Preparing to travel to London with four kids, ages 2, 6, 8, and 10, seemed straightforward enough, but Nancy Solomon of family travel site Ciao Bambino, learned some important lessons of the road while exploring this sprawling, urban destination.
So find out her tips and recommendations for traveling with kids in London …
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Stay in a central location with easy access to the attractions you plan to explore.
Though there are pros and cons of renting a vacation home, I’ve had great experiences all over the world. The thought of three meals out with four kids is tiring, plus the extra space and amenities can be nice.
On this trip we opted to rent a flat in Notting Hill, a vibrant neighborhood in West London. As charming as this neighborhood was, the location was not near where we spent our days sightseeing and that left me wishing for the accessibility and convenience of a centrally located hotel. Carting the kids back and forth was exhausting and wasted valuable time. Had we been in the heart of the city, we would have been able to take breaks during the day and reduce transportation costs.
On this trip, we never even used the kitchen beyond cooking basic pasta as I was simply too tired at the end of the day. And the fact is, many hotels can assist you with small appliances like a refrigerator or electric teakettles—you’d be amazed what you can make with hot water.
Get more family travel advice: Tips for Finding Kid-Friendly Villa Rentals
GETTING AROUND WITHOUT THE TUBE
Between strollers and children, we found the bus network to be much easier to navigate than the Tube because they are on street level—no flights of stairs to hike up and down. The buses also have a convenient space for strollers just inside the back door, and parents can keep the baby in the stroller while loading, which is imperative if they are asleep.
Learning the bus routes can be tricky. Upon arrival, spend a few minutes with someone who can explain the most convenient routes, or, if you have an iPhone, try the London Busses application that locates routes near you.
Of course, the lovely cabs are available and they miraculously fit my whole family, but this is cost-prohibitive to use too frequently.
Can’t make it to London? Closer to home, get a Traveling Mom’s Tips on Easy, Family-Friendly Vacations.
DINING OUT, FAMILY-STYLE
Everyone talks about how expensive London is, and it is, but as with any large city, there are many reasonable options. Unless you are planning on fine dining (better without kids), there are plenty family food choices including pizza shops, pubs, falafel shops, noodle houses, and burger joints.
We skipped the guidebooks’ recommended Rainforest Café and such, and tried to embrace the ethnic variety that London offers. Favorites include Wagamama, Tidbits, Covent Market with its many choices like Sofra and Belgo, and the many pubs along Portobello Road. We didn’t get a chance to try River Café, but heard it is excellent.
Looking for kid-friendly adventures? No problem. Visit Kids’ Clubs and Activities: Top Tips and Travel Deals.
Big city and little feet mean prioritizing is key! One of the biggest mistakes travelers make is not taking into account how much time is required to see sights, and how long it takes to get from point A to point B. Also, keep in mind that hanging out is half of the experience and you miss the real feel for a city by running from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.
Of the activities that we chose, our favorites included:
Tower of London: History comes alive as you stand in the place of kings and queens surrounded by 1000-year-old buildings and lively yeoman storytellers.
Big Bus Double Decker Tour: A quintessential London experience that provides an overview of the city.
Changing of the Guard: We were all awed by the display of royal pomp and tradition.
Covent Garden: A great stop for the kids because you can eat, sit, and relax while watching the outrageous street entertainers. Also, the London Transportation Museum is located here. Be sure to pick up their scavenger hunt that leads you around Trafalgar Square.
Fortnam and Mason: An entertaining shop with a variety of beautifully displayed food. Everything from chocolate covered ants to honey from the Queen’s bees. There is nothing like it in the U.S.
Hamley’s: With an infinite selection of toys, this stop is simply fun. They produce their own unique selection of toys too.
Imperial War Museum: With huge tanks to touch and rumbling “trench” exhibits, this is a child-friendly way to take in information on the First and Second World Wars. Also, the “Children’s Experience of the War” exhibit is very moving.
Royal Mews: Get up close to the Queen’s cars, carriages and best of all, her horses! Look for the “coloring room” for a fun family break.
Portobello Market: This is great way to explore the market with kids. We preferred shopping on the weekdays when it was less crowded. We all found unique souvenirs, including real WWII attire and excellent antiques at Alice’s and Henry Gregory.
High Tea: How can you come to London without participating in their afternoon ritual? I really wanted to go to the Orangery with my daughter, but we had to take our tea elsewhere.
London Eye: We did this the first day and I’d recommend doing it later in your trip so that you recognize what you are seeing. The views and photos opportunities were striking.
Getting a guide can be expensive, but the cost is often outweighed by the ease in getting around, informative details, and memorable experience. We used Context Travel for a Food Tour of London. I recommend Clare McCoy, a Blue Badge Guide, who is excellent with families.
The number one tip I took away from this experience: That first day may be more difficult than anticipated. As that first day inches along and you try to stay awake with exhausted group, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Pulling an all-nighter is tough, then add the fact that your kids have not slept either and you have a nightmare! On our first night, four out of six of us were ready to go home. But not to worry, a good night’s rest will cure all woes. We quickly adjusted to the time and had a fabulous trip.
- Take the Kids: London guidebook offers a reasonable amount of information wisely grouped by geographical area.
- London Town for Families – Top online guide for families
- History for Kids – Prepare the kids with a bit of London history.
By Nancy Solomon for PeterGreenberg.com. Nancy Solomon is an avid traveler and writer for family travel site Ciao Bambino. She lives outside Boston and has four children with whom she enjoys sharing the world. Click here to read more about her family travel experiences on the London Eye and click here to learn more about the Food Tour of London.
Get even more money-saving tips and great ideas in our Family Travel section:
- Kids’ Clubs and Activities: Top Tips and Travel Deals
- Six Great Back-to-School Family Vacation Ideas
- Tips for Finding Kid-Friendly Villa Rentals