Traveling internationally with children can be a daunting task to parents. But if London is the destination that has you worried, there isn’t much need to be concerned about traveling to Great Britain’s capital with children. From massive museums and parks, to glorious castles and palaces, plenty of royal charm, and a bird’s-eye view of it all, London with children isn’t a chore to be dreaded. London with children is a magical trip to be cherished. Here are five ways to experience London with children.
I’ve been fortunate to experience London before becoming a parent and after. I don’t have a favorite; both provide their own unique experiences. But if I had to pick one city I feel would be a magical experience as a child, London would be right up there. For the year leading up to our visit to the United Kingdom, Colby had been watching a cartoon set in an ancient time, with a king and queen, knights, a dragon and the whole cast that comes along with such a story. So traveling to a country with its own queen was a plus.
But don’t think that your child has to be interested in all things royal to enjoy a visit to London. In fact, I believe London with children who never step foot in a castle or palace can still have a great time. This list of five experiences for London with children has a little bit of the royals, but there are some other gems as well.
But since many children identify with the perceived magic of royalty, it’s as good a place as any to start. When we visited London with our then-5-year-old son, we didn’t take him to the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace. We experienced this on our first visit to the city way back in 1998, and we felt we’d let Colby experience it when he’s a little older. We have family throughout England, so we know we will return to London. We were able to see a much smaller version of the Changing of the Guard at the Tower of London.
Do tour the Tower of London if time permits. We spent a couple of hours there roaming the grounds, checking up on the Crown Jewels and acting silly.
Take a Yeoman Warder tour to hear entertaining tales of the Tower of London. If your child is too young, or if you end up too far from the guide, you might be like us and duck out early. Colby was a bit too young to enjoy the tour, and we were too far back to really hear him. There are also a number of exhibits, including the royal armories found in the historic White Tower.
And if you are set on seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, it happens almost daily in the summer and on alternate days throughout the rest of the year about 11 a.m. Tours of Buckingham Palace are available during very limited times in the summer, so check for hours and availability before you travel.
Visit a Museum
Visiting museums with children can be tricky. What museums you choose to visit depend on a number of factors: Your child’s interests, age, level of patience, and how fun you manage to make it. What I mean by fun is maybe considering a scavenger hunt of paintings in the museum, for example. And many museums provide fun sheets to involve the little ones.
I will say from personal experience we have not visited any of the London museums with our son. Through the years we’ve visited most of the museums in the city, though, and I’d say we’d have no problem taking Colby into the Tate Modern or British Museum, for example. On our most recent visit, I had hoped to take him to the British Museum but time didn’t allow. I think he would have loved it. Later on this same trip we were able to take him to a few of the great art museums in Paris and he enjoyed them. So I’m confident we could have kept his attention in London’s museums.
View the City
I’ve always enjoyed just walking the streets of London near the London Eye, Westminster Bridge, House of Parliament and Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. If you ask me, walking the Queen’s Walk along the River Thames and looking across to Big Ben is one of my favorite activities in London. Until our most recent trip with Colby, I had never seen that view from up high. But he wanted to take a ride on the London Eye, and so while his scared-of-heights mom toured the National Gallery at nearby Trafalgar Square, Colby and I went up the Eye. And he loved it. If your child isn’t afraid of heights I’d recommend taking a ride on the London Eye. It is expensive, but riding the London Eye remains one of Colby’s favorite memories of our time in London.
I’d also recommend taking a peek at the Tower Bridge. It’s not exactly within walking distance of the London Eye, but it is next to the Tower of London. So after seeing the Royal Jewels, take a walk across the bridge. And If you’re up for it, tours are available of the bridge that last about an hour.
(Don’t Get) Lost in the Crowds
Hold those little hands tight and check out one of the city’s great markets like Notting Hill’s Portobello Road or the Camden Road Market. You’ll find plenty of booths with good things for mom and dad, not to mention some fun things for the children. Our son left Portobello Road with a really cool mini London bus. And markets like Borough Market offer a food-lover’s paradise.
And there is loads of family fun to be found at Covent Garden. London’s public square provides a range of entertainment from street-corner clowns to puppet shows and the London Transport Museum. Beware, it can get crowded. This isn’t exactly the center of British cultural life, but it is a fun spot for a couple of hours of fun. And the markets here are very legit.
Visiting the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus isn’t usually on our agenda, but children can find it interesting. We took the time to make a quick stop on our way to the nearby Underground station.
Hit the Streets (And Under Them)
On our most recent visit to London we stayed with family on the west side of the city, just far enough out that the Underground is actually above ground. I’ll never forget watching the excitement on Colby’s face as we zoomed along on the Tube before heading underground. His mission for our time in London was to check off all the lines on the map he picked up on the first day. I don’t think he rode every line, but he came close.
We didn’t ride the bus as much in London, but the few times we did he loved it. I remember when I was 21 and boarding a red double-decker bus for the first time. I was thrilled to walk up those windy steps to sit at the top of the bus. But not only is riding the red double-decker buses an exciting adventure, it’s also a good way to see the London streets, especially when traveling with children who don’t have as much stamina to walk as mom and dad might. And that leads to the last point. I know, walking with little ones can be a challenge. Only you know how much they can handle. But watching our son kick in the rain puddles on our first day in London was a true joy. Take the time to walk even just a few city blocks.