Looking back into time, we have fond memories of our time in England with our kids. We’ve previously written about stops in Edinburgh and York, and are continuing onto London here. As a great world city, London has plenty to offer different age ranges, including children – though what we did there with grade-school aged children was somewhat different than in our pre-kids days.
With young kids in tow, it can be more important to pick a good location, since London isn’t exactly a compact city. You don’t want to spend inordinate time going to/from your place for naps and breaks.
Even if you’re not super-central, staying convenient to a Tube stop can be quite helpful. You are likely to be on foot a lot, but the good news is that public transportation is really good and England car seat laws allow your children to travel without a carseat in taxis (double-check before you go). There are unlimited Tube passes that can make sense depending on your location and activities.
In our case, we chose an AirBnb in te Covent Garden district, on Drury Lane, which begs the question of whether or not we met the “Muffin Man” from the children’s rhyme. Wouldn’t that have been lovely? London accommodation isn’t cheap – we were a bit annoyed at the cost the fairly basic 1-bedroom apartment, but we found it to be a delightful area that was fun and lively without being loud.
When packing and planning the month for travel, do make sure you’re prepared for rain and have sufficient layers; it was lovely when we visited during this June trip, but the weather in London can quickly change.
Also, for meals, our common pattern with the kids at this age was to have lunch out, but to eat dinner and breakfast at the apartment. By dinner time, the kids were frequently exhausted, and it was more relaxing to eat dinner in a familiar location back in the apartment.
One other general travel comment is to map out your planned activities and use that to help select your accommodation location. You’ll be happier if you aren’t spending hours simply getting to and from your sightseeing activities. When traveling with kids, there is nothing that puts a damper on things faster than whining and tantrums. Anything you can do to mitigate the likelihood of this happening is key!
What to Do
With a city like London, the activity possibilities are endless. Do you like parks, museums, art galleries, city walks, shopping, zoos, or something else? There really is something for everyone, so make sure you focus on the things that you and your family like, and not on what someone else says you “must do.”
Also keep in mind that the cost structure of different sites may not be what you expect. Most of the national museums and galleries are free, while churches often have a fairly steep entry fee. Make sure you consider both activities of interest and your budget. In the end you might pick options that you might not ordinarily choose.
Since we were only spending 3 days in London (it would have been easy to spend a week), we did choose some of the obvious head-liners.
On our first day, we spent our morning in York, took a train into the city, and were settled into our London apartment by 2:30pm.
From there, we decided to head to the British Museum. Amazing! This place is so huge that you could spend days exploring it. Or you can just pick the topics in which you have special interest and spend an hour or two. Since we were traveling with young kids and entry was free, we chose the latter.
In any case, prepare to be amazed by this delightful museum. I particularly enjoyed the Egyptian exhibits. We later went to Egypt and were surprised that the British Museum had just as good, if not better artifacts than Cairo. Whether you love or hate the results, it is a side effect of colonization.
Since one of our kids was slightly obsessed with seeing Big Ben, putting it last on our walking tour gave him something to look forward and kept the whining at a minimum.
After that, the boys were quite tired, so we took the Tube back to the apartment and picked up a pizza for dinner at the grocery store around the corner.
On our second day in London, our first big activity was the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which is roughly 10:45am. We took the Tube and found a suitable place to wait where the kids could observe the pageantry.
After that, we walked through the park to Chinatown, where we had lunch.
We then saw the National Gallery, took the bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral, visited the Tate Modern, saw the Borough Market by Southwark Cathedral, walked by the Tower of London, and ended at Tower Bridge. This was a lot and we were thoroughly exhausted by 6:00PM!
I love art galleries, so the National Gallery was a must for me. Jeremy and the boys enjoy art museums, so they were happy to tag along. If you like art, consider this free museum.
Normally I avoid modern art, but since Tate Modern was free, we decided to go ahead and see what they boys thought of it. My opinion was unchanged, and the boys’ gleeful opinion was that some of their artwork could easily be displayed. If you like modern art or your kids have never been exposed to any modern art, make sure to visit.
These art galleries were worked around the timing of the Changing of the Guard at Bukingham Palace. This was not really my type of activity, but both boys thoroughly enjoyed watching this military procession.
As we wandered between these sites, we made sure to pop into various cathedrals and see any buildings that had architectural or cultural significance. St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, and is definitely worth a stop. While we were admiring Southwark Cathedral, we also popped into Borough Market.
Note, we didn’t actually go into the Tower of London; it’s normally quite worth seeing – they have the Crown Jewels on display, though it takes some time to see and is on the pricier side. If we’d had another day, we probably would have added it.
The kids were delighted when a ship came by and foot traffic was stopped while the drawbridge opened.
On our last full day in London, we decided to start at the Natural History Museum, which had really nice dinosaur fossils – the kind that we were hoping for in the Bay Area, but were disappointed not to find. The boys liked the exhibits there, so if you are traveling with kids, definitely consider this free museum.
While in the area, we also popped into the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has a nice collection of decorative arts and performance. The kids were easily bored by it, but we went quickly enough that it wasn’t really an issue. That is one of the best things about taking advantage of free museums while traveling with kids. You can try different activities, and if you end up only staying for a few minutes, you don’t feel disgruntled about the cost.
We stopped at a sandwich shop for lunch, and then made our way back to Big Ben (one of our kids wanted to see it again), and then we took a nice walk along the Thames River.
Next up was Regent’s Park, which I had fond memories from when I visited in my college days. The boys were a bit mystified by the signs instructing people to stay off the grass. In England, parks are for looking at, not for playing, sunbathing, or sometimes even picnicking. No wonder their grass looks so much better than in America! If you are traveling with small children, you might want to prep them for the idea that they can’t run across the grass in most parks.
Our evening ended with a Tube (subway) ride back to Piccadilly Circus, followed by a leisurely walk back to our apartment on Drury Lane (Muffin Man!) in the Covent Garden district.
With a planned departure time of 4:00 AM, we decided to make an early night of it, picked up dinner to eat in the apartment and spent the evening packing and resting.
What a lovely 3 days in London!