Today I’m continuing my Guest Post Series My City (with kids!) by sharing my space with Cathy from Mummy Travels. Based in London, Cathy is one of the Top 5 UK family travel blogs (and she has won this accolade in 2016, 2017 & 2018!!! So she certainly knows her stuff!) I’m thrilled to be sharing my space with her today and so grateful for her inside knowledge of Things to do in London with kids!
My City (with kids!) – London
You could spend a lifetime discovering London – I’ve spent a large chunk of mine exploring the UK capital, which has been my home for almost 20 years, but I still wouldn’t dare say that I’ve seen it all.
It can seem overwhelming to know what to visit first, and it can definitely be expensive. But with so much to do, it’s also a fantastic place to visit with kids; there is always something everyone will enjoy plus some fantastic things to do for free.
And over the past six years since my daughter was born, I’ve been rediscovering the family-friendly side of my home city, revisiting places I first went to as a child when my family would stay with my grandparents and we work our way around the sights.
Here are some of my tips on things to do with kids in London…
London with kids – Don’t Miss Sights
You can’t miss getting a taste of some of the country’s royal history and traditions while you visit. My favourite is the Tower of London, a fortress that still dominates the river and which dates back around 950 years.
There really is nowhere else like it – a royal palace, but also a feared prison, once home to the king’s private zoo and now to ravens (who have to stay put, otherwise legend says the disaster will befall the Crown), there are centuries of history to explore as well as the Crown Jewels to see.
Even if your kids aren’t usually into history, having the ‘beefeaters’ as the ceremonial guard are called – all retired and decorated soldiers in their eye-catching red and gold uniforms – is something rather different from your average tour guide. There are also family trails, regular exhibitions and lots of room to run around.
That’s just the start. For a free taste of tradition, stand and watch the Changing of the Guard, which usually takes place four times a week at 11am. With older kids, you can get some of the best views from the Mall (but turn up early) or head to Wellington Barracks beforehand to see the guards being inspected and the music starting. It’s easier to get a peek with little ones who won’t want to wait for ages or be able to see over the crowds.
Explore the Queen’s own home (well, one of them) at Buckingham Palace. The state rooms are open during the summer and selected dates throughout the year, although this is better with older children. Or head west, beyond central London, to Hampton Court Palace which is fantastic for all ages, with special trails, gardens and a maze, plus play areas. You can even dress up in velvet robes…
Best kid-friendly London attractions to visit in good weather
Despite being a major city, with millions of people crammed in, London is surprisingly green. And when the sun shines, it’s easy to step away from the bustle, the traffic and all those people and enjoy the parks.
Each has its own character: Hyde Park has the Serpentine Lake, Kensington Gardens has the Diana Memorial playground and fountain (plus links to Peter Pan), Regent’s Park has an open-air theatre and London Zoo, while pelicans live in St James’s Park. Cross the river and Battersea Park has its own small zoo, Go Ape high ropes course in the trees and Buddhist temple
There are little parks such as Coram’s Fields, which you can only enter if you have kids with you, and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, where you could easily spend a day (or more) exploring.
Or wander along the Thames path – you could walk for miles through London but one of my favourite sections takes you from Westminster and the houses of Parliament/ Big Ben, past the London Eye, and along the Southbank to the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and Borough Market.
Best kid-friendly London attractions to visit in bad weather
London’s museums are world class – and even better, most of them are completely free unless you visit one of the special exhibitions. The Natural History Museum and Science Museum are fabulous for younger kids, but there are also family-friendly activities at the Victoria & Albert Museum and British Museum, plus the National Gallery and the Tate Modern.
Or the London Transport Museum is perfect for littler ones who love different vehicles but also anyone who fancies driving an underground train (simulator only), while the recently opened Postal Museum has kids’ play area and a restored mail rail train to ride.
London with kids – Our insider tip
Open topped buses can be very fun, but if you’re not too fussed about the commentary (and younger kids often aren’t), then riding London’s red double-decker buses means you can see some of the same sights for much less and tick off another iconic London highlight.
Kids under 10 travel free while children aged 11-15 can get Young Visitor discounts on an adult’s Oyster card for travel on bus and tube. Route 9 takes you from Trafalgar Square to the South Kensington museums, no 11 goes past Westminster Abbey and Horseguards Parade, while 15 takes you past St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.
Even better, take a walk through the city. As well as my favourite stretch along the Thames, don’t miss the oldest streets in the City of London where you can see the Monument to the Great Fire, ancient guild buildings, St Paul’s Cathedral and endless old streets.
Pick up a treasure trail with several set in the City, including murder mystery and spy versions, so you don’t miss a single detail. These are a lovely way to explore with kids and easier than just going for a walk sometimes. I’ve done quite a few with my daughter.
The best day trip from London for the whole family
There’s plenty to keep everyone entertained in London, but sticking right in the centre misses some of the best bits. One of my favourite days out, especially on a sunny day, is to take a boat along the river to Greenwich.
Hop off and you can explore the Cutty Sark, a historic tea clipper ship with exhibits throughout on life aboard and the routes she sailed. But there are also more museums, including the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, you can see the prime meridian used as the basis for navigation and time, and wander the stalls in Greenwich market, which is open every day.
The 02 Arena is also nearby, with exhibitions as well as restaurants, concerts and events such as Disney on Ice.
The best food to try in London with kids
Honestly you could get any kind of cuisine you want in London, and kids are far more likely to want pizza.. but try to encourage them to try a few traditional British foods like fish and chips or afternoon tea!
The best way to get around in London with kids
The tube means you can get to most places relatively easily, plus it’s a novelty for most kids to ride on an underground train!
Cathy Winston is the award-winning travel writer and blogger behind MummyTravels. Mum to a six-year-old daughter, who’s now globetrotting alongside, she has lived in London for most of the last 20 years and been visiting the city, where her own mother grew up, since she was a child. After visiting more than 60 countries, she’s still as fascinated by the places to explore on her own doorstep in the UK as heading off the beaten track to Africa, South East Asia and more. Never knowingly underpacked. Loves a beach. Find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.