A trip to England is a great first trip abroad for families. It’s kid-friendly and easy to navigate, plus you’ll understand the language! Some of the greatest historical sites in the world are located on the island as well, making it a dream location for history lovers.
It’s important to get the terminology of the country correct as you plan your trip. The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain usually refers to England, Scotland, and Wales, the three countries on the main island. England is the largest of these countries.
I first visited England in 1996 as a starry-eyed college student enamored with seeing the sights made famous by books and movies, not to mention walking in the footsteps of historical figures like queens and kings! Three months touring the country was not enough then, and I’ve loved going back several times as a mom, seeing the sights through my kids’ eyes.
Of course, London is the major city where all visits usually begin and/or end. Most families stay in London for their entire trip, but I encourage you to take at least one day trip into the countryside to experience the true English way of life. I’ve included a sample 2-week itinerary below to help you plan your trip!
Transportation: England is very easy to navigate for tourists.
- In London: Check out my London guide for recommendations on how to navigate the capital city.
- Outside London:
- Trains: Efficient trains make getting outside London extremely convenient. I recommend buying tickets ahead of time for long trips, but shorter trips can be bought at the station. With so many different rail lines, it can be confusing but there is one consolidated website for ease of use.
- Cars: Renting a car in England can be more cost-effective for families and is the only way to see some of the more rural parts of the country. As scary as driving on the “wrong” side of the road can seem, it is the best way to see more of village life. Many of the major US rental companies have locations in England, particularly at the main airports, and we’ve also used Europcar. Note that most English rental cars are manual, so be sure to specify if you need an automatic as one might not be readily available outside of airport locations. Also most cars and even SUVs are much smaller than we Americans are used to – fitting luggage in the trunk or “boot” may be a challenge!
Food: British food has undergone a transformation in the last few decades with the popularity of gastropubs. While traveling with children, though, it’s unlikely you’ll be frequenting these foodie destinations, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be eating bland food. Most pubs and local restaurants serve homemade food like fish and chips or meat pies. Kids can find the usual chicken fingers or hamburgers at most restaurants. And if your kids are older and more adventurous, England has some of the best global cuisine like Indian food or noodle restaurants!
- In London: Check out my London guide for our favorites!
- Outside London: Even the tiniest villages have a local pub where you can soak in English life. For dinner, be sure to ask what time the pub stops serving food and/or allows those under 18 inside – sometimes it’s as early as 8 pm. Check out Nicholson’s Pubs or Greene King to find historic pubs in your destination.
- Chains: England has some family-friendly chains I recommend, including Cote Brasserie, Ask Italian, Pizza Express, Giraffe, and Wagamama. Of course, you can also find American favorites like McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut as well – it can be fun to see how they differ from their restaurants in the US.
- Grocery Stores: It’s fun to take your kids to an English grocery store to see the different (and sometimes strange!) items! Our favorite British food store has to be the Marks and Spencer food halls found in most major cities. On the road, you can find smaller versions of these stores (called M&S Simply Food) in most petrol stations. Other grocery chains are Sainsburys (comparable to traditional grocery stores like Kroger) and Tesco (comparable to Walmart). Grab food to make a picnic in the amazing British parks for the ultimate family-friendly meal!
- Tea: Afternoon tea is such an important part of British food culture so be sure to indulge at least once on your trip. My London guide lists several options and every town will have at least one tea shop. Check out the atmospheric tea locations at area museums and historical homes or gardens. It can be a memorable experience!
Lodging: England has beautiful historic hotels along with plentiful rental apartments and homes. Note that most English hotel rooms, especially in London, are small so it may be necessary to get multiple rooms for a family.
- Hotels: I love staying in historic hotels when possible, especially in England. They are so interesting and can be destinations unto themselves! I recommend using a family-friendly travel agent like those from Ciao Bambino to ensure you have enough room for your family in hotels. We’ve stayed in places ranging from an Edwardian former train headquarters to a medieval tenement! Most American chains are located in the major cities while it can be harder to find quality rooms in more rural locations.
- Rental apartments/homes: With families, renting a larger space is usually necessary, and rental apartments or homes may be cheaper than multiple hotel rooms. It can be nerve-wracking to trust the rental description, so I recommend using a vetting service like Plum Guide (affiliate link), Baby Friendly Boltholes, or Kid & Coe. We did have a great experience with an AirBnB in Castle Ashby.
Shopping: Most British towns have picturesque streets for shopping (called high streets). Note that most British stores use mobile pay (Apple Pay, etc.) so make sure all of your phones are enabled for this before your trip. It will make it so much easier to shop!
- Stores: My favorite department store chains are Marks and Spencer and John Lewis, and your teens will love Zara and TopShop. Every town seems to have a Waterstones bookstore – I could never resist going in no matter how many we saw! Most towns also have an independent bookstore like the famous Blackwells in Oxford or Foyles in London. The amazing Hamleys toy store has many locations around the country, a kids’ dream! Don’t forget to check out the local museums and historic sites for wonderful shopping, especially for unique souvenirs and books. Just remember that you have to fit everything in your suitcase home!
Weather: England is very temperate, usually nice and cool even in the summer. Be sure to pack pants, long-sleeved shirts, and a jacket, especially a rain jacket! We’ve had gray days, sunny days, and everything in between!
Laundry: If you are visiting for more than 4 days, it may make sense to find a laundry facility to wash your clothes halfway through your trip. We do this on all of our vacations so we can pack lighter (remember how small the car trunks are!). Most towns, even small towns, have a laundry business that will take your clothes in the morning and have them cleaned by the end of the day. Most apartments/homes have a washing machine but few will have a dryer (and if it does, it won’t work very well!).
Tickets to Attractions: Most of the main attractions in London and larger cities require advance, timed-entry tickets. Even if they don’t require it, it’s a good idea to purchase in advance to guarantee your entry.
- In London: Check out my London guide for specifics on each tourist site.
- Outside London: Some of the most visited sites recommend advance tickets, such as the Roman Baths or Stonehenge. If you’re visiting a smaller town or city, such as York or the Cotswolds, you can usually purchase tickets at the site (check its website to be sure!).
- City passes: There is an English Heritage membership that may be worth joining to save on entrance fees at many of the country’s historical sites. There is also a London City Pass available.
Tour guides: I recommend hiring a private tour guide to help you learn the most on your trip, especially in cities. Our guide for Windsor, Vivien, does tours all around London and can tailor it to your family’s needs and interests. You can also get a guide through your travel agent or through Rick Steves’ guidebook. Guided tours are good to do on your first day in a city. I also recommend families with young kids to take advantage of the hop on/hop off bus tours in cities like London and York.
Websites to help you plan your trip:
Other General Tips:
- As I stated above, make sure all phones are enabled with mobile payment options – this is used everywhere!
- There is so much to see, it’s easy to pack your days but leave time for rest – even if it’s just over afternoon tea. You’ll be doing A LOT of walking even outside of London.
- Take advantage of the amazing English parks and gardens found in every town. They are perfect pit stops to let kids get the wiggles out and make a great picnic lunch destination.
- Bathrooms are slightly different and can be difficult to find in touristy areas. Look for museums and larger stores for the best facilities.
- England is a very safe country but always be aware of your surroundings, in particular with traffic. It is easy to look the wrong way when stepping out onto the road! Most of the towns have pedestrian-only shopping streets which makes it a lot easier!
Attractions/Historical Sites by Region
Check back often for more of these sites to be reviewed by The History Mom! Note that sites reviewed by The History Mom are marked with *. Other links are external links to the museum’s own website.
London and Best Day Trips
London: See my London guide for details about the many historical sites in this 2,000 year old city! Plus I detail several good day trips from the city in the guide.
Sites reviewed so far on the blog:
- *British Library
- *British Museum
- *Churchill War Rooms
- *Hampton Court Palace
- *Houses of Parliament
- *Imperial War Museum London
- *Kensington Palace
- *Royal Air Force Museum
- *Tower of London
- *Westminster Abbey
- *Windsor Castle
Day trips from London: There are many destinations that make easy day trips from London, though most deserve at least one or two nights!
Bath: This picturesque city will make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a Jane Austen novel. Kids will never forget the Roman Baths, especially tasting the mineral water in the pump house! Bridgerton fans will recognize many of its buildings, particularly my favorite – the Royal Crescent.
Stonehenge: This prehistoric stone circle is a must-see on any trip to England. Its visitor center is excellent, and you will be provided a mobile guide to use as you circle the stones, marveling at how they were brought here thousands of years ago for unknown reasons. Other nearby prehistoric sites are Old Sarum (my little kids really liked it!) and the Avebury stone circle.
Highclere Castle: Known to us now as Downton Abbey, you can walk in Lord Grantham and Mary’s footsteps! It’s only an hour drive from Heathrow!
Oxford: A college town just a one-hour train ride from London, the town is larger than you think with great shopping as well as historic sites. Don’t miss the Great Hall in Christ Church College and the Divinity School. Read my review here.
Cambridge: Another college town about a one-hour train ride from London that I find more picturesque than Oxford. Its historic colleges are best seen by boating (called punting) on the River Cam. Check out Scudmore’s for your punting tour. And don’t miss the nearby Imperial War Museum Duxford (read my review here) for an amazing look at British military air history. We spent half a day here and could have spent even more time! It was my children’s favorite museum of our trip!
Cotswolds: This is where you’ll find the quintessential English countryside filled with tiny villages and winding country roads that run beside sheep and fields. Cute stone buildings abound, and it’s fun to rent a cottage, spending a few days soaking in the culture. Many little villages have playgrounds or town greens where kids can have fun. With smaller kids, the constant car travel may be challenging, but there is plenty to do from palaces (like Churchill’s Blenheim Palace) to hands-on farms (like the Cotswold Farm Park). If you’re a fan of Clarkson’s Farm TV show on Amazon, you can actually visit the Diddly Squat Farm Shop – a favorite stop on our latest trip! The Cotswolds are perfectly located to be a good home base for many of the areas listed below.
Dorset: This region takes you from the rolling countryside to the jagged Jurassic coast. We spent a week here when our kids were young and found tons of things to do! Besides visiting the historic sites of Stonehenge and Bath, you can take a ride to the sea on the Swanage Railway (perfect for Thomas the Train fans!), which will take you by the 11th century Corfe Castle, the latest addition to the Minecraft world! Kids love looking for fossils and visiting the Victorian beach towns. Most villages have lovely playgrounds, and you can also visit larger cities with impressive cathedrals like Salisbury or Wells.
Cornwall/Devon: I haven’t ever been to the extreme southwest of England but it’s on my list! Some of its most interesting historical sites include the prehistoric Gidleigh Stone Circle and St. Michael’s Mount.
Kent/Southeast of England: This area is best known for the legendary Battle of Hastings where the Normans led by William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons, resulting in today’s modern England. The area was also of strategic importance during World War II with the chalky cliffs of Dover housing the war efforts that resulted in D-Day. You can visit Dover Castle and Chartwell House, Churchill’s home to learn more about these efforts. Also nearby is the famous Canterbury Cathedral.
Stratford-upon-Avon: One of my favorite towns in all of England is Shakespeare’s Stratford – check out my review here. It is a lovely town worth at least two days for any Shakespeare lover! Older kids and teens will be fascinated with visiting his birthplace and other related sites such as his school room! The town itself is lovely and younger kids will enjoy feeding the swans and ducks in the River Avon. Don’t miss seeing a play with the Royal Shakespeare Company! The town is an easy day trip from the Cotswolds or Oxford. We stayed in Castle Ashby on our latest trip and enjoyed its central location. Other nearby sites to consider visiting are Bletchley Park, site of the WWII codebreakers, and the Ironbridge Gorge of Industrial Revolution fame.
Mid-England: The industrial heartland of England usually isn’t on tourists’ minds unless you want to follow in the Beatles’ footsteps in Liverpool. High on my list to visit is the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. We also tried visiting the Peak District National Park on our last trip to do the Jane Eyre Hathersage Trail, but a car breakdown on the M1 prevented it!
York: My favorite town in northern England, York’s medieval streets and historic sites are like taking a step back in time (see my review here). Less crowded than similar cities in the south, York is worth at least 2 – 3 nights. While here, don’t miss the impressive York Minster and the sinister Clifford’s Tower. Even young kids will love running the town’s walls and pretending to be Harry Potter in The Shambles. History buffs will be fascinated with the ruins of the St. Mary’s Abbey and the Roman Multangular Tower and will enjoy learning more about Viking history at Jorvik Viking Centre. The surrounding countryside has beautiful scenery such as the North York Moors National Park, and all ages will love the atmospheric ghost walks of the city! We stayed at The Grand in an Edwardian former train headquarters, and it was amazing!
Lake District: Home to literary greats such as Beatrix Potter and William Woodsworth, this beautiful part of England is not as kid-friendly as other areas but is perfect for teens who like to hike and kayak. Must-see attractions include Lake Windermere, Potter’s Hill Top Farm, and Dove Cottage at Wordsworth Grasmere. For little kids, the theme park, The World of Beatrix Potter, is a big hit!
North England: As you get closer to Scotland, the landscape will change from rolling hills to more rugged, rocky cliffs. There are a few must-see attractions before the border including the cathedral in the college town of Durham. I will never forget walking the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman boundary between Roman England and the ferocious Scots. History buffs will be interested in the Beamish Museum, an open-air museum that recreates northeast English life in the 19th and 20th century, and will want to visit the over 1400-year-old Bamburgh Castle.
Sample Two Week England Itinerary
This tour will let you see the highlights of the country but, of course, there is so much more to do! It does have a lot of driving so if you aren’t comfortable with that, change the trip to include only the cities available via train travel or bus (London, Bath, Stonehenge, Oxford, Stratford, and York). It also assumes flying in and out of Heathrow Airport, but if you can fly in or out of Manchester, you gain an extra touring day!
With Older Kids (10+)
With Younger Kids (10 and under)
Day 1: Arrive early in the morning and pick up a rental car at Heathrow. Drive to Highclere Castle for an early afternoon tour and then on to a rental cottage (5 night stay) in the Cotswolds, centrally located from all sites (near Chipping Campden is a good location). Call it an early night to get over jet lag!
Day 1: Arrive early in the morning and pick up a rental car at Heathrow. Skip Highclere Castle and stop at Legoland Windsor (great jet lag cure!) instead before heading to a rental cottage in the northern Dorset area near Salisbury (5 night stay).
Day 2: Tour the Cotswolds and stop at the Diddly Squat Farm Shop.
Day 2: Drive through the southern Cotswolds and visit the family favorite Cotswold Farm Park.
Day 3: Visit Oxford and Blenheim Castle or Cambridge/IWM Duxford.
Day 3: Spend the day exploring Salisbury, including Old Sarum or Stonehenge.
Day 4: Visit Bath and Stonehenge.
Day 4: Visit Bath.
Day 5: Visit Stratford-upon-Avon.
Day 5: Drive to Norden train station and take the Swanage Railway to the beach.
Day 6: Drive north. For outdoorsy fun, head to the Lake District staying in Keswick (3 nights). For history buffs, head to York staying at The Grand Hotel (3 nights).
Day 6: Heading north to the Lake District or York is a long drive (5 hours). If you’re not up for that, stay in your cottage for a few more nights before going to London.
Day 7: Hike the Lake District or tour around York
Day 8: Do an additional hike around the Lake District or tour Hadrian’s Wall. In York, drive to Hadrian’s Wall or Beamish Open Air Museum.
Day 8: In York, visit Beamish Open Air Museum.
Still in Dorset? Spend the day visiting local stores, resting up for the heavy touring days in London.
Day 9: Turn in the rental car, and train from Carlisle or York to London and begin the London itinerary.
Day 9: With younger kids, drive from Dorset to Heathrow, turning in the rental car. Take Heathrow Express into London and begin the London itinerary.
Days 10 – 14: Follow my London itinerary.
England is a great way to introduce your family to traveling abroad. Between the historical sites and the fun activities for kids, every age will be happy!
Books to Read:
There are so many books set in England that I can’t possibly include them all here. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorites below. Be sure to check out my Bookshop.org shop for even more recommendations.
All images below are Amazon affiliate links.
This page is continually updated.