1. RED DOUBLE-DECKER SIGHTSEEING BUS
Just about every major city has a ‘hop-on hop-off bus’, so this isn’t particularly special in and of itself…however, the benefits we experienced, having a three day pass, far outweighed the fact that it’s a bit of a cliche tourist activity. Comfort, entertainment and function are all important elements of traveling with kids and this met each qualification. London is a very walking-friendly city and we did a lot of it; however, for much-needed rest during the day, it was incredible just to sit on the upper-deck, eat a snack, feel the breeze and take in the sights. Included in the ticket price, is a headset for each member in your party, which can be plugged in at each seat (with multiple language channels), giving you an overview of the history of the sights as you go. There is even a kid-friendly channel, so your kids can get a fun and age-appropriate educational experience while relaxing. There are stops at just about every major tourist attraction, as well as other stops sprinkled around the city, which will save you the hassles of the tube, the expense of taxis and sore feet. We chose this bus option, but there are a couple other options as well. Keep in mind that usually kids under 5 years old are free and there are often family deals available. Tickets can be purchased online, or you can get them at just about every major tourist attraction bus stop. We may have just gotten lucky, but we purchased 2-day tickets and got a 3rd day for free (this offer was not available online).
2. NOTTING HILL NEIGHBORHOOD
During our time in London, we stayed in an Airbnb in the Notting Hill neighborhood. We absolutely LOVED everything about it! So charming and a short bus or tube ride into central London. Stunning pastel Victorian architecture, scattered boutique shops and diverse food offerings, making it quite the foodie scene.
One of the most popular happenings in the Notting Hill neighborhood is the Portobello Road Market, which takes over Portobello Road with: food, vintage goods, clothing, music, etc. The main market days are Friday and Saturday, but a smaller version of the marketplace still takes place Monday through Thursday. Bring the kids to walk off some energy, people watch and indulge in the cheap eats.
3. NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Visiting a museum probably isn’t your first thought, when contemplating a vacation + kids, but trust us on this one….this museum is not only an architectural beauty, but also full of interesting exhibits for kids and adults. Oh, and did I mention that the admission is free? There are optional specialty exhibits, which do require a paid ticket, but if I’m remembering correctly, it was a reasonable fee. However, the kids kept entertained for a solid two hours without any of the special exhibits and it’s busy and big enough to accommodate noisy and energetic little ones (no shushing required). Easy to get here from just about anywhere in London!
4. THAMES RIVER CRUISE
Though this isn’t exactly an “off the beaten path” kind of recommendation, we found this to be an enjoyable family experience and a nice change-up from walking the streets or riding the buses. The kids thought it was extraordinarily fun and were entertained for the full tour (approximately an hour). Seating is a free-for-all, so we opted for the upper-deck seating, to get the best views. If you want a great view and/or pictures of the magnificent Tower Bridge and The London Eye, this will be your ideal opportunity. Tickets aren’t the cheapest for this cruise, but keep in mind that usually kids under 5 are free and you can often get bundled price ticket deals, which could make this boat cruise pretty inexpensive.
5. HYDE PARK & KENSINGTON GARDENS
Our afternoon in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens is one of our favorite memories of London. It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfection….clear skies and warm breezes. Give yourself a few hours and start in Hyde park. We enjoyed a walk along the Serpentine (a recreational lake), where there are geese and ducks swimming, as well as people paddle boating (available in Spring and Summer). Along the side of the lake and elsewhere in the park, are green and white striped folding chairs, which can be rented for a small fee, for a few hours. This would be a fabulous location for people watching, taking in nature or relaxing with a snack and coffee. We wished we hadn’t already eaten, because there were a couple incredible-looking options for kid-friendly eating: the The Lido Cafe Bar and the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen, both with outdoor seating, overlooking the Serpentine. Our kids’ favorite part of the park was the Diana Memorial Fountain; a circular water feature that has a light current, allowing for safe and entertaining water play for littles. The area is surrounded by grass, where a lot of families and couples were having picnic lunches and relaxing.
Once the kids were sufficiently soaked and happy from playing in the fountain, we headed on to Kensington Gardens and headed straight for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. Best.playground.ever. The entire (free) playground, is fenced in, with one gate entry access point. There is a safety attendant at the gate, only letting adults come in, if they are accompanied by a child and they do not let children run out of the park unattended. There is also a limit of how many people can be within the park at a time, so on particularly busy days, there’s the possibility of up to an hour of wait time. If you do have to wait for a bit, or just want a refreshment, they have the conveniently placed Boardwalk Cafe right outside of the play area, with several food and drink options.
Once inside, the main attraction is definitely the epic pirate ship, but there are plenty of other areas and fun things to do. Something to note: we brought our stroller in and found that it was not easy to maneuver on the path or around most of the park, due to sand, so we ended up parking it to the side while we played and had no issue with it being moved or taken.
As a fun little bonus, there is a lovely little carousel really close by, and it’s pretty much every child’s dream.
6. BUCKINGHAM PALACE
This recommendation comes with a couple of caveats, if you are traveling with kids. It must be noted, that the full Buckingham Palace experience is not a short one, with a substantial wait and a lot of people, which can be a total nightmare with little ones. Based upon recommendations from others, we chose to do a walking tour that took us along the routes of the procession and through the park, to catch the changing of the guard, so that we ended up being across the street (behind the crowds) and could leave before the mob of people left. Keep in mind, if you don’t get there early to get close up, you will not be able to see all of the procession in detail, but you are also avoiding a couple of hours of standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowded space. The kids loved seeing all of the horses and the queen’s guards in uniform. We enjoyed walking through the beautifully manicured gardens and historical architecture, so it was a win for us. Unless you love being stuck in crowds with hungry and tired kids, take our advice and do the abridged, but equally enjoyable experience.
7. WESTMINSTER ABBEY
Prior to going to visit the Westminster Abbey, we thought this was going to be a challenge with our little ones. Since it is a more somber environment, we were a bit unsure of how it would go. Thankfully, the toddler fell asleep in her stroller, but our 5 year old did great and kept entertained by the statues and religious relics, for most of our walk-through. We opted out of a guided tour and walked at our own pace and were done within about 30 minutes. Even within the short time frame, we found it to be a very moving and memorable experience. Once outside, there is a stunning courtyard (shown in picture above) and a great spot for photos. Absolutely a must see experience, even with the kids in tow.
Attached to the church, is the Cellarium Cafe & Terrace. At first glance, it does not look like a child-friendly dining experience, but we found them to be incredibly kind and accommodating for our kids; bringing out fries while we waiting for our meal and a babyccino for our toddler. Our server went out of his way to make us feel welcomed and would come and chat with the kids whenever they started getting restless. We enjoyed a delicious classic British lunch, and finished with cappuccinos and a decadent chocolate dessert. Although we didn’t partake, they do serve a full afternoon tea and from observation, it looked delicious!
8. BRITISH MUSEUM
Yes, we’re including another museum. Even if museums aren’t usually your thing, this one is worth a quick visit. First, it’s free, so there’s no loss if it isn’t your cup of tea. It’s bright and open, making it a great spot for pictures of the kids and family, especially with the gorgeous glass ceiling. Unlike many museums where silence is expected, this place is bustling with families and children, so you don’t have to spend the time shushing your kids while looking at the exhibits. We enjoyed the Egyptian artifacts exhibits and then headed to the Great Court Restaurant, for afternoon tea. This is a much more economical afternoon tea option than many other places throughout London, and while not super fancy, the ambiance is enjoyable and kid-friendly.
9. COVENT GARDENS & PICCADILLY MARKET
Though these are two separate places and experiences, they are both centered around food and local culture, which gives a well-rounded experience of life as it actually is in the city. While at Covent Gardens, we enjoyed a delicious and kid-friendly meal at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, Union Jacks , while also being entertained by a hilarious unicycle duo. The kids enjoyed this experience and gave it two thumbs up! There are a lot of shops for browsing and other restaurant options, so this deserves a couple hours of your time, while in London.
For a non-touristy foodie experience, take the family to the Piccadilly Market at St James’s Church on Mondays or Tuesdays from 11 am to 5 pm at 197 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LL. There’s a wide range of delicious and multinational options, including sweet and savory crêpes, which was a major win for our kiddos.
10. TOWER OF LONDON
The Tower of London is on just about every “must see” list for London, so we’re not here to convince you to go, but do have a few tips if you choose to bring the kids. It is not stroller friendly (there is stroller parking outdoors, before going inside the tower), so if your child does not walk yet, you’ll need to carry them through the tour. There are also a lot of steep stairs between levels, so if you are bringing a child under the age of 3, you’ll likely need to carry them up or down the stairs, between floors. All of this said, it’s a fun look at medieval weaponry and armor, changing of the guard and the crown jewels (which we didn’t see, due to a 2+ hour wait. no thanks!). Buy your tickets in advance to avoid the long lines and expect that you won’t see everything with the kids.
Bonus kid-friendly to do:
The London Eye:
Magnificent views of the city and completely iconic, however, only for those who are okay with heights and willing to spend a little money. Starting at approximately 23 pounds for adults (over 16 years old), kids from 3- 15 years old are approximately 19 pounds and children under 3 years old are free.