London Baby! I always get over-excited about London, but exploring with tots took it to a new level. I was a bit daunted by the city, but discovered that the offering for kids is fantastic. Here is the best of the best.
Top Things to Do in London with Kids – London is still one of the coolest cities in the world, but cool seems less relevant when travelling with tots. From a distance I was quite nervous about taking the tots to London, but when we bit the bullet and explored the capital we found a host of very, well, cool things to do with them. Here are our recommendations…
1 – An Oldie but a Goodie – Top Things to Do in London with Kids
The Natural History Museum is a classic. It’s also free, which is an added bonus. The new blue whale, pride of place in Hintz Hall, is a sight to behold, and the animatronic dinosaurs are wonderfully terrifying. Top tip, visit early or late to avoid massive queues.
2 – Something New – Top Things to Do in London with Kids
The Postal Museum is brand spanking new, and its tiny wee Mail Rail only opened in September 2017. There are three attractions, the museum itself that tells the story of Britain’s social and communication’s history (which is far more interesting than it sounds, and involves dressing up opportunities and colouring-in stations for tots). The play area ‘Sorted!’, which is utterly fantastic fun, involves lots of interactive play and learning on a postal vibe. And lastly, the inimitable Mail Rail. This little train, wich once carried the post, shut down in 2003, and has now been converted to carry curious little passengers and their parents into dark tunnels. Informative and fun videos engage all, it’s a total winner.
3 – Run Wild in Coram’s Fields
A few streets away from the Postal Muesum are Coram’s Fields. You can only enter these play areas if you have a child with you. This entry policy is something I’ve never experienced before and, whilst I wouldn’t want too many green spaces off limits to those without children, it was somehow hugely reassuring. I felt my kids were safer here, as they played and ran and climbed. [If you can’t make it to Coram’s Fields perhaps your kids will enjoy harassing the squirrels and varied birdlife in St James’ Park. It’s free and my tots loved it.]
4 – Set Sail – Top Things to Do in London with Kids
London Underground is not particularly child friendly, and not at all buggy friendly so, especially on a sunny day, set sail aboard MBNA Thames Clippers to get from A to B and take in the glories of the Thames as you go. Kids love it, and cruising the river engages all ages.
5 – Get Nautical
Having reached Greenwich aboard a MBNA Clipper we headed for the National Maritime Museum. Its play area, ‘Ahoy!’, is brilliant for kids. They can dress up as pirates, go fishing, shop in a fishmongers wearing ridiculous headgear, stoke the boiler of a steamship, and generally cause maritime chaos. It’s free, and when busy there’s a simple one-in-one-out policy, so arriving early is a smart idea. The exhibitions in the rest of museum didn’t cross over particularly well with our tots. For example, the Battle of Jutland exhibit interested me, but was far too adult a theme for preschoolers, and their noise level felt a tad disrespectful, so parents may have to do a bit of tag-teaming to experience see the adult exhibits. [After the museum, we ate at the Coach and Horses bar in Greenwich Market that did fantastic Sunday Roast style dishes, and a hearty kids menu.]
6 – Visit the Rainforest
For a dining extravaganza book a table at the Rainforest Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue. Upon entering a subterranean jungle, animatronic gorillas, elephants, crocodiles, big cats and butterflies come to life with noise and movement. The kids were beside themselves. The food is quite expensive for what it is, and the soft drinks are extortionate, but you’re essentially paying for the location, the set design, the aquarium and the fun times.
7 – Go to the Market
To get your cool back then, if you’re anywhere near the Elephant and Castle, drop by Mercato Metropolitano. Go there whether you have kids or not! This covered food market is delicious and chilled. It works well for kids due to how spacious it is, it’s buzzing with noise, and customers can choose from numerous specialist stalls. We chose pulled pork and raclette for the boys, I indulged in a duck and seaweed dish, and craft beers, wine and champagne are also for sale. The gelato stall is fantastic. Borough Market is nearby and quite similar, but it’s almost too popular for its own good and there’s hardly any seating, so Mercato Metropolitano gets my vote.
8 Go Underwater
Sealife London offers a few hours of glorious underwater exploration. It’s not cheap but once inside you’ll see where your money goes. The shark tank is naturally impressive, I always have a soft spot for seahorses, but it was the jellyfish that blew my mind. Absolute things of beauty, how does nature do it? [At County Hall, Sealife London is brilliantly positioned on the Southbank for food, drink, the London Eye and the Shrek Experience.]
9 – Shopping Tots
London has some of the biggest toy shops and best retail experiences on offer, so if you want to treat your kids try Hamleys on Regent Street, but if you don’t want to spend anything window shopping comes into its own over the festive season. The playful Dolce and Gabbana windows were a joy at Harrods. It took us about 20 minutes to walk past the displays, lights and glitz, leaving us feeling Christmassy very early in November!
10 – Get Up There – Visit the Shard
Looking for a way to visit the Shard on budget – click here to discover more.
11 – Visit a Garden in the Sky
Visiting the Sky Garden is a real highlight, just something a bit quirky and different, with a mix of dining experiences on offer too. Click here for 16 tips and things you need to know before visiting.
12 – Get Rich Quick
Visit the free Bank of England museum, which has fantastic age-specific activity sheets for kids. Feel the weight of a real gold bar, and take selfies in a gold safe.
13 – Get Moving
There’s nothing like London transport to get the kids excited. Take to the skies with the Emirates Cablecar, which is giving the London Eye a run for its money, as it takes its customers right across the Thames in style and grace. It’s not as central as other attractions, but if you make it out to Greenwich, the O2 or the Excel Centre it’s easy to nip to North Greenwich and get your tots in the clouds.
14 Catch a Red London Bus and Sit Upstairs
My husband knows the bus routes so my boys were king of the castle, sitting on the top of a red London bus. They found this everyday journey disproportionately exciting. Whilst the tube isn’t buggy friendly in the slightest, you kinda have to use it to get around London, the plus side is that the kids love it.
Avoid peak travel times, when it gets stupidly busy, and make the most of it. Generally my husband carried the buggy and I was in charge of the tots, but I wouldn’t have attempted it on my own.
15 Visit Kew Gardens
These expansive gardens contain glass houses, an aquarium, very cool playgrounds, and lots of space for little ones to run off steam. Discover more here.
Lastly, the best bit of transport we’ll always associate with London was the Caledonian Sleeper. Travelling from Aberdeen to London in pyjamas!
The sheer excitement of falling asleep on a train was nearly too much for my tots. Arriving in London around 0745 it actually fitted well with my kids’ schedules. And everyone asks, did you sleep? I’m a mum, of course I slept. I’m exhausted! It was far easier than travelling through an airport so I’ve written up the experience, with all the pros and cons, but overall it’s a great way to get to the very cool London with your very cool kids.