After a long break from international travel, our family recently hopped across the pond for the kids’ first trip to Europe. We spent a full week of a two week vacation exploring London, England. We were in town just weeks before Queen Elizabeth passed away, so were able to experience some of the final days of her Jubilee Celebration as well as the many offerings the city always has to offer.
My sister lived just outside London with her family the last couple of years so we had a bit of the inside scoop in planning our own trip thanks to her experience (and also thanks to a neighbor of ours who lives part-time in London). But even without the help of locals, we found the city supremely easy to navigate with kids. We found London had a wealth of family-friendly activities as well.
As with all cities, there’s a learning curve. My husband and I had both been to London several times before, but we were seeing the city anew this trip visiting it with kids for the first time. Here are all the basics that other first time visitors to London with kids need to know, from transportation tips to the very best things to do in London with kids.
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Getting to London with Kids: Airports & Trains
First things first – if you are a first timer to London, what are the best options for getting there?
Many Americans arrive by air, as London has multiple airport choices and is often used as a gateway city for travelers ultimately planning to visit multiple places in Europe. There are 6 total airports in the London area but the two that North American travelers are most likely to arrive into are:
- London Heathrow (LHR): The largest international airport in London, Heathrow has non-stop flights to and from nearly every major city all around the world. The airport is served by nearly all major airlines.
- London Gatwick (LGW): Located south of the city, London’s second largest airport has non-stop flights to several larger North American cities, mostly on JetBlue and British Airways, as well as lots of low cost carriers offering intra-Europe flights.
Related: Tips for Flying EasyJet
If you are coming from elsewhere in Europe, your family may be arriving by train instead of by plane. Most trains from more distant destinations arrive into San Pancras Station (we took the Eurostar out of Saint Pancras station ourselves leaving London to head to Paris next). But trains from many destinations within the United Kingdom come into a number of different stations in the central part of the city.
No matter what station you arrive into, it’s usually a pretty easy connection on the London Tube at that station to get where you need to go (more on local transportation below). The most important thing to note for train arrivals if you are coming from outside the United Kingdom is that Brexit has complicated train travel a bit. You’ll have to clear international borders and likely will need to plan for more time at your departing station than ever before.
Where to Stay in London with Kids
We did an enormous amount of research on where to stay in London with kids, trying to find a perfect combination of location and amenities at the right price (Related: find out how much a trip to London costs). The choices in a city so large are likely to be pretty overwhelming to other first time travelers as well.
London is of course quite expensive and many Americans should expect some sticker shock. We live in San Francisco so are pretty accustomed to high hotel prices. We were actually pleasantly surprised to find prices not entirely out of the stratosphere. Even in the high summer season, finding 4+ star accommodations for a family of four in the city center is entirely possible for under $500 a night.
Of course, prices fluctuate quite a bit with the changing exchange rate. Prices have gotten even better for Americans since our visit, as the British pound has reached rough parity with the American dollar as of the date this post is published.
Like elsewhere in Europe, hotel rooms are smaller than might be customary in the United States, and the slate of amenities and furnishings aren’t going to be quite the same. We found that these features were the ones most important to scrutinize in comparing London hotels and lodging:
- Bed types: Many rooms that sleep 4 in London have just two double beds. Can you and your partner share a double? If you have more than one child, can your kids? Look out for family suites or deals for families to get 2 rooms with the second at a discount rate if you need more beds (see, for example, Marriott’s 50% off a 2nd room offer for select London hotels).
- Air conditioning: England is usually pretty chilly, but if you are visiting during peak summer months like many tourists, you may experience some pretty hot and humid days. Not all hotels and accommodations have AC, so if you need that to be comfortable, check carefully.
- Elevators: Some historic buildings in London do not have “lifts.” We found that some apartment style accommodations would mean dragging suitcases up several flights of stairs. This might not be a great choices for families with younger kids – especially travelers with kids of stroller age.
- Breakfast: A lot of London hotels have excellent breakfasts as an optional add on to your room rate – often at a very reasonable price. Price compare carefully!
We ultimately ended up staying in a one bedroom flat in Mayfair at 9 Hertford Street, which ended up being ideal for our family of four for a week. It had some of the amenities of a hotel, including top notch warm and personable service, with a lot of the conveniences of a larger vacation rental. We ordered grocery delivery from Sainsbury’s to fill our fridge with breakfast foods and snacks and made much use of the washing machine in the flat as well. The property is located within a 7 minute walk of the Green Park tube station. The location was exceptionally convenient, putting us on three Tube lines (Jubilee, Piccadilly, and Victoria).
Other hotels and flats we seriously considered and researched extensively:
- Clermont Hotel, Charing Cross: Located near Charing Cross station, this hotel is also very centrally located. We initially booked and held a Deluxe Family Room, but a Studio Suite would have fit our family as well. Be sure to become a member on the site which entitles you to 10% discounts right away.
- The Cavendish Hotel, London: Idea for families of 3, this hotel makes sofa beds available in its larger rooms to accommodate a third person and also has cribs available. The hotel is close to Mayfair and Piccadilly. Breakfast for kids under 12 is free with a paying adult.
- St. James Hotel & Club: This luxury hotel specializes in interconnecting rooms for families, offering discounts on the second room. We found the Deluxe suite with living area and king bed that interconnected to a superior room with queen size bed was the best fit for our family of 4.
- 10 Curzon Street by Mansley: these serviced apartments are similar to the ones we ultimately chose at 9 Hertford Street. The two bedroom apartments sleep up to four people, but note that the building does not have an elevator.
- Athenaeum London: The priciest option we considered, this luxury hotel in Mayfair has residence style rooms ideal for families (including a California king bed and pop up bunk beds) as well as a children’s concierge.
Getting Around in London with Kids
London has one of the best public transit systems in the world and that’s a major reason it’s an ideal destination for family travelers. Tourists really can easily get anywhere they need to go with minimal time at a cheap fare.
Figuring out the rules and fares is a little tricky (my husband did the deep dive and found this post amazingly helpful). Kids under age 11 travel for free with a paying adult. There are discounts available for older kids and teens as well.
We found that a Travelcard that covered all public transit in Zones 1-2 (£38 for 7 days) covered us for every destination we wanted to visit except Heathrow Airport and a Premier League game in a stadium located outside of the city center. Load the Travelcard as well as additional funds for pay-as-you-go fares onto an Oyster card and the computers apply the best fare for you. We bought a pay-as-you-go Oyster card for my 13 year old daughter, because the Young Person’s discount for ages 11-15 was the cheaper option for her even if we used public transit extensively.
London Underground (the Tube)
London has a massive and extensive subway system (referred to as the Tube) that reaches almost everywhere in the city that tourists are likely to want to go. Trains come every few minutes and are comfortable and safe, albeit crowded during commute hours, as you might expect.
If you are using the Tube with a child 10 and under who travels for free, enter and exit via the handicapped turnstiles which open slowly enough for two people to walk through together. Like a number of places in older cities of Europe, some of the Tube isn’t entirely accessible. If you have babies and toddlers in strollers (especially more than 1), it’s going to be harder to navigate. But I did notice how kind and helpful Londoners were when they saw a parent struggling with a little one on the Tube – multiple people stepped up to assist which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a major US city.
London’s famed double decker buses are another easy and convenient public transportation option all over the city. We were blown away by how frequently they ran. We used them mostly as more direct routes between some places when traveling on the Tube would have involved a change to another line or a little bit of a walk to a station. My kids loved going up to the second deck and sitting in the very front row where the windows above the driver give great views of the city streets below. Oyster cards and Travelcards can be used to pay fares on buses just like the Tube – scan is upon entry only.
Hop on, Hop off Bus
Many tourists opt to take a different kind of bus to travel around London – a hop on, hop off. While touristy and not official public transportation, definitely don’t dismiss this as a potential form of transportation. These buses hit a lot of the city’s highlights and offer multiple routes, plus they offer audio commentary to help you learn about the city and get your bearings. Bus companies to consider include Big Bus Tours, City Sightseeing London, and the Tootbus.
Cabs in London aren’t as ubiquitous as they used to be, but there are still plenty of taxis to be had if you prefer a private ride around town. All London black cabs now offer contactless payment options in addition to accepting cash, so they are more flexible than ever.
Uber & Ridesharing
Ridesharing is alive and well in London. There are a couple of companies that Americans may not be familiar with that some locals use, but Uber is truly everywhere as well. We used Uber on several occasions (especially when transporting luggage) and were able to get cars of varying sizes and had fast response times even at off hours.
Best Times to Visit & How Long to Stay in London with Kids
When should you go to London and how long should you stay with kids? The right answer of course first depends on your family’s schedule.
Summer is peak season for family travelers as that is when most kids have substantial time off of school. Of course that means larger crowds and higher prices. But the warm weather is more pleasant than much of the rest of the year, when London can be pretty cold and dreary.
If your family has a more flexible schedule, shoulder season in May and September often has the the right combination of good weather and lower crowds. Spring break is another solid possibility for American visitors. But it can still be quite chilly in March and April, so pack accordingly!
We visited during the first week of August (when English schools are on a break between terms). The weather can be very hot and humid in August some days, which is a down side to this time of year. Because of the school break, however, traffic in the city was more reasonable and most activities were open 7 days a week so it was easy to schedule all the things we wanted to do. Plus, because a lot of US schools go back for the year in early to mid-August, we also found the crush of American tourists had dropped off a lot by the time we visited, which helped with crowds at tourist attractions.
As for how long you need in London, the longer the better! I’d recommend a bare minimum of 3 days in London with kids, but a visit of 5-7 days or more is ideal. Even with our full week in town going pretty much non-stop, we just scratched the surface.
Top 17 Things to Do in London with Kids
So now that the logistics are out of the way, let’s get to the good part. What should you plan to DO while in London with kids?
Few cities in the world have as many iconic attractions and must-dos as London. And so many of these things to do are family-friendly, so you are going to have a hard time picking and choosing.
Start by gathering the family and making a list of everything that interests you. Your list is likely going to be very long. We put all of our family’s choices into Trip Advisor so we could easily see on the map which ones were close to one another and possible to do together in a single day.
Here are 17 of the best things to do in London with kids (with a map to all of them to assist in your navigation and planning).
Some of course will be better for younger kids and some will be better for older kids and teens, so I’ve indicated age recommendations for many of them. Whenever available, I’ve also linked below to standalone articles from bloggers I personally know and trust for more details on each of these attractions if you want to do a deeper dive.
Tower of London
Both of my kids named the Tower of London as one of their favorite stops in London. Built by William the Conquerer over 1000 years ago, the Tower has played a central part in many major events in English history. Must-sees include the Crown Jewels, the Yeoman Warders (elite guards responsible for the Tower’s safekeeping who give engaging must-do tours too!), the ravens, and the Royal Armouries. History comes alive here in engaging ways for kids with tales of battles, torture, and execution among the ancient buildings.
The Tower of London is a very popular attraction that gets crowded, so I highly recommend getting tickets for the earliest entry time to beat the crowds. Plan for a visit of at least 2-3 hours with kids to be able to see the highlights. More details in this family-friendly guide to the Tower of London.
As the site of the coronation of many monarchs and the final resting place for many of them as well, Westminster Abbey plays an important role in both the religious and political history of England and Great Britain. Entry into the church includes an audio guide, and there is a version available for children that explains the stories in a more accessible format in about an hour – just the right length for younger attention spans. (More tips for families in this article from my friend Allison about what to expect at Westminster Abbey.)
While most visitors explore the church only, we went a little out of the way to sit in the College Garden as well, which is a lovely and peaceful green space for toddlers and younger kids to explore with amazing views of the Palace of Westminster for parents. Westminster Abbey is within easy walking distance of both Parliament and the Churchill War Rooms (both listed below), so it’s possible to do two or even three of these attractions in a single day if you plan the timing carefully, which is what we did.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s is the famed cathedral featured in the “Feed the Birds” scene of Mary Poppins that is also the site where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were wed. It is the people’s church in London and turned out to be even more popular with my kids than Westminster Abbey. Take one of the shorter free guided tours to learn a little of the history (or use the included audio guide). And definitely make time to climb to the top of the dome for magnificent views of the city on clear days – not for the faint of heart but well worth it!
Churchill War Rooms (Imperial War Museum)
Kids can learn about one of Great Britain’s most famous prime ministers as well as a lot about World War II history in a visit to the Churchill War Rooms. This museum is located in the underground bunkers where Churchill and his cabinet rode out the bombings of London during the Blitz, ultimately directing the Allies on to victory. An audio guide (including a “family” setting with descriptions more understandable for kids) is included in the price of admission.
I was worried that the Churchill War Rooms would be too much boring history for my younger child (who was 8 years old and about to enter 3rd grade at the time of our trip). Its underground location, the walk-through layout of the museum, and its many multimedia exhibits turned out to be surprisingly engaging. My son especially enjoyed the interactive screen where visitors can listen to Churchill’s most famous quotes and quips. Plan on at least 2 hours to visit – more with teens who may be more deeply in to the history.
Parliament (Palace of Westminster)
The Palace of Westminster is home to Great Britain’s House of Commons and House of Lords, and it may come as a surprise that tours are offered here! Tours with a live guide as well as self-guided audio tours (both about 90 minutes) are available. We opted for the guided tour, which was a little more expensive but worthwhile to mix things up, as many London tourist attractions have audio guides.
Parliament was one of the favorite stops for my 13 year old. Seeing the room she had previously viewed only on TV and YouTube while watching the famous Prime Minister’s questions was especially meaningful to her. But the tour was probably a little too dry or at least too long for my 8 year old, so this is one attraction I might save for older kids who have a deeper understanding and appreciation of government and politics.
London Bike Tour
I have never thought of London as much of a biking city, but the government has installed a massive amount of biking infrastructure in recent years which has drastically changed the landscape. And that means that it’s incredibly easy to explore a number of city highlights on two wheels.
We took a private family tour with BrakeAway Bike Tours to get our bearings on the first morning of our stay in London. Our tour guide was knowledgable and upbeat while also giving us practical tips along the way and taking all the necessary measures to keep us safe. Everyone in the family ranked it one of our absolute favorite activities.
There are multiple quality bike tour companies (we investigated them all!), including Tally Ho!, the London Bicycle Tour Company, and Fat Tire Tours London. Many of the tour guides are actors and entertainers and have the skills to keep kids engaged. Most tour companies offer trail-along bikes and even trailer attachments so it’s possible for families even with toddlers and younger kids to enjoy this activity. Families with younger kids (under 10 or 12 years old) usually are required to book a private tour.
For amazing views of London, head to the city’s most visited attraction: the London Eye. This giant ferris wheel towers over the southern banks of the Thames River, rotating slowly one revolution each half hour so riders can take in the views. Because of its popularity, it’s essential to book tickets well in advance. This is one of the most expensive attractions in London and queues can be brutal. If you plan to do it, especially with impatient younger kids or if you are on a tight schedule, I’d highly recommend paying even more for the Fast Track tickets to skip the queue.
The same company that owns the London Eye also operates nearby Sea Life Aquarium, Madam Tussauds, the London Dungeon, and Shrek’s Adventure. As several of these attractions are replicated in a lot of cities around the world and are pretty touristy, we skipped them, but many families enjoy them. Combination tickets can save you some money if you plan to do more than one.
Many of the luxury hotels in London offer decadent afternoon teas, and we highly recommend partaking in at least one during a family vacation. Most of these teas welcome children with special theming and kid-friendly food selections, so it’s very hard to pick among the many excellent choices.
We decided to go with a classic experience at the Savoy Hotel’s Thames Foyer for our family of four (my husband and I also took tea at the Ritz London as an adults-only date night). Also recommended for families is tea at St. Ermin’s, the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych, and the Original Sweetshop Afternoon Tea at The Chesterfield Mayfair. (See more family-friendly London tea recommendations.)
While we are on the subject of food, one other must-do meal is a traditional Sunday Roast. Compared to many European countries, England isn’t exactly known for its amazing cuisine, but we had heard from friends and family that the Sunday meal is one worth experiencing. They were so right.
Sunday roast consists of a hearty plate with a roasted meat (usually chicken, beef, or lamb) covered in gravy with side items like potatoes, vegetables, and a Yorkshire pudding. Any local pub will likely do the job in spades. We ate our Sunday Roast at the Chesterfield Arms in Mayfair near our hotel and the meal was one of the very best of our trip. Some pubs serve this dish all weekend long, so you may have more than one night a week to get your fill.
Borough Market is one of the largest public markets in London with a history of over 1000 years. Today, it is full of sights and smells that capture kids’ attentions. There are a number of food stalls to grab a quick meal or snack on the go or table service restaurants surrounding the market itself for a more leisurely meal.
Hamleys Toy Shop
Hamleys Toy Shop is a child’s dream come to life – seven floors of every toy from around the globe at its main location on Regent Street. There are play stations throughout the shop where kids can see some of the toys in action and even play with a few themselves.
You’ll find a wide selection of toys that may not be available back home, including lots of Peppa Pig, Paddington, and Harry Potter as well as Hamleys’ own label of toys that includes an iconic red London bus and a teddy bear (with a new design each year). There’s even a Build-a-Bear station that includes outfits unique to London like a Beefeater costume. It was hard getting my kids to leave, so consider yourself warned!
London is full of beautiful parks to explore with kids, but Hyde Park is one of the largest with multiple offerings that families will enjoy. On the east side, families can rent paddleboats on the Serpentine Lake or hire a lawn chair to sit and people watch or enjoy an ice cream.
On the west side, the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is one of the top things to do with younger kids. The play structure is shaped like a pirate ship. Kensington Palace is also located adjacent to the park. This Royal Palace is open to the public, with viewings of the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments as well as Kensington Gardens. It’s one of the most popular attractions for visitors wanting to explore Britain’s royal history.
Buckingham Palace & Changing of the Guard
Speaking of palaces, Buckingham Palace nearby is another must-see with kids. The famous Changing of the Guard there usually happens daily in June and July, but only 4 days a week the rest of the year (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays), so plan carefully and prepare for large crowds.
For limited periods (usually in late summer and early fall), the palace opens to the public for tours. The tours are quite expensive and not necessarily a must-do on shorter trips (particularly if you plan to visit other royal sites), but worth considering. The children’s audio guide is hosted by Rex the Corgi – a cute touch.
The British Museum has one of the largest and most magnificent collections from historical sites around the world, from Egyptian mummies to the Rosetta Stone to the Parthenon’s Elgin marbles. It is an engaging place to introduce kids to history and archeology. You can really customize your experience and the time you spend there to match the ages an interests of your children, so it is one of the best things to do in London for all ages. And it’s free!
The enormous size of the museum is pretty overwhelming so I’d recommend looking at the offerings in advance and having a plan to navigate it. Check out this guide to the British Museum with kids for the top things to see.
All Things Harry Potter
Harry Potter fans will find a wealth of activities to do all over London. For the superfans with plenty of time to spare, the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour is an experience farther outside of the city center (more like a day trip) that requires something approaching a full day to see. There are also plenty of walking tours and bus tours of the sights of the Harry Potter films as well. More casual fans should at least consider popping by Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station for a photo opp and to visit the gift shop selling Potter merchandise.
See more offerings in this post with 9 Harry Potter things to do in London.
Premier League Match
Thanks to Ted Lasso, English Premier League football is hotter than ever among Americans right now. Attending a Premier League match is an amazing opportunity to have a much more local experience in London… if you can get tickets. We had to join the club for Tottenham Hotspur to even have the right to purchase tickets direct. Then we had get up in the middle of the night twice and refresh the website frantically to get the seats we did. But it was well worth it! Premier League matches run roughly from August to May.
One mistake we made when attending that other families of young kids should know about – Premier League games are loud – louder than any other sporting event I’ve ever attended. Consider bringing ear protection for younger and more sensitive kids if you do manage to score seats.
West End Show
London has a thriving theater district on the West End that rivals New York’s Broadway for the number and quality of shows it offers. There are always a number of kid-friend shows available. Some have age minimums or recommendations, so check carefully to make sure the show you choose is suitable for everyone in the family.
We watched Back to the Future: The Musical on our visit, which debuted in London and will soon also be showing in New York. It was a massive hit with everyone in the family, but most especially my husband who has surely watched the movie a few hundred times. Other family-friendly shows running in 2022 include: The Lion King, Matilda, Disney’s Newsies, Frozen, Mary Poppins, and Wicked.
Tips for Booking & Saving Money on Attractions in London with Kids
While it’s hard enough to narrow down what you want to see in London, figuring out how best to book tickets and not spend too much money can be even trickier. A few London travel tips to consider when it comes to the logistics of booking and visiting attractions (plus see even more in this list of helpful European travel tips):
- Book Direct!: If you just want tickets to most attractions, book direct, unless you are booking a combination ticket that bundles multiple attractions at a discount. A number of travel websites and blogs will direct you to ticket middlemen like Viator and Get Your Guide for tickets (I won’t do that just to get an affiliate commission). While these sites do offer a number of in-depth tours worth considering, many listings on these sites are merely glorified marked-up admission tickets.
- Book in Advance: While there are some attractions in London where you can walk up and purchase tickets, everything is much more planned in advance these days. To avoid long lines or being shut out of an attraction entirely during peak tourist season, purchase tickets in advance (timed entry is required at many places).
- Check for Closure Days: A lot of London attractions are open 7 days a week (more than any other city in Europe we experienced), especially in peak summer months. But not all of them. Be sure to keep track of any days that activities are closed when planning out your travel itinerary so you don’t miss out.
Here are a few ways we discovered families can get a discount on multiple attractions in London:
- Family Ticket Bundles: A number of London attractions offer family tickets directly on their website that can help you save money on admission (most often these for adult/child combinations of 3-5 people). Be sure to read all the ticket options offered to find which one adds up to be the best deal for your family. Look for “concession” rates for discounts – this is a term that Americans may not immediately know the meaning of!
- National Rail 2-for-1 Discounts: If you are traveling to London by rail, you are eligible with your train ticket for a number of 2-for-1 discounts for many activities. Details on how to book and claim are on the National Rail website.
- London Pass by Go City: The London Pass by Go City is a discount pass that allows you to bundle multiple attractions and save. It includes Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, a hop on hop off bus tour, and many others. If you plan to do 2-3 attractions per day that are offered under its umbrella, you’ll likely come out ahead, but you have to do the math.
Final Thoughts on London with Kids
Our family had an amazing time in London. It is just the right place to start European travels with kids. The city is so easy to navigate without wasting any time, and London has a wealth of family-friendly things to do. Even though it’s an enormous city, the neighborhoods feel compact, welcoming and friendly. It’s a city we can see ourselves returning to many times, so we highly recommend other families give it a visit as well!