London is a big city. Real big. It was also not my kids favorite place to visit.
The reason they cite very time is that we subjected them to too much walking and not enough down time. Fair enough.
As my wife and I were discussing this, we realized we actually did some things right and wrong. First, let’s discuss what we did wrong.
What NOT to Do With Kids in London
1. Walking, Walking, and More Walking
Some walking is good, but with London we found that it was easy to just walk around areas like Piccadilly Square Regent and Oxford, Hyde Park, etc. Some days we would be visiting some attraction and Daddy would check the map and see that another attraction was not too far away.
So away we went – on foot.
Rather than take a taxi, which can actually take you longer in London, I just started walking and everyone would follow along. Sure, the bus or Tube was an option but in my mind it was always just quicker to walk. I am actually convinced it was.
However, this had very obvious impacts on the kids (and my wife). By the end of the day they were “knackered” and could only remember all the walking we did.
So take my advice, learned from great experience and tongue lashings, slow down and figure that in your day you don’t need to walk everywhere.
2. Shopping, Shopping, and More Shopping
Now this one was a function of where we were living. In Norway [link to expat post], you either don’t have the options for shopping or the costs of goods are so ridiculously high that it makes more sense to buy them in London (which is really saying something!).
When Cindy and I were in London, we liked to shop Regent and Oxford and stock up on clothes. Things like jeans, t-shirts, and work clothes for me were WAY cheaper in London so we often bought a lot while there.
The kids paid dearly for this. Anyone with kids knows that a bored kid in a mall is an annoying kid. The fighting, bugging each other, and other things kids do when they are bored are amplified. There was a lot of these times.
Our recommendation to parents taking children to London is to do the shopping separately. Plan a time when Dad takes the kids to some children’s exhibit while Mom shops and then switch it up later on.
What We Did Right in London – Things that Are Great for Kids in London
So we failed on the shopping and walking thing. That being said, as we all were looking through pictures my kids did remember a lot of the things we did in London and talked excitedly about how much fun it was there. Short memories I guess. Here are the things we did that the kids loves, as well as some tips on getting the most out of them.
Ride the London Eye
The London Eye is a cool thing that most kids would enjoy. It is that massive ferris wheel that is on the bank of the River Thames. At over 443 feet tall it is pretty hard to miss.
The best tip we have is to buy the Flexi Fast Track which give you things like the actual 30 minute ride on the eye, a 10% discount for your family ticket, and goodie bags for the kids. However, the best part is you get priority boarding which lets you bypass a good portion of the line. Think of it like the FastPass system at Disneyland. On the day we went, I would say this would have saved us about 30 minutes in line at least.
It is a bit more expensive, but you can usually get it for a bit cheaper on Expedia if you book flight, hotel and London Eye tickets from that site. They have a deal right now where you can save up to $525 when you book your flight and hotel together at Expedia.com.
Explore the Natural History Museum
Most kids like museums, as long as they are not all art and old pots and stuff. That is where the Natural History Museum really shines. My kids absolutely loved the dinosaur exhibits. Being from Alberta, Canada and with family in Edmonton it was cool to see the Edmontosaurus and Albertosaurus which were discovered pretty close to where we live and visit.
One word of advice is to not bother showing up right at opening. The line can be long and all you will do is wait in it. Once the museum opens and things get moving, that line dissipates and you shouldn’t need to wait too long.
Check out the Tower of London
Castles are just plain cool and the Tower of London is just that. We spent a few hours just exploring the castle, its various wings, and seeing imaging the fights that would occur there. On our expat assignment we saw a few castles, and according to the kids the Tower was fun because it was so big.
The kids especially loved that the castle was used as a prison since at least 1100.
Hit Hamley’s Toy Store
Who doesn’t love a good toy store. Hamley’s takes that to another whole level. In particular, the location on Regent Street is multiple floors of toys. It gets crazy busy in there, but the kids didn’t seem to mind that. We literally spent at least an hour in there while my wife shopped elsewhere.
If you have a boy and and a girl, you need to strategize that a bit. The way we did it was to give 30 minutes to one on all the “boy” floors and then 30 minutes on the “girl” floors. This worked well given the huge expanse of this place.
Check out the Lion King
Taking the kids to the theatre can be an amazing success or a total flop. We were strategic when we did it as we chose a play they would be able to relate to. We chose to see The Lion King. Looking back, it was a great experience and the visuals of that play were spectacular.
Granted, we were almost late as the taxi got stuck in traffic due to some huge event at one of the hotels, but we made it. The bonus was we all got to sit and rest our legs for a few hours.
Pick a Hotel with Concierge Access and a Pool
Ok, this one is a bit out there but it worked. If we can swing it, we like to choose the Concierge Floors at the hotels we stay in because it gives us two key things:
1. Access to a variety of drinks and food for us and the kids.
2. A Place to Unwind While One Parent Gets Some Alone Time
Pops and waters are always available when you need them. Snacks are also available which keeps stomachs full. If stomachs are full, kids tend to be less cranky.
And when one of us wants to have a shower and get ready, which usually takes Cindy longer, the kids and I escape to the lounge to relax, ready, and enjoy some snacks before we head out again.
The second, and perhaps most important, is that we find it is best for the kids if the hotel we choose has a pool. This is a great way to give them some true kid time, expend some extra energy, and even relax us. My kids are old enough now where I don’t always need to be right in the pool. Sitting on the deck reading the iPad is really relaxing!
For the record, the hotel we stayed in and one I could easily recommend to families is the Marriott London Marble Arch.
It has a pool, nice lounge, and from a London perspective was not too expensive for the four of us.
At the end of the day, the few times we hit London the experience was great. Cindy and I love that place. The kids, with the above activities, found it bearable and were excited to reflect on it. Just be sure not to make them shop and walk all the time!