If Day 1 in London with kids is about an introduction to London’s royal heritage and iconic sites, an ideal Day 2 is one where you roll your sleeves up and dig into a neighborhood.
The best way to learn about a place in a meaningful way is to go on a walking tour with a professional guide. Not all guides are created equal, but the good ones give you perspective you can’t get on your own.
Finding a guide who is experienced with children is critical; you need them to be patient, not be offended when kids don’t listen or take interest in what they say, and most importantly, tailor information with kid-friendly lingo and content.
We decided on a half-day tour with Context Travel. This company runs consistently excellent tours throughout Europe (offer US tours too). They have a dedicated Family Program focused on engaging kids. Nancy has done the London Food Tour with her 4 kids and loved it.
Kensington Gardens, South Kensington, and Knightsbridge
We decided to do a Context-guided tour of of Kensington Gardens, South Kensington, and Knightsbridge.
Although I lived in London 10 years ago, I was amazed to discover what I didn’t know about the history of this area. We started our tour with a walk through Kensington Gardens and learned about it’s history and the current use of Kensington Palace by various members of the Royal Family (it’s also where Princess Diana lived).
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We were lucky to have our tour on a gorgeous spring day. London in good weather makes all the difference in the world. Absolutely everyone is out and about when sun is shining (given the typical grey weather — this is a population that appreciates a nice day).
Normally, I’d say that you don’t need to see a park with a guide. In London’s case, however, the numerous parks are full of history and stories so it’s worthwhile to wrap at least one park into a walking tour.
Princess Diana Memorial Playground
The highlight of Kensington Gardens for families with young children is most definitely the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. The centerpiece is a huge wooden pirate ship, a giant sandbox, and numerous paths and places for children to explore.
TIP: At age 8, our son still had a fun running around here, but it didn’t interest him for long. Princess Diana Memorial Playground is toddler and pre-school heaven and must be on every itinerary for children that age.
Once we got a brief bit of playtime in, we continued our tour at the Albert Memorial. Our guide used this iconic monument as a way to describe the reign of Queen Victoria and her great impact on London and the world.
Although I can’t say this particular site ranks as a school-age favorite, it’s a visual way to tell an important story. The strategy worked — she had our son’s attention and he even engaged her in a flurry of follow up questions.
From there we hit two of London’s must-visit attractions with kids: London’s Natural History Museum and Science Museum. These museums are engaging for kids of all ages. And, they are free! Amazing. Our guide introduced us to both museums at a high level on our walk, and we went back and viewed the exhibits on our own.
TIP: The hours are from 10a to 6p daily (10a to 5:50p for the Natural History exhibits). Both museums have extensive exhibits. Leave a block of 3 to 4 hours open if you want to see both museums. Even then, you’ll need to spend some time on the web or with their brochure to create a priority list of things to see.
We took the time to see the IMAX movie about the Hubble telescope when we were at the Science Museum. Thumbs up. For more details on what to do in each museum, be sure and read Heather on Her Travel’s post highlighting the specific exhibits at these family-friendly museums.
We also did a brief walk through of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This is an often overlooked museum (guilty as charged). Our guide took us through a few of the rooms to demonstrate the great variety of artifacts on display from all over the world. An incredible place.
The Victoria and Albert Museum would also be a good venue for an art-focused kid-friendly guide or even just a podcast that walks you through the displays of interest to kids.
TIP: The dining hall at Victoria and Albert received rave reviews from our guide and I can see why. We lost the time to eat there, but given another opportunity, I would absolutely go here for lunch. Stunning design and the food looks delicious. Fast and on the loud side, i.e. perfect with kids.
Our guide walked us to Knightsbridge for the final leg of the tour. Home to the world-famous Harrods department store, Knightsbridge is another good stop for retail therapy. We hit the Harrods’ toy department and it was indeed impressive, but Hamleys remains our favorite.
TIP: Is Knightsbridge a must with kids? Not really. If you have tweens and teens who are into shopping, Harrods is an eye-popping treat. Otherwise, if you must, this is one stop that can be moved down the priority list.
This is all you can fit into Day 2 if you engage a guide and want to hit the museums. It provides some play time which is key, and a good break from just moving from monument to monument.
We finished Day 2 with dinner at Daphne’s restaurant offering authentic Italian food in a cozy setting. This place has been around forever and attracts devoted locals as well as tourists. The restaurant is delightful year-round with a conservatory roof that opens up in pleasant weather. It’s upscale, but the early seating has plenty of families.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy
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