Explore My City: London
Author: Cathy Winston
Still in the United Kingdom but heading further south, today’s Explore My City guest is Cathy from Mummy Travels. Taking as through the ins and outs of tackling one of the world’s largest and most popular tourist destinations – as well as the place she calls home – London
London is big. Really big. After living here for more than 15 years, and a childhood visiting my grandparents who lived in the city, I’m still slightly taken aback by how long it can take to get around the capital.
It’s one of London’s strengths: no matter how many times you visit, there’s always something new to discover, always something fascinating around the next corner. The downside is that it can feel overwhelming or you can find yourself rushing around while still not ticking off your whole wish list. Not great with younger kids in tow!
But having explored London over the last four years with my daughter, it’s more child-friendly than you might expect.
Here are my tips on how to see London with young kids.
1. Make the journey part of the exploration
Although you’ll probably need to take the underground at some point, it’s not the most buggy-friendly option – expect steps, escalators, busy trains and commuters who are less helpful than the ones I encountered in Paris.
Instead, try the bus. The traditional hop-on-hop-off sightseeing buses include a kids’ tour from The Original Tour or head up to the top of a double-decker. Kids under 10 travel free, and route 15 takes you from St Paul’s Cathedral to the Tower of London, while the 11 travels past Westminster Abbey and Horseguards parade, for example.
2. Plan your day in advance
One big plus for London is the number of parks in the centre, so plan ahead, start early and factor in some green space. The Natural History and Science Museums areright next to each other, and you can download maps in advance to plan which bits to visit – don’t try to see all of both, the Garden Room and Pattern Pod are both aimed at younger kids in the Science Museum. The Diana Memorial Playground at Kensington Gardens isn’t far away afterwards.
The British Museum has great activity trails for pre-schoolers and you’re a short walk from Coram’s Fields play areas, which are for families only. Or if you’re looking for a long walk at nap time, start at Buckingham Palace (don’t go in) and walk through St James’s Park towards Big Ben and Westminster, then over the river past the London Eye, the Aquarium and along the South Bank, where there’s often plenty going on.
Not all London’s attractions are in the heart of the city. Try hopping on a boat along the Thames and heading down to Greenwich, where the Cutty Sark is very family-friendly. Or try an overground train to south east London and discover the Horniman Museum, with its small aquarium and natural history exhibits, plus outdoor space – perfect for pre-schoolers.
Or head west to Hampton Court Palace , to dress up in velvet robes and get lost in the maze. You could also while away a whole day at Kew Gardens, where three-year-olds and under are free. Set aside a whole day for each though.
4. Skip some of the big names
Some places pop up on every list of things to do in London, but if you’re a Londoner you probably avoid them like the plague – even if you want to shop, steer clear of Oxford Street. And while the dancing fountains in Leicester Square are nice enough, there’s really no reason to push through the crowds.
I’ve never seen Madame Tussaud’s without huge queues outside: older kids might enjoy it, but leave it off the list with littler ones. The same goes for the Changing of the Guard. Unless you’re there early to get a good spot, you won’t see much, and getting there early means a lot of waiting around. If you want a taste of the experience, Changing the Queen’s Life Guard on Horseguard’s parade is less crowded with no railings blocking the view.
Thanks to Cathy for some of this invaluable advice on London with Kids. Although our oldest two Globetrotters were born in London, we have not explored for many years – this is perfect for planning our days during our August adventure!
For More on Touring London with older kids see this Guide to 20 Things to do in London with Wanderlust Crew
Cathy Winston is a self-confessed travel obsessive and the author of award-winning blog MummyTravels. Determined not to give up travelling when she became pregnant, she started the blog to find out if you can keep travelling with a baby, toddler and pre-schooler in tow. As her daughter prepares to turn four, she’s taken 15 overseas trips, including a cruise, several long-haul flights and gets very excited about going on the London underground.
Did you miss last week’s post on Yorkshire? Or head across to the continent and learn more about Ghent