European Trip: Things To Do in London

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As our week long trip to Europe came to an end we had a couple days in London to both to see some sights and to recharge for the trip home (since you have to hit the ground running as a parent who has been away for that long). While we had some ambitious plans heading into London, we didn’t actually do as much as we had hoped. However, we still got to experience some pretty fun things that I want to share. I will also include a few things that we had hoped to do, but just didn’t get around to on this trip. If you want to play catch-up on previous parts of this trip report:

European trip to London and Dublin: Planning

US Airways Envoy Suites to London

Getting To and From London Airports

Sheraton Heathrow

Aer Lingus to Dublin

Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin

Things To Do in Dublin

Get Out of Dublin for Amazing Sights

Westin Dublin

British Airways to London

Andaz Liverpool Street (London)

Eating Our Way Through London and Dublin

Things To Do in London

 

Tower of London:

Since we were staying at the Andaz Liverpool Street we decided to walk to the Tower of London one morning. I wasn’t timing it, but I would guess it was about a 15 minute walk from door to door. The Tower of London was established by William the Conqueror in 1066 and it has had a role in London history since that time. Some of the history has been a bit dark such as the beheading of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. However, today it is a great tourist attraction and even serves as home to the impressive Crown Jewels.

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We spent a couple of hours at the Tower of London, including time for a snack and seeing the Crown Jewels. Tickets are a bit pricey at £21.45 for adults, £10.75 for children, and £57.20 for a family of two adults and up to three children. You can save a small amount by buying tickets online. You can also pay £45.00 for an annual membership that will get you access to five palaces.

I think this is a good place for both adult and child visitors. Even my three year old would have thought this place was awesome since it looked like a place out of one of her storybooks.

Tower Bridge:

While you are along the River Thames area, you might as well take a stroll to see the iconic Tower Bridge as well. It is an impressive sight, but interestingly isn’t near as old as most would guess since it was constructed in the late 1800’s. Still worth a look and a quick picture though.

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Harrods:

I like to shop and consequently think Harrod’s is amazing. It is located in the KnightsBridge section of town and it is just massive. In addition to floor after floor of jam packed shopping for medium and high end goods, there are also dozens of food options, a salon, a florist, and so much more. There is even a Disney themed cafe that many kids would love! I spent a couple hours snacking and (mostly) browsing there and then had my hair done in the salon. My husband did not come on the excursion, and frankly would have hated it as there were just people everywhere and it felt a bit claustrophobic at times. I would avoid coming here on the weekend if that will bother you.

Eat Fish and Chips:

This probably should have gone in the “eating” post, but it really is a fun thing to do in London. While there are endless options, we went to the Golden Hind in the Marylebone neighborhood. Careful with your timing as they are closed from 3-6PM, but we went right at 6PM and got a table without a problem.  They do get quite busy at times. This place gets pretty good reviews for their fish and chips and I have to agree. The fish was massive and the price was fair. The service was not outstanding by any stretch, but this is not a place you go for a fine dining experience. You go for the fried food!

Buckingham Palace/Big Ben/Parliament:

Blame Chevy Chase’s European Vacation for me bunching these all into one, but we saw them all by taking a nice long stroll past each one.  Watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace is fun for both kids and adults.  At certain times of the year you can even book a tour inside Buckingham Palace.  You can also take a tour to climb Big Ben assuming you are ready for a little workout.  Tours of Parliament are open to permanent UK residents only.  I hope to do enjoy some of these attractions more thoroughly in the future, but just walking by is also a free and fun way to feel like you are in London.

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Churchill War Rooms and Imperial War Museum:

I very much wanted to visit both of these on our most recent trip to London, but sadly the Imperial War Museum is closed until July 2013, and won’t fully reopen until 2014 as it is getting a major refurbishment.  The Imperial War Museum has been around since shortly after the First World War and has extensive artifacts from both world wars.

Churchill War Rooms are open, but I just sadly ran out of time for a visit on this trip.  According to their website, when you go there you can see the wartime bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government and experience the secret history that lives on underground.  I think this would be a worthy stop for anyone interested in history, but would be especially great for any older school aged children who are studying the world wars. Tickets for adults are £17.00 and children under 16 are free.

London With Kids:

Even though we didn’t bring our little one on this trip, I also want to mention some things to do with younger kids in London.  In general, when you are traveling with young kids to different countries, you need to be planning things to do with them similar to what you would do at home.  Sure you may get them to tolerate some adult activities and sights, but they need time to just be kids as well.  The cool part about this is you kind of get to live like a local.  Look for parks, zoos, children’s museums, performances, etc.  If I had brought Little C on this trip we would have done things like go to Diana Memorial Playground (complete with tee-pees and a pirate ship), visit the London Zoo in Regent’s Park, and enjoyed the Disney Cafe at Harrods.

As they get a little older I would work in museums that are more likely to be interesting to their age group such as National History Museums and transportation related museums.  I would save things focused on artwork, historic books, and ancient pottery for later….unless of course you have a child who is interested in that sort of stuff.

Other than seeing a few sights, eating good food, and shopping I didn’t do a great job at getting around London on my recent short visit.  Sometimes I like my travels to be jam-packed and stuffed with activities, but sometimes I prefer a slower pace.  This was one of those times.  I’d love to hear some of your London “must do’s”!  Also, stayed tuned for the final post in this (long) series about our flight home and how our US Airways Envoy Suites award landed us in United BusinessFirst.

Comments

  1. There are so many things to do with kids in London! The Science Museum in South Kensington is awesome – in the basement they have a whole section with hands on stuff for kids 5 and under. You could also do kew gardens, and if you do that you could do theKew Bridge Steam Museum. In Wimbledon there is a great kids theatre called Polka Theatre that has plays for kids of all ages. There is also one in Kilburn called Tricycle Theatre that has childrens programming. There is another playground in Regents Park called Hanover Gate that is supposed to be good and one called Paddington Street Gardens Playground. Battersea Park has a children’s zoo as well.On weekends the Tate Modern has family events.

  2. Churchill War Rooms is hands down one of my favorite museums in the world. Incredible to see and definitely worth fitting into your schedule next trip!

  3. We went to London for a week with our kids last year during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Stayed at the Marriott London County Hall on points. Our girls are 4 and 2. We had actually arrived in England a week earlier, but first spent time visiting the country side (the Cotswolds and Isle of Wight were big hits). I think this approach allowed the girls to recover from jet lag quicker because they could take short naps in the car as we drove to destinations. We had been to London before but this was the first time with kids…so it was a little different. They loved the natural history museum, we actually went there twice. British museum and the V&A were also hits. If I remember correctly, all 3 had some kind of kids’ explorer program or activities. They did like the National Gallery, but probably because we made it like a game: take a Rick Steves’ London book that has a written museum tour with reference pictures. Show your kid the picture and ask them to find the object in the room (this also worked at British museum BTW). They enjoyed some of the pageantry in small doses, the Thames river cruise, visiting Hamley’s toy store and eating 1 night at Rainforest Cafe.

  4. I’m going to London this summer, thanks for some tips. Wow Tower of London is expensive. I think you can buy 2 for 1 tickets with the paper tube day ticket.

  5. “Tours of Parliament are open to permanent UK residents only.” Actually that’s not ture, you can book ticket for the tour for weekend tour @ticketmaster.co.uk, under family&attraction section. It’s £16.50 for adult, and child is free. It’s free for UK citizen, but you need to get the ticket from your local MP.

  6. Andrea, great suggestions! The upside of big cities is lots of stuff to do!
    Lauren, it is at the top of my list for sure.
    Erik, sounds perfect!
    tassojunior, that does sound nice. Our tea at the Brown Hotel was also amazing. So relaxing!
    romsdeal, when we went I heard there was a very inexpensive temporary fare, but we saw no evidence of it. I would hope there are discounts somewhere as it was quite expensive.
    KevinZ, good to know. Their website said UK residents only, but great if there is a work-around! Thanks!

  7. @romsdeals: The 2 for 1 tickets to the Tower of London are only good prior to July 15th and after Sept 8th. Unfortunately for us, we will miss that window in July. We chose to buy the London Pass for discounts for our family of 6 (youngest is 16 so no family ticket option).
    Thanks MP for all the information on London: perfect timing for our upcoming trip!

  8. Only problem is, with those admission charges you probably have to sell your kids to be able to afford to get in anywhere!

  9. There’re not that many places charging entrance fees compare with other countries, British Museum, National History Museum, National Galary etc. It’s all FREE. It’s good for tourists, but the tax payers are bearing the cost. Ugh….

    I’ve just came back from Florence, and you might want to sell your kids there.

  10. Most of the museums are free. That’s one reason we went to the natural history museum 2x, the second trip being only an hour or so before they closed because we happened to be in the area. The zoo admission wasn’t bad and I think it included a penguin show plus a monkey exhibit where you walked inside their cage like a bird aviary. Forgot to mention some other tips: an urban area will entail a lot of walking even if you use the subway or bus. Your kid will get tired. We had a good quality umbrella-style stroller, but with 2 kids and 1 seat, they fought over it. We brought a carrier for our 2 y.o. but, of course, she didn’t want to use it. London’s subway system isn’t really stroller friendly. Not all stations have elevators and even when they do, you typically must use some stairs and/or escalators. Take some time to figure out the bus system which is better for strollers. Check out the play equipment in the parks – our girls enjoyed spending time playing with the locals. Bring raincoats and layerable clothing. And pack enough diapers if you need them (and have free baggage allowance), they are more expensive in London. Finally, if you’re traveling with kids you probably have a lot of luggage/gear. Instead of trying to drag all that stuff on public transport, I would recommend booking a car service for transfer from the airport to your hotel. They can provide infant/child car seats upon request. We used http://www.blackberrycars.com and they were great.

  11. We just go back yeaterday from a trip with our 5.5 year old, one of the best deals out there is the 2 for 1 admission using the british rail cards, we got into the tower of london 2 adults for just 22 pounds total plus the child admission. http://www.londontoolkit.com/blog/transport/2-for-1-london-pass-with-travelcards-train-tickets/
    this site (not mine) explains how to do it and it can easily save you hundreds off of you admissions, also some great discounts for food, all the big attractiosn are there, the golden hind, the tower of london, st pauls, the london eye.

  12. We go to London once or twice a year (my 4-year old son made his first trip there when he was 9 months old). The one thing that he insists on doing every time is going to see the soldiers. His favorite ones are on Buckingham Gate, just a short distance down the road from Buckingham Palace. You can get within just a few feet of them and we’re often the only ones there (except when we went during the Olympics when we were definitely not alone). One time a guard stuck his tongue out at my son and another time one winked, so he got a kick out of that (he always yells “hello soldiers” and “goodbye soldiers” to them).

    Another suggestion I have is the Ceremony of the Keys, which is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London. This is free (so a great way to see a bit of the Tower without paying), but you have to send away for tickets well in advance. It’s really cool and doesn’t take long, so I think kids would probably enjoy it too (although it might be a bit late for younger ones as it’s at 9:30pm). http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/WhatsOn/theceremonyofthekeys

  13. Traveling with your kids is a fun experience. You’re there as they witness new things and soak up new experiences. And there are lots of things to do in London with your kids.

  14. Re visiting Houses of Parliament and UK residents only.

    Last summer my wife, 3 kids and I spent a week in London. We were walking around Parliament Square and just by chance we asked a police officer if we could go into Parliament, it was around 6pm. He directed us to a line. Within 5 minutes we were inside, we paid nothing. A few minutes later we were in the visitors gallery of House of Commons watching a debate. At no time were we asked our nationality. The House of Lords had finished for the day, and I was discussing this with another policeman when he decided to take us onto the floor of the House of Lords for a private tour. He told us all he knew. Amazing and unique experience, made our trip.

    As a footnote, we were informed that it’s fairly easy to get into Parliament, except on Wednesday’s because of Prime Minister’s questions.

  15. We had fish and chips at the Golden Hind too, but for lunch. Husband’s eyes almost popped out of his head when he saw the size of the fish =) A great start to our first day in London. Unfortunately we got separated on the Tube several hours later. . .something I never want to experience again!

  16. Hi MP! I have an upcoming trip to London/Dublin (for St. Patty’s!). Do you know of any foreign transaction-free credit cards that can be used as contactless payments on the London underground and public transport systems? My Amex Everyday Preferred card allows this, but has a fee!

    Thank you!

    • Meghan, sounds fun! I don’t know for sure, but the BarclayCard Arrival World Elite card is the one I am bringing to Europe this month since it has no fx fee and is chip and pin.

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