London is a perennial favorite for families, so much so that many visit more than once — there’s no way to see everything in a single trip, or even three! This list is for those who’ve already witnessed the Changing of the Guard, ridden the London Eye, played at Kensington Gardens and taken selfies with the lions at Trafalgar Square. All of these under-the-radar outings, primarily located in central London, are ripe for memory making, and we’ve thrown in a royal day trip outside the city for good measure.
The Cutty Sark clipper ship in Greenwich is a phenomenal piece of living history, reopened in 2012 after extensive restoration. The ship, best known for her voyages to China in the 1870s, has been raised almost 10 feet above the ground so that visitors can explore her majesty from every angle. Tour the interior, aided by videos displayed along the hull walls; hear about life on board from a costumed guide; or have a snack in the café as you gaze upward at the bottom of the ship. The Cutty Sark can easily be combined with another kid-pleaser, the National Maritime Museum. If your kids are interested in exploring the globe or acting as captain of their own ship, make time for a visit here. Nothing rounds out this seafaring day like a boat ride, so consider traveling via the Thames Clipper, which will deliver passengers from Central London directly to the Greenwich Pier in front of the Cutty Sark in less than 30 minutes.
A stone’s throw from London Bridge tube station is Borough Market. This sprawling food market is at its most bustling on weekends, but still offers plenty to see and taste during the week. Favorite stops include Brindisa for a chorizo sandwich and Kappacasein for a toasted cheese sandwich. Monmouth Coffee is a must for the adults, and make sure to save room for something sweet from Konditor & Cook. Also check out Sir Francis Drake’s Galleon the Golden Hinde, which is nestled around the corner, or enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Thames.
London is known for fantastic family offerings at its museums, and the backpacks at the Victoria and Albert Museum, famous for decorative arts and design, are no exception. Head to the Learning Centre, pick one of the free gallery-themed backpacks and get up close and personal with the exhibits. Each backpack takes about an hour to complete. Afterward, grab a sandwich at the V&A Café or walk toward South Kensington Tube Station and have lunch at a kid favorite, the Kensington Creperie.
A quick 35-minute train ride from Waterloo station will deliver families to Hampton Court Palace. Learn about the life and times of King Henry VIII as the palace celebrates its 500th anniversary. Visit the Tudor and Chocolate Kitchens, watch costumed presentations or follow a family or ghost trail — some claim the palace is haunted by Catherine Howard, one of Henry’s wives. Make sure to look for the traditional Tudor costumes to borrow and wear during the visit, and leave plenty of time to explore the maze and gardens before heading back into London.
KidZania, a newly opened venue inside the Westfield Shopping Mall, lets kids rule — literally. This model city allows children ages 4 to 14 to experience more than 60 real-life role-playing activities. From the moment you check in at the simulated British Airways terminal, kids will be amazed at how realistic everything seems. Kids earn “Kidzos” currency at different jobs, ranging from doctor to firefighter, and then use their earnings to open a bank account, get an ATM card or buy something at the KidZania department store. Each entry is for a four-hour time slot; kids will be busy up until the very last minute (and begging to stay longer). Tweens can also enjoy some independence, thanks to RFID bracelets that lets parents check their location at various information kiosks. Parents, make sure to bring a book, as adults aren’t allowed into the businesses — kids only!
Regent’s Park is a great outing on its own or in conjunction with ZSL London Zoo, which is located inside the park. Regent’s Park is charming and relaxing all at once and is the perfect counterpoint to the ever-popular Kensington Gardens. Enjoy a stroll through the Victorian Avenue Gardens or Queen Mary’s Garden, which boasts the largest rose garden in London, and then head to the Boating Lake, where you can rent pedalos for a scenic cruise around the lake. Top the excursion off with ice cream from the Boathouse Café or venture across Prince Albert Road to Primrose Hill for spectacular views across London.
Yes, it’s a quintessential English thing to do, but more and more spots now feature specific offerings for children. For kids who would enjoy getting a bit dressed up and being treated royally, make sure tea is on your list. The Chesterfield in Mayfair offers a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed tea, and the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Mercer Street in Covent Garden features a Matilda-themed tea. A more traditional option is the Diamond Jubilee Tea Room at Fortnum and Mason, purveyors for Her Majesty the Queen. The tea room has a children’s menu and a spectacular store below, with a dizzying array of teas, jams and sweets. Make sure to book ahead; reservations are essential.
Enjoy a taste of Hong Kong in London at Royal China. Visit the branch on Baker Street and you will be plied, family-style, with steaming plates of dumplings and more. (If you don’t know much about dim sum, don’t worry: The menu features pictures as a guide). After lunch, stroll around the adorable Marylebone High Street and play at the tiny Paddington Street Gardens Park. For those looking for a bigger expanse to roam, Hyde Park is only a 10-minute walk.
TIP: Want to learn more about a particular London neighborhood? Older children will enjoy choosing from one of the many London Walks. These two-hour walking tours are offered every day, with truly expert guides, and participants simply show up at the appointed spot — no need to book in advance. Kids under 15 are free.
The Tower of London is high on the list of must-see London tourist stops. We included it on this list because of the kid-specific audioguide. This fantastic narrative is “led” by two humorous ravens that guard the Tower. Expect a lot of information and a big dose of fun — the Ravens even quiz kids along the way about what they’ve been learning. Afterwards, duck into Wagamama across the walking path from the main entrance. This popular Japanese mini-chain has quick service and plenty of kid-friendly options.
Another great (and free!) choice for a rainy day, the Museum of London lets kids absorb London’s history in a fun setting. Discover what Roman London might have looked like and see a piece of the original London Roman wall; learn about the Great Fire of London; and stroll along Victorian Walk to see storefronts that would have lined London’s streets 150 years ago. For a bite of lunch nearby, try perennial favorite Pizza Express or head toward One New Change, a fairly new mall with a great view over St. Paul’s Cathedral and plenty of shopping and food options.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Amy Andrews.
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