One of Ciao Bambino’s tried and tested strategies for ensuring children enjoy a destination as much as their parents is to incorporate some of the kids’ passions and interests into your planned activities. This tip works exceptionally well in large cities where there is such a wide range of options.
For those families with children (and parents) who love sports, London is a perfect European city to visit. Here are some of our favorite activities in London for sports fans that will be sure to have everyone cheering for more.
For families traveling to London in the summer, it’s worth planning ahead and timing your trip for the yearly Wimbledon tournament held in early July — the landmark event on the professional tennis circuit. Ciao Bambino planners can help you arrange tickets in advance (expect to pay a premium, as guaranteed seats are notoriously difficult to get and you must use reputable ticket brokers), or plan to jump in the queue in the early morning hours or each afternoon. The queue option works best earlier in the tournament.
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Wimbledon is a fun experience year-round, however. On the grounds is a fantastic museum that is very hands-on and kid-friendly, and your visit includes a chance to walk into legendary Centre Court’s stadium with a guide. It’s only about a 30-minute tube ride outside the immediate center of the city, so quite easy to do in just a couple of hours.
The recent World Cup has only added fuel to the steadily rising interest in soccer among Americans. Many of the stars of the World Cup play professionally in the English Premier League. While London has quite a few teams scattered around the city, the two easiest stadiums for most tourists to get to are Stamford Bridge (home of Chelsea’s football club) and Emirates Stadium (where Arsenal plays). Both stadiums offer daily tours as well as museums and gift shops.
If your family would like to catch a match, Ciao Bambino advisors can link you with reputable ticket brokers to assist. It’s also possible to see England’s national team play at London’s Wembley Stadium periodically throughout the year.
For many families, the most important reason to travel internationally with children is the opportunity to experience another culture. In London, it’s easy to do that through unique sports rarely played in America, like rugby and cricket.
The best spot for a rugby experience in London is Twickenham Stadium, located in the charming Richmond area. Rugby has been played on these grounds since the early 1900s. There’s now a modern stadium that seats 82,000, making it the largest rugby facility in the world. If you can’t time your trip to catch a match, the stadium frequently runs tours and the World Rugby Museum is located here.
Just a few blocks from Regent’s Park and in the middle of charming St. John’s Wood, Lord’s Cricket Ground is the place to be for cricket in London. Picnicking on the grounds during a fixture is a popular day out for families (children’s tickets are typically free or greatly reduced). Touring the grounds is not only a great introduction to cricket, but also a fun step back in time. Or consider booking a lesson here, offered for children age 3-16 during UK school holidays.
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For the past few years, the NFL has scheduled several games each season at London’s Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Stadium. While traveling all the way to London to see an American sport may seem silly, families should know that London puts on quite a show for these events. Regent Street (one of the city’s main shopping thoroughfares) closes for most of the weekend, with festive flags crisscrossing the road and a street fair-turned-tailgate party vibe. On game day, the tailgate experiences start several hours before kickoff, with musical performances, food trucks and more. Expect a very international crowd — plenty of American fans, but also lots of Brits and Europeans as this is their opportunity to experience an American professional sports phenomenon in their own backyard.
Even kids too young to remember the 2012 Summer Olympics in London will love venturing out to the various venues clustered throughout Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, now fully open to the public. With a little pre-planning based around open times, families can swim in the Olympic pool, ride bikes around the bike track or even play basketball on the open courts.
Brave children will love a chance to slide down the Arcelormittal Orbit, which was the Olympic flame tower during the Games. And outdoorsy families will appreciate that most of the grounds have been returned to their natural state, including wetlands, open fields and trails. Younger kids won’t want to leave the playgrounds here, full of natural elements designed to encourage engagement with their natural surroundings — a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Most visitors to London find themselves in the enormous and centrally located Hyde Park at some point during their time in the city. The Princess Diana Memorial Playground is a great place to burn off steam, but for those looking for even more of a physical challenge, there are plenty of options. Rent bikes and take a few laps around, visit the horse stables and arrange a riding lesson, participate in a weekend yoga class in Kensington Gardens or row boats on the Serpentine. Ciao Bambino advisors can even recommend hotels nearby that offer scooters for younger kids to enjoy.
While London’s historical sites and top museums are not to be missed, ensuring everyone gets some exercise or a chance to watch a favorite or new sport is another component of a memorable trip to this city for active families.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout except where noted.
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