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Since I’m an intro­vert who does­n’t like crowds, I have a love/hate rela­tion­ship with Lon­don. Full of fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry, diverse cul­tures, and world-class muse­ums, Lon­don requires care­ful navigation.

 

I mean, real­ly, how do they fit so many peo­ple on one island?

 

But despite my trav­el neu­roses, I want to make sure my kids have a great time.

Vis­it­ing a world-famous city like Lon­don can be one of the best fam­i­ly expe­ri­ences. The key is prepa­ra­tion. So when plan­ning things to do in Lon­don with your kids, let these tips from a ner­vous trav­el­er and sea­soned mom be your guide.

 

 

Chill In the City

 

So your fam­i­ly has arrived in Lon­don. Yes, there are more things to see and do than any­one could con­quer in a year. Before get­ting caught up in a busy itin­er­ary, take some time to enjoy the sur­round­ings. With old church­es, secret gar­dens, and his­tor­i­cal sites around every cor­ner, things that seem ordi­nary to Lon­don­ers will feel mag­i­cal to vis­i­tors. My 9‑year-old’s favorite part of our Lon­don trip may actu­al­ly be the orange mar­malade from our hotel breakfast.

 

Create Games

 

As you explore the city, make a game out of your jour­ney to encour­age thought­ful obser­va­tions. Design your own walk­ing tour of Lon­don with Har­ry Pot­ter film­ing loca­tions, cre­ate a scav­enger hunt with stat­ues, or count the num­ber of lan­guages you hear in crowds to keep kids in on the fun.

 

St. Dun­stan-in-the-East, an old church destroyed in the Lon­don Blitz, is one of our favorite secret gar­dens. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.

 

 

Easily Getting Around

 

The most impor­tant aspect when plan­ning your way around Lon­don is acces­si­bil­i­ty. I can’t tell you how many times we got off at a Tube sta­tion only to dis­cov­er we would need to car­ry the stroller up dozens of steps. Even­tu­al­ly, we learned to check the map for hand­i­cap acces­si­ble sta­tions. As much as we loved the Lon­don Under­ground, we also found it to be a chal­lenge dur­ing rush hour when pas­sen­gers are packed into each car like sar­dines. (This goes dou­ble for those ancient cars on the Bak­er­loo line!)

You’ll need Oys­ter cards to trav­el on the Under­ground, but they’re avail­able for pur­chase at just about any Tube sta­tion. Chil­dren under 11 trav­el free with pay­ing adults. You also can use your Oys­ter card for trav­el on Lon­don’s famous red bus­es, which is a won­der­ful, afford­able way to see the city. (Want an in-depth view of the city? Try a Lon­don bus tour instead.) Oys­ter cards also work for boat rides on the Thames Clip­pers.

 

 

 

Rid­ing the Lon­don Under­ground dur­ing off-peak hours is one of the eas­i­est ways to get around. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.

 

 

Handling the Kids: Divide and Conquer

 

When trav­el­ing with chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages, con­sid­er split­ting up to keep every­one con­tent. While old­er kids and teenagers are exam­in­ing mum­mies in the British Muse­um or vis­it­ing the Churchill War Rooms, tod­dlers can run around Blooms­bury Square Gar­den or the St. James’s Park Play­ground.

Some attrac­tions offer spe­cial activ­i­ties just for kids. Wind­sor Cas­tle hosts fam­i­ly activ­i­ties every Sat­ur­day, and they are includ­ed in tick­et prices. The hands-on arts and crafts are a great way to keep younger mem­bers of your group busy when they get impa­tient with the cas­tle tour.

 

Many muse­ums offer dig­i­tal guides espe­cial­ly for chil­dren, but the younger kids in our group pre­ferred find­ing space to run around and play. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.

 

 

How to Avoid Crowds

 

I was shocked by the crowds dur­ing our last vis­it to Lon­don. We were excit­ed to see the blue whale skele­ton in the Nat­ur­al His­to­ry Muse­um, but long lines and tight spaces meant we did­n’t stay in the muse­um long. Like­wise, the Roset­ta Stone in the British Muse­um was bare­ly vis­i­ble due to eager onlookers.

If the top spots on your itin­er­ary tend to draw lots of peo­ple, pre­pare for lines and crowds by study­ing open­ing hours, tick­et require­ments, and busy times of the day. When pos­si­ble, seek out less­er-known options. Tourist guides often will tell you to skip Buck­ing­ham Palace’s Chang­ing of the Guard due to the mobs of spec­ta­tors; the Chang­ing of the Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guard Parade is a pop­u­lar alter­na­tive. We found a crowd-free expe­ri­ence by watch­ing the Queen’s Life Guard emerge from Hyde Park Bar­racks and fol­low­ing them through the park.

 

Pro-Tip: When mak­ing plans for the day, make a note of avail­able bath­room stops. Oth­er­wise, you may end up at a posh hotel across from Buck­ing­ham Palace at 9 pm, beg­ging them to let you use their loo. 

 

The blue whale skele­ton in Hintze Hall in the Nat­ur­al His­to­ry Muse­um is a pop­u­lar stop. This pho­to leaves out the throngs of peo­ple at the bot­tom of the steps. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.

 

 

Make Food Fun

 

On one of our first evenings in Lon­don, we ate in the base­ment of a small Ital­ian restau­rant called Bizarro. The kind wait­ers made sure even the youngest mem­bers of our par­ty were hap­py, pro­vid­ing plain bowls of but­tered pas­ta on request. But the best part was the loca­tion — gen­tle rum­bles from the near­by Tube sta­tion remind­ed us we were def­i­nite­ly in London.

I was ner­vous to take our kids into a pub, equat­ing them to bars in the Unit­ed States. We soon found that most pubs in the tourist areas of Lon­don are fam­i­ly-friend­ly and easy to nav­i­gate. When in doubt about whether a pub is suit­able for kids, check online for a chil­dren’s menu.

Many of the muse­ums and his­toric sites have their own cafes with mul­ti­ple kid-friend­ly meal options. I find it’s gen­er­al­ly bet­ter to eat lunch on the ear­ly side of lunchtime. By 1pm, every­one has remem­bered they for­got to eat and is grumpi­ly wait­ing in line.

 

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The Horse and Groom pub in Wind­sor had shep­herd’s pie for me and burg­ers for my kids. Pho­to by Paul Nichol­son.

 

 

Essential Stops

 

So what are the essen­tial stops on a Lon­don fam­i­ly vaca­tion? In addi­tion to the British Muse­um and the Nat­ur­al His­to­ry Muse­um, I rec­om­mend a trip to Green­wich. The Nation­al Mar­itime Muse­um in Green­wich has sev­er­al chil­dren’s gal­leries and a giant world map for kids to explore. Addi­tion­al­ly, while in Green­wich, you can vis­it the Cut­ty Sark sail­ing ship at the water’s edge or hike up the hill to the Roy­al Obser­va­to­ry and the Prime Merid­i­an Line.

I also rec­om­mend a vis­it to the Lego store in Leices­ter Square. I know, I know, Legos aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when think­ing of Lon­don. But the two-sto­ry Lego Big Ben and the wind­ing Lego drag­on make it worth the trip.

For a more tra­di­tion­al tourist stop, the Tow­er of Lon­don is a good choice. With the medieval White Tow­er, the Crown Jew­els, the Roy­al Mint, and the famous ravens, there’s some­thing for almost every­one. (The tours with the Yeo­man Warders are enter­tain­ing and hilar­i­ous, but par­ents of young chil­dren need to know they do share sto­ries of gory exe­cu­tions.) If you’re there dur­ing win­ter, you can skate on the ice rink out­side the castle.

 

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When You Go

 

Lon­don is served by two main air­ports, Gatwick and Heathrow. The express train from either air­port is an excel­lent way to get into the city with luggage.

There are a vari­ety of lodg­ing options, from well-known Amer­i­can chains like Hilton and Mar­riott to small­er places like the Ridge­mount Hotel or the Regency House Hotel. We found that stay­ing near major train sta­tions such as Padding­ton Sta­tion, Vic­to­ria Sta­tion, and St. Pan­cras Inter­na­tion­al gave us easy access to late-night restau­rants, phar­ma­cies, and gro­cery stores. (Do not, I repeat, DO NOT ask the phar­ma­cy if they have laun­dry deter­gent. They will laugh at you.)

For longer trips, pur­chas­ing 7‑Day Trav­el­cards or Lon­don Pass­es may end up sav­ing you mon­ey. But don’t for­get that some of the best things to do in Lon­don, like the parks and muse­ums, are free!

 

Christy Nichol­son is a writer, edi­tor, and recov­er­ing per­fec­tion­ist from Nashville, Ten­nessee. When not trav­el­ing with fam­i­ly, she enjoys cozy days at home read­ing, gar­den­ing, mak­ing music, and wran­gling two awe­some kids. Christy writes at Any-Worth.com about trav­el and sus­tain­able living. 

 

 

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Visiting a world-famous city like London can be one of the best family experiences. The key is preparation. So when planning things to do in London with your kids, let these tips from a nervous traveler and seasoned mom be your guide.

 

Visiting a world-famous city like London can be one of the best family experiences. The key is preparation. So when planning things to do in London with your kids, let these tips from a nervous traveler and seasoned mom be your guide.