Planning a trip to London with kids seems easy enough, until you realize that there is just SO MUCH for families to do there, it’s hard to decide just what to fit in. You really want to take into consideration the interests of your family. For example, my 8 yr-old son is a huge fan of Charles Dickens. So, when we were searching for a place to stay, we opted against a traditional hotel and found an apartment in a building where Charles Dickens used to work. This way, the grocery store, restaurant and other errands might be the same location as that of where the author himself would frequent. We also found the Charles Dickens museum to be not very far away, and made a plan to visit there.
Regardless of your family’s particular interests, there are a few general sights that appeal to just about everyone. Here’s our list of 10 don’t-miss attractions in London:
Big Ben: If your child is a fan of Disney’s Cars, this will be better known as Big Bentley. You can’t go inside Big Ben, can’t even touch it really (this photo is as close as you can get), but you can see it from several spots around the city. It’s good trivia to note that the name Big Ben refers only to the bell inside the clock tower and the tower itself is called Elizabeth Tower. Also, keep an eye out for possible Finn McMissile sightings. We saw ‘him’ drive by us in Covent Garden while we were there!
Tower Bridge: There are several bridges that cross the Thames, but the Tower Bridge has an exhibit along the upper part showing it’s history and that of some other bridges. Even if you’re not a history buff or even a fan of bridges, the views from up there are amazing. Note that this is often confused with London Bridge, which is not ornamental at all.
Tower of London: The famous, or infamous, Tower of London really cannot be missed. I was worried that it would be too gruesome to take my 8 year old to, but there was really nothing gruesome about it. There may be a scarier tour you can take, but we didn’t find it. The resident Beefeaters will give you an hour-long tour for free, but we ditched ours after the second stop because it was just too hard to hear and see what they were talking about. The groups can be quite large making it hard for little ones (or even middle ones like mine) to stay interested. Everything is very well marked, though and it’s easy to see and understand everything on your own. Rumor has it that if you stay with your Beefeater you won’t have to wait in the Disney-World-length line to see the Crown Jewels, but don’t quote me on that because we ditched ours remember? You can easily make a day of the Tower of London, since we were there for about 2 hours and didn’t come close to seeing everything. There is a great cafeteria too so you don’t have to worry about packing a lunch or spending the day.
Southbank: This is an area along the southern waterfront of the Thames river. Here you’ll find the London Eye, Sea Life London Aquarium, London Dungeon, and other high-priced attractions. It’s also filled with free and low-cost attractions. There are street performers galore, a free splash fountain for a rare hot day, skateboard park, giant sandbox, green-grass park with playground (more into Jubilee Gardens), a carousel, cotton candy (or as they call it, ‘candy floss’) stand, and so much more!
Buckingham Palace: I went against my own advice and didn’t do the tour of Buckingham Palace, but really wish I had done this. We were here for the Changing of the Guard though, and just the area surrounding the palace is beautiful and cool. There is a great park right there with ponds and trails. The Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace is gorgeous, as is The Mall (a street, not a shopping complex) lined with huge flags and light posts topped with crowns. This is also a great place to get your picture taken with a palace guard.
Changing of the Guard: This 45-minute ceremony can be a bit long for the younger ones, but when the military groups are parading past on horseback and on foot in full regalia, it’s an amazing site. The marching bands make it a very lively event. Get there early – about a half hour early or more if you can swing it. If the gate is already crowded, find a place to sit on the Queen Victoria Memorial for a good view.
London Eye: A ginormous fully enclosed Ferris wheel. They’d hate that description. The London Eye is a work of art in itself as the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel, and the views from inside are truly breathtaking. Weekends are busier than weekdays and afternoons and evenings are busier than mornings.
River Cruise on the Thames: There are several options for a river cruise, we did ours through the London Eye company with a combination ticket that proved to be a great savings. The guides tell stories and explain the buildings and history in a humorous and engaging way as you sit back and relax down the river.
Cool Britannia: Even though every paid attraction dumps you out into a gift shop a-la Disney, this is a souvenir shop like no other. Everything here has a Union Jack or some other England branding. Think double-decker buses, red telephone booths, etc. It’s the best place to get your souvenir magnet and umbrella.
Hamley’s: Claiming to be Europe’s biggest toy store, this place is over-stimulation at it’s finest. It’s basically a 5-story Toys R Us but there are dozens of employees demonstrating the coolest toys (we got a magic set) to lure you in. Speaking of luring you in, there is also a band of pirates at the entrance that practically drag you into the store as you pass by. The 5th floor has some cool LEGO statues of the Royal Family that make for good photo-ops, too.
As I mentioned, based on your particular interests, this list is nowhere near comprehensive, and there are so many cool little unique experiences to be had apart from these, but do make sure to add at least a few of these to your itinerary for your London family vacation. However, if you have had some fun family activities in London that you’d like to share with us, please do in the comments below!