London is one of the best places to take your kids on their first trip abroad. It’s easy to navigate and it feels like home with familiar language, customs, and food. It is one of the biggest cities in the world so it can be a little crazy at times but it’s definitely a place you should visit at least once with kids!
I recommend spending at least five days in the city with kids. There is so much to do that you could easily fill a month but you can hit the highlights in five days (see below for a sample itinerary!). With over two thousand years of history under your feet, there are historical sites and museums around every corner.
Transportation: London is HUGE but most of the tourist highlights are within a five mile rectangle in the center of the city. From Kensington in the west to the Tower of London in the east, you can get to anything in between via walking, taxis, the subway (called the Tube), a double-decker bus, or a boat. Download Mapway or Citymapper apps to plan your routes.
- Walking: London is a very walkable city! It’s relatively flat with sidewalks and easy routes. Just watch out for the crowds and the winding streets of the city and southbank, which aren’t as wide as in the west end. And remember to look carefully before stepping out into traffic (there are helpful reminders printed on the road as to which way to look)! Check out Rick Steves’ site for his great walking tours.
- Taxi: London taxis are fun and pretty affordable. It’s especially good to get one with luggage or strollers!
- Subway: The Tube will be your children’s preferred mode of transportation. It’s fast and easy (unless you have a stroller – check your route beforehand to verify an elevator or “lift”), and it takes you everywhere you’ll want to go. If you’re staying in the city for a week, check out the 7-day travelcard to save money. We bought an Oyster card on our trip but then learned that we could use mobile pay. Make sure everyone has their payment set up on their phones to make it easy! Kids under 10 travel free and there is a discount for 11-15 year olds. If you buy a London Pass, you can choose to include a Visitor Oyster card as part of your package – a great deal!
- Bus: The city’s iconic double-decker buses are great fun for kids and provide a way to see the city while moving from one side to the other. My kids loved sitting up top! With younger kids, I always recommend doing one of the many hop-on, hop-off bus tours (usually included in the City Pass as well). It provides an easy and fun way to get to the various tourist locations!
- Boat: With the River Thames an integral part of the city, you can take many different boats from one end to the other. We used Uber boat to get to Greenwich, and it was so easy to use our mobile pay as we boarded. It doesn’t have any tourist information so if you want narration, check out the many other options here.
- Getting to and from the airport: There are six different airports servicing London but almost all US arrivals come to Heathrow. It’s a short train ride on the Heathrow Express, the fastest and easiest way to get to the city via Paddington Station. There is a longer, cheaper train or it’s a 45-minute taxi ride to central London. Note that in the summer of 2022, Heathrow is undergoing severe issues, resulting in huge security lines and general chaos. Be prepared!
Food: London is a hodge-podge of all different kinds of ethnic cuisines. From the traditional fish and chips to some of the best Indian food in the world, you can eat well in the city although it can be a challenge with kids. There are many great English chains that are family-friendly from Pizza Express to Giraffe. When in doubt, find an Italian restaurant which is sure to please even the pickiest eater! Pubs serve quintessential British food but note that most don’t allow anyone under 18 in after 8 pm.
- Some of our family’s favorites include Cote Brasserie, Heddon Street Kitchen (a Gordon Ramsay restaurant), Punjab in Covent Garden, and La Mia Mamma. Most of the museums have lovely cafes so those are great options while you’re sight-seeing. If the weather is nice, grab a picnic lunch from a Marks and Spencer Food Hall, one of the many markets like Borough Market, or one of the chain restaurants and eat outside. One of our best meals with our little guys was a pizza from Pizza Express that we ate while sitting in Trafalgar Square!
- Tea: Don’t miss having afternoon tea in London! There are so many amazing options but the crown jewel is the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum and Mason. We had a splendid time there! A royal tea can be had at Kensington Palace in The Orangery. Most of the luxury hotels also have amazing teas, such as the Lanesborough and Brown’s (which also has a Jungle Book-themed tea for kids). Check out this list of wonderful London teas expressly for kids!
Lodging: Hotel options in London are overwhelming! This is a great time to use a travel agent like those at Ciao Bambino to help you find a child-friendly hotel room large enough for your family. We’ve stayed in several areas of London, and I like the location of Mayfair the best. It’s the easiest for walking to the touristy sights and is near lots of great shopping and dining. I had a great experience at The Intercontinental here – it has a fabulous lounge on the top floor with food and drinks available all day! Perfect for kids!
- If you’re staying longer than a few days, look into an apartment. Some hotels, like the one we stayed in most recently, the Taj on Buckingham Gate, have apartment options perfect for small families. I also recommend using a service which vets apartments such as Plum Guide (affiliate link).
Shopping: London is one of the best cities to visit for shopping. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Department stores: Harrods, Liberty, and Fortnum and Mason are my favorites. For more affordable clothing, try Marks and Spencer and John Lewis.
- Bookstores: Hatchards beside Fortnum and Mason is the UK’s oldest bookstore! Waterstones is a chain but is wonderful. Walk up Charing Cross Road to see the flagship Foyles and many small used bookstores. Daunt Books is also well known.
- Toys: A must-see store for any child is Hamleys on Regent Street. It is chock full of every toy imaginable! Even jaded teens will appreciate the gaming section in the basement!
- Shopping streets/areas: Don’t miss walking down the picturesque Regent Street to the insane Piccadilly Circus area. For more alternative stores, check out the nearby Carnaby Street. We also love Covent Garden with its quaint shops in an iron and glass market hall.
- Museum gift shops: Some of the best souvenirs can be found at museum or historical site gift shops. You usually don’t have to purchase a ticket to get into the gift shop. In particular, the gift shops at Buckingham and Kensington Palaces, the Imperial War Museum, and the British Museum are fabulous.
Tickets to attractions: Almost all of the London sites have timed-entry tickets so buying in advance is a must even for those sites that are free. You don’t want to leave it to chance!
- For families, I recommend the London City Pass which can get you into many of the historic sites for free and allow you to skip the long lines. And with the added benefit of also serving as your Tube card, it’s a great value!
Tour guides: I recommend hiring a private tour guide to help you learn the most on your trip. Our guide for Windsor, Vivien, does a London tour and can tailor it to your family’s interests. You can also get a guide through your travel agent or through Rick Steves’ guidebook.
Websites to help you plan your trip:
Other general tips:
- Make sure all phones are enabled with mobile payment options – this is used everywhere in the UK!
- There is so much to see, it’s easy to pack your days but leave time for rest. You’ll be doing A LOT of walking – we averaged 13-15 miles a day on our latest trip!
- Take advantage of the amazing London parks, especially the playgrounds for children. Kensington Gardens has the most amazing playground, and every park has plenty of space for kids to run and play.
- Bathrooms are slightly different and can be difficult to find in touristy areas. Look for museums and larger stores for the best facilities.
- London is a very safe city but always keep children close, especially on city streets. With the traffic going the opposite way, it’s easy to get too close to passing cars. Stick to the touristy areas and if you do venture into some of the more colorful sections (like in the East End), stay on the main, well-lit streets.
- Don’t miss taking your children to London’s theatres. There are several shows appropriate for children in the West End such as Matilda. We absolutely loved it! It’s easy to buy your tickets here. Also be sure to check out the plays at Shakespeare’s Globe – there is often a kid-friendly option!
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.
- *Westminster Abbey – where every king and queen is crowned
- *Churchill War Rooms – underground bunker where Churchill ran the WWII military effort
- *Houses of Parliament – seat of government with the Big Ben clock tower
- Parliament Square – full of statues including Churchill and Abraham Lincoln
- Westminster Bridge – beautiful view of the Thames, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, and the City
- London Eye – large enclosed ferris wheel with great views (but not worth the time in my opinion)
- Whitehall Street – walk from Parliament up Whitehall towards Trafalgar to follow in some of history’s most storied footsteps
- Cenotaph – memorial to the war dead
- 10 Downing Street – where the Prime Minister lives
- Banqueting House – only remaining building from the Whitehall Palace; where King Charles I lost his head
- Horse Guards Parade and Household Cavalry Museum – impressively dressed guards that conduct the changing ceremony no matter the weather; generally less crowded than at Buckingham Palace
- Scotland Yard – home to Britain’s most famous detective
West End Area:
- Trafalgar Square – great place for kids to play and climb statues
- National Gallery – must see for any art lover! Follow the Rick Steves’ guide for a concise tour
- National Portrait Gallery – where all of the royal portraits are located; closed until 2023
- Ben Franklin House – museum with artifacts from Franklin’s time in London
- Leicester Square – large park with many statues from children books, including Paddington and Mary Poppins
- Grosvenor Square – called “Little America,” this square is near the American Embassy and has a placard on the home that served as John and Abigail Adams’ home while they lived here in the 18th century
- Piccadilly Circus – with its bright billboards and flashing lights, it’s similar to NYC’s Times Square
- Soho – avoid most of this area with children, lots of inappropriate stores
- Regent Street/Oxford Circus – shopping areas
- Covent Garden – enclosed market with shops and restaurants
- London Transport Museum – a must-stop for anyone traveling with kids 10 and under!
Buckingham Palace Area:
- Buckingham Palace State Rooms – only open for a few late summer/early fall months – I’m dying to go but have never been there when it’s open! Note even if it’s closed, you can visit the gift shop located at the corner of Buckingham Palace Road and Palace Street (across from the Royal Mews)
- Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace – the Queen’s art collection
- Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – this iconic event is not worth the wait, in my opinion. See it instead at the Horse Guards Parade (described above) or at Windsor Castle. If you do want to see it at Buckingham, follow Rick Steves’ suggestions.
- Victoria Memorial – don’t miss getting a family picture here with the palace in the background!
- Royal Mews – see the Queen’s vehicles – kids love it!
- St. James’s Park – beautiful green space where kids can see swans and ducks and have fun on the playground
- Statues to war dead at Wellington Arch – many memorials to those lost in battle
Hyde Park/Kensington Area:
- Hyde Park – huge park with a lake, cafes, memorial fountain to Princess Diana, and playground
- Kensington Gardens – adjacent to Hyde Park, the gardens contain the Prince Albert Memorial, the new Princess Diana statue, and the amazing Princess Diana playground – a must-see with kids!
- *Kensington Palace – where Queen Victoria was born, Princess Diana lived, and William and Kate reside (though they’re moving to Windsor soon)
- Natural History Museum – my kids love this amazing museum, especially the kids’ backpacks with explorer hats!
- Science Museum – hands-on fun for kids and adults
- Victoria and Albert Museum – museum of decorative arts, best for older teens and adults
- Tate Britain – art gallery specializing in British paintings
- Bloomsbury – the literary place to be in the early 20th century
- *British Museum – the grand dame of British museums, it’s chock full of antiquities and amazing artifacts from ancient Greece and other nations – follow the Rick Steves’ tour for an easy route to hit the highlights; best for ages 10 and up
- British Library – houses many of the first editions of historical documents and publications such as Shakespeare’s first folio
- King’s Cross Station – where your little Hogwart can get their picture made at platform 9 ¾
- Charles Dickens Museum – where the famous author wrote Oliver Twist and other novels
- Sherlock Holmes Museum – best for super fans of England’s beloved (fictional) detective
- Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks – touristy but fun!
- Regent’s Park – beautiful park with cafes, fountains, and playgrounds
- London Zoo – lovely zoo with fun activities for kids – my boys loved it when they were little!
- Primrose Hill – great playground and grassy hill adjacent to Regent’s Park
- Paddington Station – has an adorable Paddington Bear statue, where most trains headed to Windsor, Heathrow, and Oxford originate
- St. Paul’s Cathedral – enormous cathedral that survived the Blitz and served as the site of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ wedding
- Museum of London – museum detailing London’s centuries of history – on my list for my next visit!
- Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666 – the site where the devastating fire began
- *Tower of London – a must-see site full of royal history and gruesome deaths
- Tower Bridge – the iconic image of London and you can even walk on its top walkway!
- Roman walls – you can see and even walk through several sections of the ancient Roman walls near the Tower
- East End – former rough area home to Jack the Ripper and other infamous crimes; take an East End walking tour meeting at the Tower Hill Tube stop
- Jack the Ripper Museum – for those fascinated by these terrible murders
South Bank Area:
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – a recreation of Shakespeare’s famous theatre, a must-see for any literature lover!
- Golden Hinde replica – recreation of the first English ship to sail around the world
- HMS Belfast – WWII battleship docked on the Thames
- Tate Modern – premiere modern art museum
- *Imperial War Museum – the best museum to learn about Britain’s military history
Easy Day Trips from London
*Royal Air Force Museum London – great museum for aviation fans. We spent an hour or so here looking at the planes from WWI and WWII. Tour time – 2 -3 hours (including travel)
Greenwich – just a short thirty minute boat ride from central London, this town is full of lovely vistas and museums. You can visit the restored Cutty Sark clipper, the National Maritime Museum (free and worth a walk through to get to the park behind it!), and the Royal Observatory where you can stand on the median timeline. You don’t have to pay to see the line, look for the gate at the top of the hill and a line in the brick fence will show you the median. Bridgerton fans will also want to see the Bridgerton house (really called the Ranger’s House) and the Queen’s House. The nearby Docklands are worth a visit, especially the Museum of London Docklands with its large display on the Blitz. Tour time – 3 – 4 hours (including travel)
*Hampton Court Palace – the main home of King Henry VIII and (all of) his wives, this grand palace will make you feel as if you’ve time traveled to the 16th century. And Bridgerton fans will recognize its gardens and arcades! Tour time – 4 – 5 hours (including travel)
*Windsor Castle – the home of Britain’s royal family centuries and one of my very favorite places I’ve been in the country! The town and adjacent Eton is worth a visit as well. If you have younger children, you’ll definitely want to add on a visit to Legoland. Tour time – one day
Oxford – college town a one hour train ride from London. Don’t miss the Great Hall in Christ Church College and the Divinity School. Tour time – one day
Cambridge – college town a one hour train ride from London. More picturesque than Oxford, the 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 for an amazing look at British military air history (read my review here). We spent half a day here and could have spent even more time! It was my children’s favorite museum of our trip! Tour time – one day
This sample itinerary is best for older kids (10 and up). I’ve noted a better option with younger kids. This tour will let you see the highlights of the city but, of course, there is so much more to do!
Day 1: Hit the Tower of London right when it opens and then walk to Borough Market for lunch. Walk on the Jubilee Walkway to see Shakespeare’s Globe and Tate Modern. Take the Millenium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral and end the day at the Museum of London. Have a nice dinner at one of London’s historic pubs nearby such as The Blackfriar.
With young kids, start your day on a hop on/hop off bus tour, getting off at the Tower of London. Eat a picnic lunch after your tour of the Tower and skip the walk on the south bank. Take the bus to St. Paul’s and end the day at the London Transport Museum. Have dinner at one of the many kid-friendly restaurants around Covent Garden, taking the bus on a nighttime tour of the city.
Day 2: Spend the day around Westminster, packing in the history. Tour Westminster Abbey right when it opens and then tour the Houses of Parliament. Walk up Whitehall to 10 Downing Street and have a picnic lunch in St. James’s Park (there is a cafe there). After lunch, tour the amazing Churchill War Rooms and walk to Buckingham Palace via the Birdcage Walk, stopping in the Guard’s Museum and Chapel at the Wellington Barracks. Check out the Royal Mews and have dinner at a restaurant in the Victoria area, like Brown’s Brasserie or The Ivy. Or if you are a WWII buff, take a cab from the Churchill War Rooms to the Imperial War Museum on the south bank, catching up with the tour by then taking the tube to Victoria.
With younger kids, tour Westminster Abbey and let them run around Parliament Square. Buy a picnic lunch (from a cafe or the Tesco Express) and take it aboard a boat at the Westminster pier to see London while you glide along (usually a boat tour is included in your hop on/hop off bus ticket). After the boat brings you back, walk across Westminster Bridge to the playground at Jubilee Garden. There is plenty to do here with the London Eye, Shrek’s Adventure, an aquarium, and carousel. Walk on the Jubilee Walkway to end your day with dinner at Giraffe.
Day 3: Begin your morning at the British Museum and then visit the British Library walking through Bloomsbury. Take the tube to Piccadilly. Have afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason and then spend the afternoon shopping along Regent Street. Walk to Trafalgar Square and take the highlights tour of the National Gallery. End your day at Covent Garden where you can eat an amazing Indian dinner at Punjab before a West End show.
With younger kids, skip the museum and library, starting your day at the London Zoo. Eat an early lunch at the zoo and head afterwards to the Primrose Hill playground. Go back to your hotel to rest and change and then take a cab to your choice of afternoon teas that will delight young and old alike! End the day shopping along Oxford/Regent Street, making sure to spend a lot of time in Hamleys toy store.
Day 4: Start your day at Kensington Palace, touring the palace and gardens. Have lunch/tea at The Orangery and then walk/cab to the Victoria & Albert Museum or the Natural History Museum. After touring the museum, shop in Kensington and don’t miss the amazing Harrods. Take a cab to Chelsea for a wonderful Italian dinner at La Mia Mamma or back to Kensington to the unique The Churchill Arms pub.
With younger kids, start the day at Kensington Palace, zipping through the palace to spend more time in the gardens. Don’t miss the amazing Princess Diana playground where your kids can spend hours! Have lunch at a cafe in the garden or buy food for a picnic. Take a paddleboat in Hyde Park after lunch and then take a cab to the Natural History Museum for some fun dinosaur history. The Science Museum next door is also a good option. End the day with dinner at the Cote Brasserie in Kensington.
Day 5: Choose from one of the fun day trips listed above. For kids of all ages, I’d choose Windsor for the best day trip. Older kids will love the castle and town, and younger kids will love visiting Legoland. Greenwich is a good choice for a half-day tour which leaves you more time in London to see more of the historical sites there.
London is a city like no other. Around every corner is history, culture, fashion, and so much to see and do. You can spend days, weeks, or months here and not do it all. Just remember that you can come back!
Books to Read:
There are so many books set in London 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.