Despite living in London for 26 consecutive years before moving to Hong Kong, I had never experienced it with children, so a recent visit provided perfect research material for this guide. With a toddler in tow and raiding the wisdom of Londoner friends, I’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to London for families. When I say family-friendly, this guide is geared a little more towards those with kids under 7, when age places more restrictions on what your child is willing to do! London’s size and pace make it best enjoyed with a targeted approach, homing in on child-friendly activities, exploring the city via its parks, museums and waterways and paying special attention to the insider tips at the end of this article.
What to Do
London is overflowing with fantastic museums to suit every interest. In practical terms, they’re pretty well grouped together too to minimize travel times. In South Kensington check out the Science Museum which is full of interactive exhibitions and its neighbour, the Natural History Museum. For something a little different check out either the London Transport Museum or Postal Museum, both great for hands-on play. A quirky alternative is a trip aboard HMS Belfast, still moored on the edge of the River Thames.
Make haste while the sun shines as they say and there is no better place to be in London when it’s sunny than one of its many Royal Parks. Regent’s Park is the pick of the bunch with multiple playgrounds, pedalos and rowboats available to rent on the boating pond and best of all, it’s right next to London Zoo (more on that below). After the zoo, head to the top of Primrose Hill for a great panoramic view of the city and grab some brunch in one of the many kiddie-friendly cafes on the High Street after. That said, Hyde Park is right by all the museums so also make a great place to burn off some energy.
London Zoo is the top of most parents’ hit lists. On the edge of the park, full of exciting animals, eateries and playgrounds, it’s a full day out in itself. Get there early to avoid queues and head to the lion enclosure first before the crowds build up! If grey skies intervene, head instead to Kidzania in Westfield shopping centre, book in advance and let your kids indulge their imaginations in a world of role play.
If you’re not burdened by pushchairs, exploring the city via a River Tour or London Bus Tour allows a whirlwind tour of the main sights and means you’re not spending your whole trip just seeing the kids’ side of the city. You can’t visit London without seeing some sort of West End show, and there is normally something for every age group. The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park has a great selection of shows all summer long otherwise there’s a range of kid-friendly options from The Lion King to The Tiger who Came to Tea. The West End shops are pretty chaotic but not many kids would fail to be impressed with a trip to Hamleys or Harrod’s toy department. The Tower of London and London Dungeons give an insight into London’s history and if you’re looking for a grasp on just how big this sprawling metropolis is, book in advance to go up The Shard or the London Eye for a 360-degree view (weather dependent!). Please, please, please don’t do what everyone else does; Madam Tussauds draws the biggest queues but is very much not worth it.
Where to Eat
London is a foodie city at heart but it doesn’t embrace Europe’s kid-friendly dining approach. Fine dining is pretty adults-only so your safest bet if you want a disaster-free experience, is to stick with the chains. It is a bit boring but they are fantastic at providing highchairs, distractions, kids’ cutlery and realistic kids’ menus. The favourites are Ask Italian, Wagamama, Pizza Express and Giraffe.
That said, the above selection isn’t going to leave parents feeling particularly indulged. To sample the best of London’s food scene trawl the famed food markets allowing you to sample tasty treats on the go without boring the kids. Borough Market near London Bridge is a great one or if you want something a bit smaller, head to Maltby Street Market.
A stress-free trip to London relies on the following information so take heed!
- There are only two pushchairs allowed on a London bus at a time so be prepared to be patient if travelling this way.
- You can take pushchairs in Black Cabs as long as you put the brakes on. Download the MyTaxi app to call Black Cabs on demand.
- A word to the wise – whilst the tube is the most efficient way to navigate the city, it is notoriously un-pushchair friendly. Head to step-free stations, outlined on THIS map, but ideally, travel with two adults and take a lightweight buggy that you don’t mind lifting up and down stairs!
- A great app for working out the best route is Citymapper.
Where to Stay
London is a vast city so it’s best to place yourselves somewhere central, close to activities and ideally, near the River or a park. It depends what type of traveller you are but personally, I try and find hotels that are kiddie-friendly but adult-focused, allowing me to feel like I’m getting a holiday but letting the kids enjoy themselves too. The Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square is a fantastic option, blending luxury, location and surprising levels of kiddie-friendliness. It is housed in a beautiful historic building, slap bang next to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, giving your prime River access and putting you in walking distance from River Cruises, Borough Market, The Shard and the Riverside Walk which allows you to explore most of central London on foot along a pedestrianized river path.
As a city-based hotel, it’s best to stay on a weekend when quieter. The rooms are understated luxury at its finest. Dark tones, deep beds, mood lighting and probably the best selection of kids’ amenities I have ever seen including all the expected but also a step stool, potty, socket and corner protectors and organic kids’ toiletries. The pool was shut when we stayed but hosts children’s swimming hours, the Rotunda lounge and bar served up a feast of a breakfast, catering easily for my son’s dairy allergy and the staff could not have been more friendly, helpful and accommodating, especially when I turned up solo with bags, a pushchair and a fractious toddler. Even better are the on-site amenities to pamper Mum’s; including an Espa spa and a choice of two fine-dining restaurants meaning even if you can’t explore London’s food scene, you can indulge in either Asian or Michelin starred food once the kids are in bed.
Whilst London is an unmissable destination in its own right, a trip to the UK wouldn’t be complete without an escape to the countryside. The ideal is something easy to get to from London, whilst showcasing the best rural life has to offer. Step in the Four Seasons Hampshire property. Less than an hour by train from London it immerses you in deepest Jane Austen country. The hotel is set in a sprawling 500-acre estate complete with an equestrian centre, lakes, canals and sweeping hillside views, decadent rooms and glorious gardens.
Even if you only had two days to spare, its range of kid-friendly activities will ensure you make the most of your rural escape. There is a dedicated kids club, two playgrounds, a games room, tennis courts, croquet, horse-riding, and carriage rides, falconry, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, cycling, swimming, and even a high wires course, all on site. The restaurant serves up a great kids’ menu, including weaning food for babies and a sprawling spa and fitness centre, decadent bar and locally sourced food (and babysitting services) means parents can feel spoilt too. There is honestly, nowhere else so close to London that will give a more luxurious, well-rounded, action-filled and child-friendly insight into England’s rolling countryside.