London Itinerary Tips: A Family-Friendly Daily Guide to England’s CapitalMay 25, 2017
We have put together a sample London itinerary full of fun, unique, and educational opportunities that will make it easy for parents to delight in providing their children with the opportunity to explore this historic city.
Day 1 in London: 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 children are anything like ours, putting your kids in a bus or car when you want them to stay awake is a terrible idea.
Our recommendation is to check into your London vacation rental and wash away the airport grime. Then set out to explore the city on a Fat Tire Bike Royal London Bike Tour. Book in advance when traveling with children so they can have bikes the right size ready for you. Helmets are available as well, but are not required in the UK. They even have trailers to accommodate young ones, or 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 an experienced cyclist to do these tours, you just need to feel confident riding a bike. The pace is easy and you stop and hear from knowledgeable guides who tell about amazing sites you see along the way. This gives you a great overview of the city and keeps you moving and awake on your first day in London.
Watch and see if there are any buskers or performers nearby, especially if you are staying near Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square. There are some incredible acts on the streets of London; you will notice and enjoy these artists throughout the week.
Find your local grocery store for breakfast and snack items while you’re out. You can also look for things you were wise to leave behind like shampoo and contact solution, or items you may have forgotten like your toothbrush. If you can’t find them at the market, visit a nearby pharmacy. This is also a great time to grab your Oyster Cards. If you plan on spending more than a couple days in London, an Oyster Card will help you get around the city from the nearest tube stations effortlessly. You choose an amount to prepay, then easily tap on and tap off public transportation including the underground tube (subway), buses, trains, and river boats. You can also purchase them online in advance.
Don’t pack too much else into this day. You will all be EXHAUSTED from your long flight with inadequate sleep the night before. It works well to pick up some takeaway from a restaurant and feed your young family, away from the expectations of restaurant-style table manners. This just makes for a more pleasant first evening for everyone involved.
Day 2 in London: Tower of London, Crown Jewels, and Tower Bridge
Make the history of London come alive by visiting the Tower of London and seeing the British Crown Jewels. It is a busy place and has LONG LINES. Booking your visit online before you arrive will enhance a visit to one of the most interesting sites anywhere in Europe. For this day, you may consider purchasing the London Pass. Most museums are free, but the Tower, Tower Bridge, and Globe all have fees. London Pass works like a FAST PASS. You will skip the LONG LINES at the Tower and Tower Bridge, and your entry fees and tours are all included.
The Tower of London is an absolutely must-see part of every itinerary. It has been a royal palace, a prison, a zoo, a museum, a site of execution, and a jewel house. Because of such a history over a thousand years, the stories are almost unending. There are lots of activities directed toward children that are scheduled throughout the year at the Tower. Take a Beefeater tour to get a taste of the history. Tours meet at the entrance of the Tower about every 30 minutes, or pick up an Activity Trail from the Welcome Center and have a very kid-friendly self-guided adventure.
Next, visit the Tower Bridge that is right there. Tower Bridge means LONDON to the world. It was built between 1886 and 1894 and designed to be harmonious and linked to the Tower of London. Often this very prominent drawbridge is mistakenly called the London Bridge which is a very different bridge over the Thames further up the river. Tower Bridge has two Gothic towers which are linked by high-level footbridges, encased in steel latticework. From these exciting footbridges, the views of London and the River Thames below are memorable. Don’t miss the TOWER BRIDGE EXPERIENCE displayed along the footbridges. It is exciting to see how the hydraulic pumps, replaced by electricity since the 1970’s, once opened the drawbridge for ships to travel further up the Thames into London. All ages are delighted by the glass floor in the walkways. Also LONG LINES here, so buy tickets in advance or include in your London Pass.
As you leave the south side of Tower Bridge, continue walking west along the South Bank of the Thames. Your kids will love seeing the skateboarders and the graffiti walls. Depending how many stops you make, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre is a 10-15 minute walk and is a site everyone should experience. Imagine the difference your child will feel during their high school literature class when they have actually been there. BEST FIELD TRIP EVER. You can buy tickets online in advance or include as part of the London Pass.
Find a great place for dinner in the area, then take a tube or bus back to your flat. YOU WILL SLEEP WELL following this eventful day in London.
Day 3 in London: Buckingham Palace and London Museums
If you’re traveling to London during the six weeks in the summer when the palace is open to the public, definitely purchase tickets in advance and see the inside of Buckingham Palace. IT IS BREATHTAKING.
If you are not touring inside the palace, start your morning with the Horse Guard near St. James Park rather than the Changing of the Guard at the palace. If you want that iconic photo of the kids next to the Royal Guard, you will have much better luck here at the Horse Guard or at Windsor Castle than at Buckingham Palace. After the horse parade you can walk through St. James Park to get to the palace, or take the short bus ride.
After your visit to the palace, walk around the outside of the gates and around the corner for a tour of the Royal Mews. Here you will see the royal carriages and cars from the past and present. They sponsor some fun hands-on family activities, so check the events calendar or contact us for specific ideas for your travel dates.
You will be hungry by now, so take a lovely walk through Green Park to the original Hard Rock Cafe. The sizzling fajitas are GREAT. You will be surrounded by memorabilia of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other rock and roll legends.
The rest of the day can be spent at some museums. Most of the museums in London are free, so don’t feel you have to spend the whole day there in order to get your money’s worth. This makes museums much more enjoyable for families with children. Three stand out as top choices for families.
The Natural History Museum has exhibits relating to archeology and life sciences. The large dinosaur Diplodocus can usually be seen in the Hintze entrance, which is currently closed for renovation until July 2017. Then the beloved dinosaur will be gone on tour throughout the UK from early 2018 to 2020. The lines are long in the morning, but may be more manageable by afternoon.
The National Gallery is an art museum filled with Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Cezanne, etc. That list may make the gallery sound a bit formal, but it is actually very family friendly. Located at the edge of Trafalgar Square, you could spend an hour or several days SOAKING IN all the culture. And it is FREE.
A favorite for families is the British Museum which houses many of the national treasures from thousands of past centuries. Visitors come to this great museum to see the Elgin Marbles, once on the Acropolis of Athens; the Rosetta Stone which opened the writings of the Ancients; the magnificent Egyptian artifacts which dazzle the museum visitors. This museum is endless and should be studied long before a trip to London. 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 children 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.
Pick your favorite and spend the afternoon exploring. Whichever museum you choose, hop on a public bus to get there (not the paid tour bus) and enjoy the view from the top deck as you go. Your Oyster Card works for all the public transportation. You will still have time at the end of the day to explore the city and stop into the unique shops that you pass along the way. And of course, find a FABULOUS restaurant.
Day 4 in London: Day Trip to Stonehenge
You’ve seen some amazing things inside the city. If you’re ready for a change of pace, a day trip is just the thing. Stonehenge, an iconic landmark, is on the top of the list for many tourists to London. It is a sight to behold, but it is quite a distance outside the city and it can be a bit of a challenge for transportation on your own.
There are many options for tours of Stonehenge that allow you to relax and let someone else do the driving. Our ideal day trip would include Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. You may have other places that call to you and you can find the tour schedule that fits your fancy. Large group tours take 40-50 people on modern buses. Some prefer less of a crowd. If so, an organized small group tour of Stonehenge might be perfect for you.
There are numerous options for day trips from London. If Stonehenge is not your ideal day out, let us know and we’ll find the perfect option to fit into your family’s London itinerary.
Day 5 in London: Piccadilly Circus, West End Theater, and Fabulous Shopping
Day 5 in London is all about FUN. Head to Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square at 10:00 AM and find out what discount tickets are available for the theatre that night. Children love Aladdin, Matilda, or Lion King; check here for current family shows. You can buy tickets in advance online if there is a specific show you want to see, but same-day tickets in Leicester Square are a good way to cut the cost and still enjoy the spectacle of West End theater. Just to the south of the ticket booth, you will find Trafalgar Square and museums you may have missed on Day 3. Children love to see the street artists and statues.
There are so many family places to visit in this neighborhood. Just north of the ticket booth, you will find M&M’s world — which claims to be the largest candy store on the planet. Have fun taking pictures and seeing everything you can imagine with the “M&M’s” brand on it. The world’s largest Lego Store is almost next door. You will also be near Piccadilly Circus which is a thrill to see. A visit to Hamley’s Toy Shop (a spectacle enjoyed by all ages) is a short walk and a fun way to spend part of the day. Parents can sneak in some other fabulous shopping along Regent Street as well.
Once you’ve soaked in all you can at Piccadilly Circus, take a stroll (or a bus) toward Covent Garden through London’s Chinatown. Consider an early dinner before you head to the theater and enjoy your evening show.
Day 6 in London: 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 to Greenwich. The trip down the Thames is fun and Greenwich is a great destination as well. First thing you arrive in Greenwich you can’t miss the suspended British clipper from the 1800’s — the Cutty Sark. Take a few minutes to walk around the perimeter of this newly renovated sailing ship. If you are intrigued with nautical history, you may want to look into the tours in advance.
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 underneath the Thames — right by the Cutty Sark. You will end up near Canary Wharf on the other side. Get the tube back to central London.
Day 7 in London: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and Free Evening to Choose
St. Paul’s Cathedral sits at the highest point in London. An Anglican cathedral, it is a vital part of the religious history of London. 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. You will want to spend a few hours, and there is cafe and gift shop.
A short walk (5 minutes) to the south, you can cross over the London Millennium Bridge which is for pedestrians only. It is really EXCITING. From here you can look up and down the Thames. On the other side of the bridge you will find Tate Modern which is a FREE museum that will complement the other sites your family has visited so far. You will see a different, more modern side of London. Check out any shops around the Shakespeare Globe Theatre that didn’t have a chance to see on Day 2. You might even want to view London from above by taking a ride on the slow moving Ferris wheel, the London Eye. It is a 20 minute walk along the South Bank to get there.
You can end the day with another theatrical production or an evening visit to Piccadilly Circus to see the lights at night. Trafalgar Square is an AMAZING place to be at sunset. Hyde Park and Kensington Palace are extraordinary. It is also fun to walk through Covent Garden and find the pizza places, Indian food, and La Gelateria. You could even break down and make dinner back in your vacation rental kitchen. If your kids are older, leave them at the flat with the pizza, and enjoy a ROMANTIC DINNER in London without them. Sounds wonderful by now, doesn’t it?
Day 8 in London: Harry Potter Sites or a Customized Tour of London With a Guide
One of the best things to do in London as a family is Harry Potter Day! Kids light up when they see platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross, or the Australian Embassy (Gringotts Bank) that inspired J.K. Rowling. If your kids are Harry Potter fans you have some great options in London. You can go on the Warner Bros. Studio tour which takes them to actual sets used in the movies, or you can do a self-guided Harry Potter tour around the city of London. You can combine the two and take The Magic of Harry Potter Tour.
The theatrical production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been playing in London’s Palace Theatre since July 2016. It has been one of the best selling shows in London’s history. Tickets are hard to find, unless you are planning out your trip far in advance. Still, check in person at the box office or online to see if you are lucky enough to get some of the “Friday Forty” that are released each Friday at 1:00 pm.
Instead of Harry Potter, you might want a day to revisit one of the museums you enjoyed or visit one you missed like the Victoria & Albert which is across the street from the Natural History Museum. Another suggestion would be to hire a blue badge guide to take you to lesser known sites around London. A great guide is critical for making your days in London memorable — our favorite is Marilyn Collis. She can center your tour around other interests (Sherlock Holmes, Rock and Roll, etc.) or just show you the city from an insider’s perspective.What a great EIGHT DAYS in London you will have with your family. Feel free to contact us for help with choosing the perfect neighborhood and vacation rental that will work best for your group. Each flat is unique with its own flavour and history. We can’t wait to hear about your family’s exciting adventures upon your return from London. Send us some photos — we just might use them in future blogs or newsletters.