A Long Weekend With Kids in London
London is the best city in the world. It offers something for everyone. I loved it when I was a teenager, and I still do now that I am a mom of two. Showing the children around my most favourite city brings me bucket loads of joy and happiness.
There is so much to see and to do in London with children, you won’t get bored. And there is, of course, something for everyone: exciting museums, wonderful attractions, beautiful palaces, exotic restaurants, and funky shops.
If you are still looking for some more off-the-beaten-path things to do with your kids in London, I am giving you here three days packed with fun and excitement that won’t break the bank.
Tip: To get around London, do make use of public transport. Children under the age of 15 years can ride the tube for free. They just need to be accompanied by a paying adult. Just buy a TravelPass in the morning and take the family-sized gates when entering and leaving the stations.
Day 1: Being a Regular Tourist
If you or the children have never been to London before, it does make sense to start off the day with some of the more common sights. This helps get a sense of orientation and it takes some of the pressure off. The children will probably have heard of attractions like Tower Bridge and Big Ben, and they may want to see them with their own eyes before they are receptive enough for the more hidden gems along the way.
I suggest starting your visit with one of London’s excellent museums though. Most of them are free, which is fantastic for families. You should start early in the morning because museums and attractions in London tend to get busy during the day and in particular when travelling with children you want to avoid the queues. Be prepared for at least one queue wherever you go these days, for the security check.
British Museum With Kids
We decided to visit the British Museum, simply because the children wanted to go there. I find it important to discuss options with the children before arriving at a destination to give them the feeling of having their say and to give them something they really want.
As it turned out, the British Museum was an excellent choice, as it has the perfect mix of things to see, including old coins, Viking helmets, mummies, and ancient temples. There is also extra material for children at the British Museum, so take the time to speak to the staff at the information desk when you arrive.
There are much more museums in London that kids will love, in particular, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Tate Modern. All of which are free. For more information, have a look at this website.
Coca-Cola London Eye & South Bank
After a visit to the museum, it’s time to see London from above. There are a couple of places where you can do that, for example, you can visit the observation deck of the tallest skyscraper, The Shard. Or you can add some fun to the experience by riding a moving observation platform. We are talking of course about The London Eye.
We were invited to test the Coca-Cola London Eye for this blog, and I have to say it was a worthwhile experience for us, and the children loved every minute of it. The main reason for this was that the London Eye is located in one of the best spots to see the most iconic London sights such as Westminster and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and even the Tower Bridge. Plus, there was also a 4D movie show to add another flavour to the experience.
When you think about visiting The London Eye I strongly suggest you pre-book your tickets to avoid queueing for at least an hour to buy tickets at the attraction and then queue for another hour to get onto the observation wheel. If you have the money to spend, invest in fast-track tickets which saves you the worst of the queues. This little bit of extra money is definitely worth it, in particular when you are travelling with children.
After a visit to the London Eye, stroll down South Bank and enjoy the cheerful atmosphere of food stalls and street performers. The kids loved the orange park benches that came in all different shapes. There are also many family-friendly restaurants along South Bank where you can have your lunch. Or combine your visit to the London Eye with Shrek’s Adventure or Sea Life.
Tip: Try the singing lift inside the Southbank Centre – it’s free and it’s so much fun!
City Bus Tour
It’s been a big day in London already, so now is the time to relax. Get onto one of the touristy hop-on-hop-off buses that pass you by every other minute and enjoy a tour of the city. We made good experiences with Golden Tours which offer a number of routes that you are free to choose from.
The classic tour took around 3 hours, mainly due to the thick London traffic. The busses were fitted with an audio guide, so the kids could entertain themselves with the headphones. No need to get off the bus anywhere if you don’t feel like it, there is always another day to explore more of the great things London has to offer.
Day 2: Exploring Alternative London
As I teenager Camden Town was my mecca. The mix of trendy clothes, tacky souvenirs, wonderful antiques, and crazy people felt like a revelation. So it was only natural that I had to take the children to Camden to show them the alternative side of the city, even though you may think that Camden Town is not the obvious choice when you travel to London with children.
Camden Town is a little bit outside of the London centre, so you will definitely have to take the tube to get here. The suburb used to be less fashionable when it was first established two centuries ago, but today tourists and locals find the canals and locks, the converted market halls, and the street art charming.
Camden is best known for its markets, although you will also find some great shops along Chalk Farm Road as well. Have a look at the funky storefronts with their oversized shoes, chairs, and piercings, and check out the bags, shirts, magnets, boots and everything else that is sold here.
Then dive into the mayhem that is Camden Market, a vast area of market stalls and market halls that sell everything you could ever wish for: souvenirs and home interior items, vintage clothes and crafts, teas and fast food. Check out the nods to horses all around you: Part of the market used to be the pony and horse stables for the nearby canal.
There are many places that you might want to explore, but noteworthy are the following:
Chin Chin Labs
Take the kids to Chin Chin Labs for nitrogen ice-cream. The flavours are already mixed and prepared, then they are frozen in front of your eyes with liquid nitrogen. This creates a much smoother texture than regular ice-cream, it also helps create new flavours that are usually not used in ice-cream making, for example, beetroot ice-cream! Flavours change regularly, so have fun!
This shop is dedicated to aliens, techno music, and vintage sci-fi glory. The music in Cyberdog is loud (for my children a bit too loud), the store decoration wild. Giant aliens and androids, lots of glow-in-the-dark magic, funky gift ideas. You will find here some extraordinary kids clothes, even for toddlers. It’s all very family-friendly, as long as you don’t go the basement where you will find more of the kinky stuff.
Boat Tours with a Narrowboat
Kids love boats, in particular, if there is no risk of seasickness. From Camden Markets, embark on a short trip to Little Venice, a beautiful maze of canals north of Paddington. This more enchanting part of the city shows a very different side of London which you will all love.
Tip: Companies like London Water Bus also stop halfway in the middle of London Zoo. You can pay the boatsman when getting off at the zoo and be immediately surrounded by the animals. A great way to combine Camden, a boat tour and the zoo all in one go.
Camden Town is one of the hot spots for street art. As it is with most street art locations, all you need to do is stray away from the main roads and explore the side streets. The late singer Amy Winehouse loved Camden Town, and you will see many pictures of her all around the area. Also, check out the Amy Winehouse memorial right in the centre of Camden Markets.
In the afternoon, you are free to do whatever you please. Visit the Zoo by narrowboat from Camden, try the excellent Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Garden in Kensington, or go on a self-guided Harry Potter walking tour.
Day 3: London’s East End
Our last day takes us to Shoreditch in London’s East End. Again, not an obvious choice, but Shoreditch is great for exploring some of London’s best street art. It also has a funky vibe to it due to the area’s colourful past. At the same time, Shoreditch is gentrifying at a neck-breaking speed, so now is a good time to explore before things change for the worse.
We took the kids to the area around Brick Lane mainly to explore Shoreditch’s street art scene. The artwork on the house fronts change on a regular basis, so of course, it’shard to give recommendations. Try searching the area in a zig-zag fashion by combing the side streets and alleys around Brick Lane. You will find some of the most recognisable artists here, for example, Banksy, ROA, and Invader.
You could also book a street art walking tour, but my children are not very patient and would easily get bored. Just exploring on our own and turning the experience into something resembling an Easter Egg hunt served us just fine.
Many fantastic shops have found their way to Brick Lane, and a lot of them are surprisingly family-friendly. For a sweet treat, check out Dark Sugars Chocolates; and Luna and Curious has a wonderful selection of children’s clothes.
Boxpark is a collection of shipping containers that are re-purposed to market and food stalls. Definitely worth a visit! A market and contemporary art exhibitions can also be found at the site of the Old Truman Brewery.
For 350 years, Spitalfields Market has served the public as a market for fruit and vegetables. Today, it is home to a wealth of arts and crafts, fashion, and food. The Traders’ Market is great if you are after bespoke children’s toys and cute clothes, world food for the whole family, and handcrafted cupcakes.
Nomadic Community Garden
This community-driven initiative must be included in the guide. You will find the Nomadic Community Garden tucked away between the railway tracks, a lovely garden Eden that offers a free green space to the local community. You can have a slice of cake and a nice English cup of tea here while the kids explore the re-purposed boat which serves as a makeshift playground.
In the afternoon, pick something that the kids would love to do. We suggest a trip to Greenwich to explore the Cutty Sark and the Observatory and National Martime Museum complex – get a combo ticket and be a pirate for a day!