Suggested London Itinerary for Families with ChildrenFebruary 26, 2016
London is an amazing place. Full of sites and activities that delight all of the senses. This never ending array of choices makes London a fantastic place to take children, but it can get overwhelming as you consider what, when, and how to make the most of your visit.
I have put together a sample itinerary full of fun, unique, and educational opportunities in London that will make it easy for parents to delight in providing their children with the opportunity to explore this historic city.
Opportunities to have custom plans made to fit your dates, interests, and group are available now through London Connection. (Email Here for more information)
Day 1: Settling into London
There are varying methods people use to combat the effects of jet lag and maximize their time in a foreign destination. Many travel blogs and guide books recommend taking a bus tour to familiarize yourself with the city. If your kids are anything like mine, putting your kids in a bus or car when you want them to stay awake, is a terrible idea.
My recommendation is to check into your flat and wash away the airport grime. Then set out to explore the city on a Fat Tire Bike Tour Royal London Bike Tour. (Book in advance when touring with children so they can have bikes the right size for your kids available. Helmets are available as well.) They even have tandem bikes designed for an adult and a small child up to the age of 5. All tours meet at Queensway Tube station in Kensington. You do not have to be Lance Armstrong to do these tours. The pace is easy and you stop and hear from knowledgeable guides who tell you all about amazing sites you see along the way. This gives you a great overview of the city and keeps you moving on your first day in London.
Don’t pack too much into this day; if possible find your local grocery store while you’re out and maybe even your local pharmacy. This is where you can pick up things you were wise to leave behind like an inexpensive curling or flat iron. This is also a great time to grab your Oyster Cards for getting around the city from the nearest tube station.
Watch and see if there are any buskers or performers nearby. (Especially if you are staying near Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square) I’ve seen some incredible acts on the streets of London.
I recommend picking up some takeaway from a restaurant and feeding small kids away from the expectations of restaurant style table manners. (This just makes for a more pleasant evening for everyone involved).
Day 2: Tower of London, Crown Jewels, and a Trip Down the Thames
Make the history of London come alive by visiting the Tower of London and the seeing the crown jewels. There are lots of activities directed toward children that are scheduled throughout the year at the Tower.
(Email Me) for specific suggestions and ideas targeted for your group and the dates you are traveling.
Take a Free Beefeater tour to get a taste of the history of the tower. (Tours meet at the entrance of the tower about every 30 minutes)Or pick up an Activity Trail from the Welcome center and do a very kid friendly self guided tour of the tower.
When you have finished at the Tower, take a quick 5 minute walk to the Tower Pier and grab the RB1 (water transportation) It gives you a leisurely sail down the Thames. You go right under the iconic Tower Bridge (The photos are fun and the view down the Thames is exceptional). Get off at the Embankment Pier and cross the Golden Jubilee bridge and make your way to the London Eye. (it is a slow moving Ferris Wheel giving you a bird’s eye view of London).
Alternatively, you can take a bus and take a bit of a sightseeing trip up to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Don’t miss going all the way to the top of the dome. It is the best view in London and is worth every one of the 915 steps from the Cathedral Floor to get to the Golden Gallery. If climbing that high is not an option, you should go up at least to the Whispering Gallery 257 steps and experience the magical acoustics that will delight your kids who can be heard whispering on the opposite end of the dome.
No matter which option works best for you, leave yourself time in the day to explore the city and stop in to unique shops that you pass along the way.
Day 3: Buckingham Palace and London Museums
If you’re traveling during the 6 weeks in the summer when the Palace is open to the Public definitely purchase tickets in advance and see the inside of Buckingham Palace. (If you want that iconic photo of the kids next to the Royal Guard, you will have much better luck at Windsor Castle).
If you are not touring inside the palace, time your visit to coincide with the Changing of the Guard (lasts about 45 minutes). Then walk around the outside of the gates and around the corner for a tour of the Royal Mews. They sponsor some fun hands on family activities so check the events calendar or contact me for specific ideas for your travel dates.
The rest of the day can be spent at some museums. Most of the museums in London are free which is great because you don’t feel as though you have to spend the whole day in order to get what you paid for. This makes museums much more enjoyable for families with children.
Pick your favorite and spend the afternoon exploring. My favorite for kids is the British Museum. Stop by the information desk and get a Free Gallery Backpack (£10 deposit is required). They have different themes so choose one that interests your kids and try it out. It takes around 90 minutes to complete the activities in the backpack and you see some awesome things along the way.
If the backpacks are all gone take a self guided tour of the museum highlights, or attend a scheduled family event.
Day 4: Day Trip to Stonehenge
You’ve seen some amazing things inside the city, but if you’re ready for a change of pace a Day Trip is just the thing. This iconic landmark is on the list for many tourists to London. It is a site to behold, but it is quite a distance outside the city and it can be a bit of a challenge for transportation.
I recommend taking an organized small group tour of Stonehenge. There are many options for tours of Stonehenge that combine 1 or 2 other sites like Windsor Castle, Bath, Avebury, Salisbury, Oxford etc.) Be careful, and don’t try to cram too many sites into one day. Having more leisure time to see the sites is important especially with children. You don’t want to feel as though you were rushed from one site to the next all day. I can recommend several good tour groups that allow children. (Email me for suggestions)
There are numerous options for Day Trips from London. If Stonehenge is not your ideal day out, let me know and we’ll find the perfect option for your family.
Day 5: Proper English Tea, West End Theater, and Fabulous Shopping.
This is a day all about the “Sweet” side of London. Head to Leicester Square at 10:00 AM and find out what discount tickets are available for the theater that night. I recommend Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, or Lion King.
You can buy tickets in advance online if there is a specific show you want to see, but day tickets in Leicester Square are a good way to cut the cost and still enjoy the spectacle of West End theater.
From Leicester Square grab a bus or the tube and head to Regents street. A visit to Hamley’s toy shop (which is a spectacle enjoyed by all ages) is a fun way to spend the day. Parents can sneak in some other fabulous shopping along Regent Street as well. Grab a bus or take a walk (it’s only about a ½ mile) to Tea at the Chesterfield Hotel in Mayfair (Little Oopma Loompa Afternoon Tea). It has tons of fun choices that both adults and kids will enjoy.
Once you’ve been “sweetened up” walk off a few of those treats and make your way to M&M world in Piccadilly Circus. It’s a nice walk of around 20 minutes or so.
Have fun taking pictures and seeing everything you can imagine with M&M’s on it.
Once you’ve seen the sites near Piccadilly Circus (there is a lot to see here). Take a stroll toward Covent Garden through London’s China Town (you may even want an early dinner if you didn’t fill up at tea). Head to the theater you purchased tickets for and enjoy your evening at the theater.
Day 6: Westminster Abbey and the Prime Meridian
Westminster Abbey is a marvelous place to visit and full of information and history. Plus you can see Big Ben and Parliament along the way. If you can, attend a Choral Matins at 10:00 AM on Sunday morning, they are a great first experience, or spend more time during the week and really get a feel for the history of this building.
The guided tours are great, but they last about 90 minutes so may not be ideal for smaller children. You can download the audio tour straight to your phone for Android and iPhone. Your best option may be to pick up a Children’s Trail at the information desk. It gives facts and tells kids interesting things to look for as they walk through the Abbey and you can follow it at your own pace.
After the Abbey, walk down to Westminster Pier and board a city cruise (book in advance online) to Greenwich. The trip down the Thames is fun and Greenwich is a great destination as well. Getting around Greenwich is not too bad on foot. It’s fairly compact and everything is close together. For example, walking from Greenwich Pier to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park only takes fifteen minutes but it is up a pretty steep hill. It is worth it, however, to see the Prime Meridian and stand in both hemispheres. The exhibits here about time and science are quite interesting as well. You really don’t want to be rushed, and the last boats can leave early from the Greenwich pier. So take your time and return to central London a different way. Take the Greenwich foot tunnel right by the Cutty Sark underneath the Thames. You will end up near Canary Wharf on the other side. Get the tube back to central London.
Day 7: Harry Potter Sites and a Customized Tour of London With a Guide.
Harry Potter Day! I love the way kids light up when they see platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross, or the Australian Embassy (Gringotts Bank) as they walk in London. If your kids are Harry Potter fans you have some great options in London. You can take the Warner Bros. Studio tour (which takes them to actual sets used in the movies) or you can do a more self-guided Harry Potter tour around the city of London. For very limited dates in 2016 you can combine the two and take this tour (The Magic of Harry Potter Tour). If you have a group of 4+ interested in a tour like this but can’t get in on their limited dates (email me) we may be able to set up a private tour for your dates and group that will work for your family.
Another suggestion would be to hire a blue badge guide to take you to lesser known sites around London. They can center their tours around other interests (Sherlock Holmes, Rock and Roll, etc.) or just show you the city from an insider’s perspective.
I can recommend some great guides who will customize a tour just to the interests of your group. A great guide is critical for making your day memorable.
Accommodations that work well for families or groups.