjoy a sunny London day (and yes, those happen more frequently than you think). For an extra-special experience, rent a paddle boat at the pond in Regent’s Park during the spring/summer; check here for details on how and where to rent.
- In the spring or summer, the Princess Diana Memorial Playground at Kensington Gardens is a playground to end all playgrounds, with treehouses, a water play area and a pirate ship for young buccaneers to climb all over. Note that only children under the age of 12 are permitted, and that during busy times, you might have to wait in line in order to get into the playground.
- Right in central London is the impressive Kew Gardens, home to numerous greenhouses and massive gardens. Tons of activities are available in the spring/summer for kids, so check their website and plan accordingly!
- Don’t forget to check out some of London’s fabulous theatre offerings! Our kids loved The Lion King, School of Rock and We’re Going on A Bear Hunt (for younger children). For complete listings, tickets and availability, check Official London Theatre’s website.
- Outside of London, we really love Hampton Court Palace for a day trip, which was Henry VIII’s principal residence. They’ve also built a humongous adventure playground at the castle, which is basically everything a kid could dream of in one place.
- Definitely try to fit in one one of the 12 things you must eat in London!
- The Southbank Centre near the London Eye has a food market with lots of kid-friendly options and al fresco dining.
- Flat Iron Steak in Covent Garden serves up delicious skillet steaks for £10 with free popcorn and ice cream for dessert. Don’t miss the creamed spinach side, either. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but you can leave your name and a phone number for the restaurant to text you when your table is ready, leaving you free to explore Covent Garden and take in street performances while you wait.
- Fish and chips are a must while in London! Check out Seashell of Lisson Grove if you’re in the Regent’s Park area, or The Fish House of Notting Hill, which can get busy on weekends, but is a good place to stop if you’re exploring the Portobello Road markets. Near Buckingham Palace is a great pub called Buckingham Arms that does a solid fish and chips. There’s also a creamy mac and cheese on the menu with chunks of bacon for your non-seafaring little eaters.
- No trip to London is complete without exploring one of its many food markets. My favorite is Borough Market; to avoid crowds, go on a Thursday or Friday morning. Parents should definitely grab a “cuppa” coffee at Monmouth Coffee while you’re down that way.
- Afternoon tea is a hit for kids that are 5 or older; the penultimate experience is at Palm Court at The Langham or Milestone Hotel’s kid-friendly version, which claims to be where afternoon tea was invented; however, more reasonably priced options are available at one of the many Ivy Cafe locations throughout London or Cutter & Squidge, which has to-die-for cakes and macarons. Reservations are essential at all of these locations, so plan ahead!
- Another great market is the Old Spitalfields Market is another fantastic location for grab-and-go, casual food options. Located 14 minutes by bus from the Museum of London, it’s a good lunch option before heading onwards to explore other parts east (such as St. Paul’s Cathedral). Alternatively, for veg-heads, there’s always Ottolenghi Spitalfields, the eponymous restaurant by famed Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
- For adventurous eaters, head to Hoppers, a Sri Lankan joint, and order your kids an egg hopper — a flat rice pancake with an egg fried right into the middle. Our kids love them!
- Chinatown in Soho is also a great option for midday dim sum at Golden Dragon, or check out one of Shoryu Ramen’s locations in central London. Kids will also love the conveyor belt “hot pot” at Shuang Shuang or conveyor belt sushi at Kulu Kulu. Also in the same area is Kingly Court, an upscale but tucked-away food court full of family-friendly food options, including comfort food at Dirty Bones and fantastic pizza from Pizza Pilgrims.
- For an American food fix near the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, the Whole Foods Kensington is a great meal option, with an expansive, affordable food court on the second floor.
How to Pack:
Kids over the age of 4 can carry their own bags, really! Our kids started with the Travel Buddies rolling luggage set and have now graduated to 20-inch spinner (four wheel) suitcases. Pick a suitcase in a bright color, which will help you (and hopefully your kid) keep tabs of their stuff as they move through airports, train stations and hotels.
- We also always pack a few travel bag bungees to help us strap kids’ backpacks to our rolling suitcases when the whining starts to set in. Also, a lightweight, folding backpack is handy for exploring the city during the day. For moms, get a Bandolier iPhone crossbody case that will give you easy access to your phone and Tube card while still having hands free to usher your kids through the Tube system.
Medicines and Toiletries:
Don’t leave home without hand sanitizer in a bottle clearly marked under 100 milliliters (for getting through security if you are traveling within Europe after visiting London), travel tissue packs and children’s medication from the U.S. (Ibuprofen, Benadryl and Mucinex in particular). Benadryl and Mucinex are not available in the UK without a prescription or a pharmacist recommendation, and the children’s ibuprofen formula here “tastes like feet,” according to my kids. It’s just safer and easier to bring medications that you think your child might need while you’re traveling.
- Note that you must transfer the medication into a bottle that’s under 100 ml if you’re traveling by air onwards to other EU destinations. We’ve had several bottles of precious American medication confiscated by airport security because the original bottles that the medicines are sold in exceed 100 ml. No amount of indignant pouting or rationalizing will sway the folks at security, even if the amount of actual liquid inside the bottles is technically less than 100 ml. I may have experience in this.
What to Wear:
Weather in the UK is notoriously unpredictable, which is why I swear by a 3-in-1 jacket for the kids. These jackets typically have a fleece inner layer that zips into a waterproof shell. Having that extra layer is useful, even in summer, where temps can drop suddenly once the sun goes down. When we’re in transit, I zip the inner layers into the jackets so that we don’t take up valuable space in our carry ons. Comfortable, sturdy footwear is also a must; my kids burn rubber through Skechers with memory foam inside.
Don’t bring snacks! Get into a grocery store and try some British snacks. Our kids love Bear Fruit Yo-Yos, which are similar to American fruit roll-ups, Jacob’s biscuits (which are more like crackers), McVittie’s Chocolate Digestives (like chocolate coated graham crackers), Walkers’ salt and vinegar crisps, Billy’s Farm Organic Apple and Cranberry Cookies, Cheese Oatcakes, and Propercorn Sweet and Salty Popcorn, all of which are widely available at local grocery stores such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Waitrose.
- For drinks, try the Apple & Blackcurrant Fruit Shoots and bring water bottles and bottle holders similar to these, which are very useful for kids to always have their water on them (the Tube, for example, can get really stuffy, and nothing flusters a parent more than having to watch for their stop AND root around in a backpack for a water bottle).
Make sure you have the CityMapper app, which not only gives you directions but shows you all of your transit options. Kids travel for FREE on the Tube and buses, but you’ll need your own Oyster card, particularly if you plan on taking buses, which don’t accept cash.