Planning a Trip to London with Kids
We were beyond excited to be going to London. My son was the only one at home with me when we got the news and we jumped up and down, shouting “London! High Five!” We love traveling to cities and London has been on our list to see for a very long time. My mind was racing, thinking of all the things we should see when we’re there. I have some specific steps I go through in planning any family vacation, and here is how I applied those to planning a trip to London with kids.
Pacing and Perspective
Pause. Breathe. I refuse to see any trip as a once in a lifetime event, which often translates into a mad dash to check everything off the tourist’s list. Particularly when traveling with kids, to avoid the meltdowns, either the tantrums of the younger children or the sullenness of the older, I like to set our pace to what best suits them.
This may mean seeing some things very quickly that I ordinarily would linger over (I’m sure we set a speed record for seeing the King Tut exhibit), to spending much longer at some things that I might ordinarily have skipped over (such as spending an hour watching illegal street performers in Boston). What’s important is that we’re together, in a new place, experiencing something different, even if it’s just the local ice cream shop. And if we really love someplace, we’ll find a way to go back.
Scouting Out Bargains
I like to have a loose plan for our travels and I also love a bargain, so I started by jumping on Groupon and Living Social to sign up for specials in London. I generally hesitate to purchase coupons for restaurants — I like to be a little more spontaneous about where we eat — but both sites often have discounts for events and tours around town.
I lucked out on my first visit: there was an offer for a Ghost Bus Tour within a few blocks from our hotel. Taking a local ghost tour is one of our favorite traditions when traveling. They’re theatrical enough to engage my kids, but they also provide a lot of information and stories about the city. I also found a coupon for a sightseeing cruise on the River Thames. Perfect!
Tip: Because you most likely have only a limited time in your destination, it’s particularly important to pay attention to the fine print on these types of specials (blackout and expiration dates/times, etc.).
Finding Kid Friendly Activities
Most major cities offer a newsletter or web site that’s devoted to activities for kids for people who live in the area. These web sites are great for pointing out local events, free classes and a host of other activities for kids outside of the well known tourist stops.
For London, I particularly liked The Hopscotch Newsletter, which is emailed weekly at no cost. It’s a lovely little newsletter that starts with a weather report for the weekend, then provides little snippets of information on weekend events. The weekend we traveled included announcements of a Diwali celebration, drop in necklace-making workshops at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and the Royal Academy’s free Christmas Carol playday.
Planning for Food
Next I jumped on Chowhound to scope out places to eat. This is a great site where people who love food chat about the restaurants and markets they love in their city. I spent some time reading posts for London before posting my own plea for recommendations. Make sure to explain where you’re staying, how far you’re willing to travel, price range and your level of adventurousness with food.
I have found Chowhounds to be very friendly and willing to put some thought into restaurants that best suit your needs. Make sure to follow up afterwards with at least a quick response to let Chowhounds know where you ate; people are often interested to hear about your experience, particularly if they provided recommendations.
Drafting the Travel Itinerary
I then started drafting a list of must-dos. My mother grew up in London, so I already had some familiarity with the city, but I browsed Fodors for the list of attractions in London to refresh my memory. The Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye immediately made the list. Dagenham and Philpot Lane were on there too, so my kids could see where their grandmother grew up and worked. I worried that I planned too much. The days should be fun, but taking in so many new sites and sounds can be exhausting for kids.
I ended up with a Top Three list; if we just saw those three things, I’d be happy. And for those sites that didn’t make our list, I’ve already started my list for our next trip to London.
- Read about other family vacations to London.
- See all of our vacation photos from London.
- Find out how we get other travel discounts and deals.
- Get more travel planning tips.
Andrea is a single mom in Arlington, Virginia with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just four…