So you’re thinking about a London trip. Wondering whether it might be fun to take the whole gang?
The things we look for in City breaks, trips and weekend getaways can change dramatically depending on whether we’re travelling solo, as a couple or with kids.
Some cities simply wouldn’t be a great option with very young children – Shenzhen with toddlers anyone? Didn’t think so.
Sometimes simply travel time, jet lag or costs, as well as factors on the ground, can limit options.
The good news is London is not one of those destinations that you have to put on ice until little legs are on the verge of teenhood. The city has brilliant cultural and lifestyle offerings for kids and families and isn’t too tricky to navigate comfortably.
Public transport will quickly become your new best friend when in London with your kids.
Unlike continental European cities such as Paris or Lisbon, you do not do London by foot: A sprawling spread out giant with areas and neighbourhoods which are in themselves almost stand alone villages or attractions, my advice would be to get to the part of London you want to explore and only then start walking.
Take the cautionary tale of a European Erasmus student who upon drawing up to Victoria tube station, looked at the London Underground map and thought she could walk, with luggage, to her lodgings in Clapham (nearly 3 miles, or one hour away by the most direct route).
Transport for London is the first website you will need.
City Mapper is the lifesaving application.
London is all about its different communities. You’ll get a different mood, vibe, cuisine, resident and feel simply by switching postcode.
As I mentioned there are some parts of town that you can wander round, drinking in the atmosphere and feel like a local in no time.
The neighbourhoods that I’ll mention all have the added bonus that you can do just that with your kids. No need to be a carefree, solo wanderer, you can enjoy these parts of Central, West and East London with your favourite small people in tow.
South Ken has long held the Londoner’s vote of being where it’s at for kids.
Why? This picturesque, pedestrianised SW7 pearl is centrally located in the smartest part of West London. However, unlike nearby Knightsbridge, it has a soul.
This villagey part of town is bursting with bakeries, its many museums and a friendly francophone community who have their lycée and cultural institute a stone’s throw away from the tube station.
This all means that you will eat well, the coffee, cakes, crêpes and pastries on offer here are second to none. The restaurants aren’t bad either, and there’s something for every price range.
I’d recommend Carluccio’s with kids for fresh Italian fare and swift service. You’ll find them tucked round a curved curb from the main thoroughfare, as if you were heading down towards Chelsea:
Carluccio’s – South Kensington, tel: +44 (0)207 7581 8101
1 Old Brompton Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 3HZ
Another one of my favourite lunch spots, if it’s sunny while you’re in London (lucky you) and you’d like to sit outside on the pedestrianised part of Exhibition Road, head for the Comptoir Libanais
This place has you covered for all your hummus needs as well as bright decor, colourful food and fresh juices which will keep the kids happy. If you eat on the terrace they won’t feel cooped up either.
With full bellies, you and your crew should be ready to head off to your next adventure.
South Kensington as a neighbourhood has so much choice in terms of things to do.
You could spend a full day here, or even have it as your base. It is well served by the district, circle and piccadilly lines, although the underground station itself can get crowded at times. If in doubt and you have the time, ask City Mapper for a bus route option.
First on our list has to be the Natural History Museum. I have vivid memories of going here as a little girl, enthralled by the full size dinosaur skeleton replica in the entrance hall, Dippy the Diplodocus.
Today your kids will be greeted by a giant blue whale skeleton. But do not fear there is plenty of dinosaur paraphernalia, as well as other captivating natural history. In the museum shop there are even cosy Dino suits if your little ones want to dress the part. The Natural History Museum
Cromwell Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD,
In winter an ice rink is installed in front of the museum and at nightfall families flock to skate under the tall oak trees laced with white fairy lights, set against the backdrop of the striking gothic architecture of the museum.
Here is a photo of mine taken a few days before Christmas a couple of years back.
Staying West, you may want to take the Circle line up to Notting Hill.
This niche London neighbourhood, (which practically became world famous following the release of the 1999 Julia Roberts / Hugh Grant epic); has always held a special place in my heart as the backdrop to my early childhood.
Whilst a lot has changed and my vision is certainly blurred by heavy doses of nostalgia, I don’t think I’d be wrong in thinking that Notting Hill still holds a certain poetry and magic for many.
Alighting at Notting Hill station you can walk past Pembridge gardens and Pembridge crescent, past manicured greenery and property porn, to arrive on Westbourne Grove.
Westbourne Grove is a great calm spot to take kids, especially if you’re still working with a pushchair. You’ll enjoy the roomy clean pavements and cafes, as well as the street theatre of people watching and the outrageous conversations that you’ll overhear will make you wonder if you’ve been transported into Tatler magazine’s Bystander social gossip column.
Here are some of my favourite addresses.
208-212 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London W11 2RH
Daylesford Organic is a farm to table shop, sourcing their organic produce fresh from their farm in Gloucestershire.
The atmosphere lends itself to wanting to stay a while, eat well, feeling relaxed and probably picking up some snacks on your way out, or a miracle gut health probiotic cure. Enjoy!
Right next door you’ll find my other favoured café, and a nice one to get cosy in if you need to stay to wait out a shower, incidentally if it’s good weather they have a garden out back.
Concept shop and stella cafe with great design and magazines and books to skim through while everyone gets stuck into their lattes and juices.
202 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London W11 2RH
From here you are a convenient hop, step and a jump away from Portobello market.
This famous find is certainly somewhere you’ll want to discover and to be honest it’s nice to simply have a wander drinking in the atmosphere. Sights and sounds on the Portobello road are enough to intrigue market goers of all ages. There’s sometimes busking and spots to stop off at along the way.
That all said, it’s quite a walk down the hill and if you’re hanging with little legs or pushchairs you’ll want to think wisely about your exit strategy once everyone starts to get tired.
Unless you are a masochist or wish to test your mental health and inner strength, I would strongly recommend that you avoid Oxford street and parts of central which will leave the whole family frantic, then tired and at their wits’ end.
In summary, the M&Ms shop which all tourists seem oddly obsessed with on Oxford street, frankly skip it, I can promise you that you won’t be missing out on much.
Perhaps the kids have Hamley’s, or rather specific items inside, earmarked. Fine, but plan carefully to get in and get out. If possible research where the desired toy is within the shop, or try to order or put aside in advance.
If you must go to this part of town there is just one place I would recommend in a heartbeat. Get your Uber directly here, then enjoy department store heaven.
Regent St, Soho, London W1B 5AH
Finally, if you want to stay very central and enjoy the bustling business of big cities may I recommend a different tactic.
Places like Southbank and Tower Bridge are really wonderful.
They are built up with imposing and impressive architecture and landmarks that you’ll be thrilled to check off your list: Saint Pauls and the Globe, or the Tower of London and the Dungeons.
Both the Southbank centre and the London Dungeons are a great visit for children.
The other nice thing about both these areas is; Street Food options.
At London Bridge you’ve got Borough market boasting all it’s great fresh produce, but also plenty of tempting lunches where you can eat on the hoof, poised on a bench, or sit down in a restaurant.
All along the Southbank you can enjoy seasonal pop up markets.
Hint: if you take the stairs down from the riverside to the road, as if you were heading to Waterloo station, you’ll find them along here. As well as many a snacking option, a lovely patio at the British Film Institute and if you’re over in Winter, an excellent German Christmas market with glühwein.
In case you need it whilst travelling with your brood, they have the best coffee here:
Monmouth Coffee Company
Borough Market, 2 Park St, London SE1 9AB
All in, London is a brilliantly child friendly city: Safe and clean with a tonne going on. The only thing you’ll really need to consider is distance from point A to B.
This is why my top London with kids trip would be to plan your itinerary like a maniac and know exactly how you’re getting around at all times.
Once in a village-style smaller neighbourhood, you can treat London much like any other Historic, European city. However, until then don’t assume you’ll be able to walk it as even distances from tube stations can be further than you think.
Black (Hackney) cabs are lifesavers and have space for pushchairs and are generally extremely friendly, but are expensive by most standards.
If you do find you need to get one though, you can hail them easily on the street, but if they’re still not turning up, there’s a new app for that: formerly Hailo now My Taxi.
Have the most wonderful time in London with your kids. These are precious times of memory making.