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The Ultimate Guide To London For Families
London is one of my favorite cities and undeniably in the top five. I’ve been lucky enough to live in London for several years, and I’ll share everything you need to know, which bucket list items are family-friendly & which ones are worth visiting. In this nearly exhaustive guide, I’ll share a ton of hidden gems, kid-friendly cafes, bucket list big hitters, and more!
A Look At London Throughout The Seasons
Winter: Albeit, This is my least favorite season if I’m honest. However, I LOVE the feeling Christmas brings. The streets will be twinkling with lights, shops, and public spaces transformed with decorations and all the sparkles, glitter, and warm hugs. You and your family can skate in an ice rink or stay indoors and see a ballet. And for my compulsive spenders- you’ll find ALL the sales! haha
There is a downside, though: Traffic and transportation. These things tend to come to a halt, and the little snow you may see will be covered, or should i say, wiped away by rain. And more rain.
If your kids can’t get enough of Santa- there will be a ton of opportunities to find him in many of the shopping centres and toy stores like Harrods, Selfridges, or Hamleys.
On the 1st Thursday of December, you can watch the- Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony to switch on 500 lights that will decorate the large spruce tree in Trafalgar Square. The event begins typically at 6 pm with caroling a the views are up at 6:30 pm. Now Christmas Day is quiet in London, but an enormous NEW year Eve Celebration follows that with fireworks at the London eye! This is followed by their New years day parade. In late January/early February, you’ll find Chinatown filled with noise and color as a massive celebration with dragons, lanterns, torches, firecrackers, and more celebrates Chinese new year.
- Santas Grottos
- Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
- London International Horse Show
- New Years Eve
- London Ice Sculpting Festival
- Chinese New Year
Spring: This is my favorite time in London. I love seeing all the flowers blossoming. However, be prepared for temperamental weather. You’ll want to pack warm clothes and waterproof clothing because it tends to be chilly and wet. And after the month of March, you’ll find plenty of activities for the kids. During easter, Battersea park zoo holds an easter egg hunt. In May, there are festivals in Covent garden and garden shows at Chelsea Flower Show.
- Oranges and Lemon Service
- Easter Egg Hunts
- London Friday Night Skate and Sunday Stroll
- Canalway Cavalcade
- Punch and Judy Festival
- The Covent Garden May Fayre and Puppet Festival
- Chelsea Flower Show
Summer: Summer is lovely in London as well. (but still, be prepared as the weather in London truly is never reliable. You’ll find loads of people picnicking in the park and longs sunny days. Cafes and restaurants move their tables outside, and it’s merely divine as the city begins to feel almost like the Mediterranean. Almost.
- Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
- City of London Festival
- Regent Parks Oper Air Theatre
- London Green Fair
- Spitalfields Festival
- Greenwich and Docklands International Festival Notting Hill Carnival
Fall: Autumn is another ideal time to visit London, as you’ll find it less crowded. Shops restock, and the days are still pleasant.
- Mayor Thames Festival (Sundays night festival)
- Great River Race
- Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival
- October Plenty
- Regent Street Christmas Lights
- Winter Wonderland (Hyde Park)
- London to Brighton Veteran Car Run
Ceremonial Events To See
Trooping The Color: honors the official Queens birthday
Changing The Guard: literally the changing of the guard lol
State Opening of Parliament: The queen announces a program of proposed legislation on behalf of the government. (this is closed to the public; however, is televised for your viewing)
Remembrance Day: Nation commemorates those who died in world wars & recent conflicts
Gun Salutes: marking of royal occasions
The Ceremony of The Keys: The ceremony of securing the Tower of London
Lord Mayor’s Show: Procession for the newly elected major to pledge allegiance to the Crown
Oak Apple Day: Commemorates the lucky escape of the future Charles II
Beating Retreat: Bands of the household division perform a ceremony
Travel To London
Air: the five airports that serve London are:
- London City
The first two are the closest and BEST options for arriving in the city (with the most effortless transfers). However, the others will likely yield cheaper flight tickets because of their proximity to London (they’re nearly outside London.)
St Pancreas International
Traveling Around London
Bus: Bus is most likely the best and most affordable option. Be sure to plan your journey first so you can take advantage of their Hopper fare (which lets you ride any bus and another bus after that within the hour free) Children under the age of 11 are FREE!
Train, Underground, Rail: Another good option but slightly costlier than the bus route. Download an underground map of London before your travel, understand and figure out which “zones” you’ll be traveling in (it’s an easy pinky promise), then you can calculate ticket costs.
Taxi: This be the most expensive option for sure but if you’re all strapped for time, don’t want to be around people or just prefer a car ride- stay safe by using Uber (cheapest option), London black cabs or proper taxi service (you can Google them and read reviews)
Car: If you don’t already have a car, renting one is undoubtedly an option. Be mindful though, in London, the vehicles operate on the other side (left) of the road. I’ve heard and seen several Americans STRUGGLE with this, so be careful. (There’s also many many little rules that you’ll need to be aware of.
River: Services for the river are operated by TFL’S river bus. (There are four lines between Putney and Woolwich Arsenal but have season schedule changes, see their website for more information)
Bicycle: I LOVE that London has bikes all over the city. All you need is a helmet and a phone. (You’ll use your phone to find the nearest bicycle location and to pay by the hour)
Walking: This is the best and preferred method if you intend on touring small, close, nearby areas.
Staying Safe in London
Passport & Government: I’m assuming you’ve done this already, but in case you haven’t, be sure you’ve crossed your T and dotted your I’s. Verify dates on all documents! (Remember most documents need at least a future of 6 months until expiration)
Insurance: A matter of personal preference here, but I recommend you have coverage for your trips and expensive items as anything can happen. Better safe than sorry.
Health: To my understanding, in the event of an emergency, foreigners will always receive care. (These legalities are continually changing at the moment with Brexit) But, i advise travelers to take out comprehensive travel insurance in case of any health hiccups. In the event of an emergency, dial 999 (however 911 will work). If there isn’t an emergency, you can always consult a pharmacist first (that’s the standard procedure anyhow) and then see a GP if they recommend it.
Personal Safety: Just like anywhere in the world, make sure you stay aware of your surroundings. In crowded areas, thieves will most likely be present, so be sure to carry a handbag that completely closes and seals up and keep it close. Never carry valuables and large amounts of money. Walk along with well-lit areas. Never leave a bag unattended in a public place, especially public transportation. It may be treated as a suspect package and trigger a security alert. London’s motto: “See it, say it, sorted.” Also, prepare yourself and your family for walking safely on roads, etc. as they drive on the left side of the way.
Money: The UK uses GBP (pounds & pence, instead of dollars & cents) Currency exchange rates can be tedious and a rip- off in some cases, so my best suggestion is to use your American credit cards.
Communicate: The UK country code is +44 (as ours is +1), and for London, the area code is 020. I know many Americans continue to use their own service abroad, and you can do that (I’ll say this is helpful when you need to call your credit card company…you won’t be flagged as a fraud because you aren’t calling from a different number). But I always suggest if you want to save money, use my budget strategy, and opt for a temporary month to month plan with any of the UK’s top mobile providers. In order of preference (due to price, customer service, and connection) is EE, Three, O2, Vodaphone.
If you are staying with friends or family or an Airbnb, you can have one shipped free to your destination. (ask your hotel if they will allow this) Then, you’ll “top-up” when you arrive. Wifi is available FREE almost everywhere, from restaurants to cafes, libraries, and hotels. So you can stretch and save your data even more.
Visiter Information: The main tourist information center is- the City of London Information Centre. However, there are visitor centers in nearly every railway station.
Packing: Because London is a major city, there isn’t any worry if you forget something. You’ll be able to find anything you could need & if you need things in a hurry, Amazon UK to the rescue. (You can sign up for a FREE 30-day trial and use your foreign credit cards as well.)
Exploring London & Greater London
Favorite Parks & Playgrounds
London is full of hidden gems. Here’s a list of places for you and your little ones to play, picnic, and enjoy nature. As a family, there’s no doubt we’ll be spending a load of time pushing swings, running around, kicking a ball, or any other thrilling activity!
Coram’s Fields: London’s very first children’s public playground. Located in the West end right in the center of London. There’s a zip line, a giant sandpit paddling pool open place space small city farm and cafe alongside it.
Crystal Palace Park: Here, you’ll find sculptures of prehistoric creatures and a beautiful lake.
Victoria Park: This is one of my favorite parks as it has a boating lake, playground, rope nests, skate park, and water area, and a lakeside bakery.
Kew Gardens: This park, while not free, easily justifies the cost. It has beautiful botanical gardens. It’s free entry for children under four and a fantastic membership offer. At 300 acres, it’s filled with climbers and an indoor play area, along with a treetop walkway.
Battersea Park: spark holds small boating because of a small zoo and an adventure playground and is a frequent destination.
Diana, Princess of Wales Playground: one of our favorite parks we frequent. It’s a child-friendly park paying tribute to the late Princess of Wales and is filled with a Neverland theme for children under 12 years old. There are ten slide climbing nets and a substantial boating play area filled with sand around it. You’ll find teepee, treehouse, sea monster, water play, treasure chest, and other sensory items hiding around. It’s also designed for children with special needs and is inaccessible to unaccompanied adults.
Richmond Park: This is a huge, huge park with woods that are home to a variety of plants, birds, and animals, including deer that roam freely. You also find horse riding nearby.
Hobbledown: This park’s here is a similar theme to the Chessington world of adventures! It’s filled with mazes tunnels exotic animals giant bouncing pillows and more. It has a modest entry fee, all targeted for younger children. (Under 10)
Brockwell Park: This park is approximately 125 acres of space. It has a paddling pool duck pond, a tea room, and a beautiful community greenhouse. There’s lots of green space, and it isn’t particularly fun for little ones as there aren’t many distractions, just lots of open space. Between April and October, there is a miniature railway that offers short rides that are always ahead with preschoolers. Also, you’ll find the Lambeth country Fair that’s a lively mix of reggae, farm animals, vegetable sculptures, and local cider.
Alexandra Park: we have so many paper parks in London, and this is no exception. This park is filled with swan and dragon-themed boats on a lake, large lush green space pitch and putt golf, dream climbing skate park soft play area, and in an indoor year-round ice rink.
Sky Garden: although free tickets must be booked online in advance. This innovative public oasis is child-friendly, a fascinating space with planters of eucalyptus sage and huge palm trees. You’ll find hidden benches, a restaurant and cafe, and gorgeous panoramas of the ever-changing cityscape. No food and drink prices are sky-high.
Dulwich Park: This park has tucked into which village It’s a semi-rural area of Southeast London. You’ll find a busy playground, pack cafe, boating lake, and sports pitches. It’s a real crowd-pleaser. What makes us one unique is it donut-like shape to the full traffic-free orbital path that is a favorite among local runners as well as cyclists.
Ruislip Lido: This park is the whole the beautiful freshwater lake alongside imported sand that gives you a very beachy feel. Do note that the shallow water and grimy silt underfoot doesn’t allow for proper swimming. And surrounded by a dense forest and has all the sunny day treats and like playground and gastropub and a splash park. You can also ride the Ruislip Lido Railway. This is a volunteer-run service of manager diesel and locomotive train.
Museums & Galleries
Horniman Museum & Gardens: This museum is relatively small, but it packs a punch in the number of fantastic activities available for young children. As long for the earth stuff walrus that stands in the main hall. It has an extensive gardens 1300 musical instruments taxidermy working beehive a farm right next door and an aquarium in the basement. Honestly calling this place, a museum does it a disservice.
London Transport Museum: this is one of London’s most famous museums. Here you’ll find vintage buses and more with an all aboard play zone and theme. There are tube driving simulations pre-war exhibits to keep to entertain the older children and more to appeal tiny train enthusiasts.
National Maritime Museum: Head on over to the AHOY! Gallery FREE, where you’ll find a play space with stacking blocks or pretend fish market and the ton other miniature delights. That’s perfect for preschoolers. You also find a top floor located to all their children filled with an exhibit that gives the kids a gruesome rat filled guide to life below the deck (dock-themed). On the ground floor, there’s a cafe with a “Great Map” that helps keep the kids entertained if you need a rest!
Museum of London: This museum beings all of London prehistory to life! It’s thoughtfully interactive, with a smidge of spookiness with it’s a dark theme.
Science Museum: Miss Museum is perfect for both young and older children. On the ground floor, you’ll find a garden area that introduces the world of science and with water play like games and pipes that carry sound. And you can also find the natural history museum next door both free and donations appreciated. And the outdoors will usually be filled with treat performers, and it’s sure to be a mind-expanding day out.
V&A Museum of Childhood: here, you’ll find tons of antique toys and a museum-like setup. I bustling central cafe and full gift shop. There are two floors of informative hands-on attractions and play spaces filled with a beach-themed indoor sand pet and building block area to an old-fashioned chin and a pair of famous rocking horses. You’ll also find a sensory area for younger ones and temporary exhibitions with memorable characters.
The Cartoon Museum: Museum is not too far from the British Museum, and here you’ll find I catching cut-outs of giant characters drawing materials and a plethora of comics.
Luxury Days Out
Sea Life London Aquarium
Legoland & Windsor Resort
London Wetland Centre
Hackney City Farm
Battersea Park Children’s Zoo
Activities For Teens in London
Jurassic Encounter Adventure Golf
Lee Valley White Water Centre
Street Art London tour
Indoor Activities: Escaping the rain doesn’t have to be challenging!
Discover Story Centre
Little Angel Theatre
V&A Make it Workshops
Greenwich Observatory & Planetarium
Kidzania At Westfield
The Bees Knees at Battersea Arts Centre
Dining: Where to Eat
The best way to eat on a budget is to veer away from the high streets, main roads, and touristy areas. The most budget-friendly idea is to have a family picnic at any of the parks listed on this page. But, if the weather isn’t permitting, finding local cafes, chain stores, and ethnic restaurants are the best way to get a bang for your buck.
Cuisine By Culture: If you’re ready to venture off into authentic cuisine, see some of the suggestions below.
British: I’m going to be honest out here and just say it. I don’t find British food delicious. It tends to be tasteless. Coming from a Latina background that prides on seasoning food well, I find that the Brits fall short of this. But if you insist on trying some native dishes, I’d go for fish and chips or your standard English breakfast, which is surprisingly good, but that’s probably due to the bacon lol, however, stay away from the black pudding. It’s revolting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
North American: all right guys, I would hope that you wouldn’t be the typical Americans searching for American food or in the land, but if you are hard Rock Cafe won’t disappoint. You can also consider the child-friendly Chicago rib shack in Knightsbridge. Or any of the chain restaurants listed below.
Spanish: yeah yeah! What I love about Spanish restaurants are, of course, the tapas, but they are very sensitive to families and almost all Spanish restaurants or child-friendly with kid menus filled with an informal and relaxing.
Italian: when you think Italian, most people think pizza, but it goes well beyond that, and there are many pizzerias restaurants and trattorias within London that are sure to please.
Greek & Turkish: their food is similar to the Middle East with Greek specializing in stocky, which is delicious. I spent years living in Greece, and I can say that there isn’t much that the Greeks make that isn’t worth trying. Restaurants worth visiting are the real Greeks and The Athenian in Victoria.
Chinese: If you’re craving Chinese food, the most obvious place in Chinatown in the West end. But there are many other areas, of course, they cater to this cuisine. We love Chinese food because it’s perfect for kids with choices of rice noodle dumplings spring rolls and many choices later to both meet and non-meat-eaters.
Indian: Indian Curry’s are a heavy favorite in the UK, including London. Take caution though that Indian food tends to be very, very spicy, so if you do visit or an Indian restaurant, be sure to request the children have little to no spice or request gentler versions.
Thai: Thai food is delicious with many restaurants in Kensington and Fulham area. Do note though that some of the food is also spicy. Be sure to ask the waiter first about each dish. It’s often inspired by Chinese cuisine. If anyone in the family has peanut allergies avoid avoid avoid.
Malaysian & Indonesian: If your family and children have adventurous palates, then go ahead and head to the center of London and visit Penang and Bali Bali, which serve meals from both countries. But they don’t have children menus, so be sure to keep that in mind when ordering or ask for children portions (which they will be happy to assist with). Again like the Thai Indian and Chinese cuisine, peanuts are frequently used, so be sure to remind the waiter and the restaurant of this if there are any peanut allergies at all.
French: you’ll find quite a bit of French restaurants in the UK in London serving high-grade food. So if you’re looking for more fancy expensive posh experience, go with the French.
London Chain Restaurants
If you’re anything like me, sometimes I just want to add a chain restaurant. While I love exploring and tasting cultural foods based on location as there’s nothing like eating authentic meals… As a multiracial family, there are times when I just don’t have the mental capacity to risk whether or not the issues will develop unfortunately this is the reality and something we’ve dealt with many times over and so when I just want to have a good time and eat and go with the place I know I can bank on I tend to resort to chain restaurants here are a few of our favorites.
Franco manca: As you can guess from the name, this is an Italian restaurant that serves solely sourdough pizzas, and they don’t compromise on quality. The food is delicious and reasonably priced.
Wahaca: A fun restaurant that’s Mexican inspired with tasty food.
Byron: A delicious and someone posh restaurant that serves hamburgers of all types vegan and vegetarian-friendly and can friendly as well.
Giraffe: One of our favorite places this restaurant resembles Applebee’s in America with a darker themed lighting, loud music, and constant chatter. Kid-friendly and global tasty menu.
Nando’s: delicious menu but do know it’s spicy kid-friendly with each location looking a bit different but filled with wooden tables family style.
Wagamama: Asian inspired their menus filled with yummy food s of all kinds and kid-friendly but always noisy. Do note when you order from this place. You will never get all of your food at one time. They bring your food as it is prepared and ready.
Rainforest Cafe: This is a global chain with some locations in the US as well. It’s a wildlife-themed restaurant that is overpriced but sure to please (The kids anyway.)
Bills: This restaurant serves breakfast all day long and also lunch and dinner as well as mid-range price and typically excellent service.
Ping pong: This chain restaurant serves dumplings and Asian and dishes mostly in soup form.
London By Area: The Best Of…
West End: Westminster
National Portrait Gallery
Benjamin Franklin house
St Paul’s Church
Royal Opera House
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
London Transport Museum
Key sights in Covent Garden:
Apple Store: This is the world’s LARGEST Apple store! Nuts!
Jubilee Market: In the south piazza, this area is full of passageways packed with stalls selling homemade trinkets, T-shirts, and the like.
Street Shows: You find singers, dancers, magic, and performers extraordinaire.
Royal Opera House
London Transport Museum: We love this one, and the cool thing here is when you purchase a ticket, it’s valid for one whole year!
St Paul’s Church
Bloomsbury & Regents Park
ZSL London Zoo
East End: The City
Tower of London
St Paul’s Cathedral
Bank of England Museum
the Golden Hinde
Imperial War Museum
River Thames RIB tour
Kensington, Chelsea & Battersea
Natural History Museum
Victoria & Albert Museum
Beyond The City Centre
V&A Museum of Childhood
Where To Stay
Bed and breakfast
Retail Therapy: Shopping in London
Marks and Spencer
Russell and Bromley
Early Learning Centre
Jojo Maman Bebé
& Of course, the standards like gap, h&m, Hollister, Victoria’s secret Levi, etc.
London On A Budget:
Surprisingly, almost all of London’s significant permanent collections of museums and galleries are free. In addition to this, many offer FREE or budget tours, workshops, etc. The ones that don’t offer many discounts for families.
The best way to tour the city is on foot. Hands down. London is completely fascinating and utterly entrancing. Walking around is like a living walk-through museum. The architecture is just that phenomenal, especially when you compare it to the USA.
If you arent keen on walking during your entire vacation, traveling by bus is the next best option. It’s relatively cheap (much cheaper than a taxi anyway), and you get to see beautiful sights from up high. This is a great way to grab a “bus tour” around the city.
If you’re interested in the best bus journies that’ll give you the best sights around the city: Visit The Transport For London website here. (I’ve saved you the trouble and given you a direct link to the suggested routes page)
Free Entertainment: (Or By Donation)
Vauxhall City Farm
Covent Garden: You can guarantee you’ll have hours of entertainment to watch via the street performers
Theatre tickets: Visit the “tkts booth” at Leicester Square
Or: discounttheatre.com, Lastminute.com
Baby Changing Facilities Around London
Most restaurants have baby changing facilities available. However, it never hurts to call and be sure. Starbucks almost always has a changing table available, and if worst comes to worst- find your nearest clothing store, bring your baby and stroller (called pram or buggy in London) and use the disabled changing rooms as a last resort. These changing rooms always have some sort of chair, table, etc. If not, that’s what diaper changing pads are for ????????♀️ (be sure to wash it when you return home!)
Homeschooling: Teaching The History of London When You Visit
London is a city with a rich history. They have impressive architecture, lush parks, and world-class museums. It’s a treasure trove for visitors, especially homeschooling families.
Some places to escape if you have time:
Warner Brothers Studio Tour