Historic, iconic and royal, London brings to mind sites such as the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, not to mention cultural spots like Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern. And it’s full of charming neighborhoods with flower shops, pint-size cafes and trendy bars.
Is it possible to soak up some of this atmosphere in with a toddler in tow? Yes — a resounding yes. It may require adjusting expectations, but seeing London with a toddler will rouse a sense of wonder in both parent and child.
Children, especially toddlers, are inherently curious, not to mention intrepid! They’ll turn a corner and lead you down a new path, walk up to strangers, stroll through the Tube car with a grin on the their face. True, it takes patience and flexibility to navigate a 607-square-mile city, home to 9 million, with a little one. But to see your toddler’s eyes fill with awe as a double-decker bus whizzes by or as they approach the Princess Diana Memorial playground — better known as the pirate ship — in Kensington Gardens is also a memory to cherish.
Below are some tips and suggestions for seeing London from a young child’s eyes.
You’re likely thinking you didn’t come all this way simply to visit a park or garden, but the British, in fact, have a national obsession with gardens themselves. Gardens have long been places for respite, places to express creativity, and of course, places to host garden parties. And so, Kew Gardens, officially the Royal Botanic Gardens, is a great place to take toddlers.
Don’t miss Hyde Park either. A green oasis in a teeming city, much like New York’s Central Park, the 350-acre park was created by Henry VIII in 1536. With ponds, fountains and statues galore, Hyde Park is wonderful to stroll and explore as an attraction on its own or for some downtime after a busy morning.
Though it is challenging to see some of the top historic sites with a toddler, there are alternate ways to experience them. Rather than trying to take a serious and guided tour of the interior of Buckingham Palace, head to the Royal Mews, which serves as the Queen’s garage. It’s home to her collection of cars and carriages, as well as horse stables. Transport vehicles and animals are a guaranteed hit with any toddler!
A few other sites that are easier for younger ones include walking the Millennium Bridge and riding the London Eye, or ambling around Trafalgar Square. And while it might feel like a bit of a tourist trap, a hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus may well be the highlight of a 3-year-old’s day and a fantastic way to get a quick overview of the city.
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Another favorite of local parents, the hands-on London Transport Museum is perfect for curious toddlers. Showcasing 200 years of London’s transport history with colorful maps and displays, the museum houses double-decker buses, old trams, Tube cars and trains, all just waiting for toddlers to climb aboard. The museum’s gift shop is also top-notch, with plenty of Tube and Mind the Gap paraphernalia.
For more toys and gifts, consider Hamley’s Toy Shop, a seven-story toy emporium dating back to 1760 in the heart of London’s shopping district along Regent Street. You’ll find it hard to escape without a toy in hand, but many of the unique and special toys are set out for toddlers to try and play with. Plus, the top floor features the royal family made out of Legos!
Afternoon tea is the quintessential British experience as well as a chance to dress up and feel special. Several London restaurants and hotels now offer a tea for the petite crowd. Typically, a children’s tea will be shorter than a traditional version but will still include plenty of finger sandwiches and cakes. Consider the one at Fortnum and Mason, the legendary British teamaker. There’s even a Peter Pan-themed tea at Aqua Shard and a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed tea at One Aldwych Hotel. Advance reservations are required for most teas, so it’s best to book beforehand.
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