We love getting away with the kids, we also love the hussle of a city break. Can the two be combined? Here’s my top tips for having an amazing city break in London with toddlers
Getting there is the first thing to look at. Definitely shop around to see what is going to work out the most cost effective way for you to travel. Train companies are sneaky and we found a family of four advance return for £130 with Virgin trains – even though our kids are under 5, so don’t actually have to pay, it worked over £150 more expensive to book just two adult return tickets!! Madness. If flying, be prepared for the extra cost of travelling into the city from the airport, it can add a substantial amount to your journey.
Save up enough to get a taxi from the station to your hotel. Taxis are crazily expensive in the city, but after a big journey with the kids it is worth forking out for one to get you all to the hotel with luggage rather than trying to keep hold of the kids and the cases on a bus! The kids loved the black cabs too!!
If you are going to be travelling around the city a bit then pre-book your Oyster cards for the buses and tube. This makes it much easier as buses do not accept cash. Kids under 5 were free on all transport. If you are just planning on seeing the big sights then the hop on hop off bus tours are a great way of combining an activity with travel.
For my tips for travelling with toddler check out this post –Tips for travelling with small children
Air b & b can be a great way to go if you want to keep to a budget. Just make sure you do your research on the areas you are looking at and don’t end up booking a flat in the suburbs where you will need to spend hours travelling into the city and back again each day – ok when it’s just you but with toddlers it would be manic.
Premier Inn and Travelodge have some great deals if you book in advance too.
We booked in to Park Plaza County Hall because it had some great reviews for being so family friendly. They offered a family getaway package that was fantastic. It included a gift bag for the kids on arrival giving them a fancy rucksack and vouchers to redeem at the hotel as well as an activity pack that came in handy in restaurants to keep them occupied. We also had a selection of kids movies and because we had an executive studio it let us have a bit more space and privacy. We were right beside the London Eye on the Southbank so it was perfect for walking around and getting to the sights. This was definitely not a budget option but was a great way of showing that you can still stay in style even with kids in tow!
You can’t go to London without going for Afternoon Tea. I thought this would be out the window for us for a good few years to come, then I discovered St Ermins Hotel. A grand old hotel in the heart of Westminster it is something of a phenominon in London and the history of the hotel is really facinating (if you are a bit of a spy/history lover then check out this book – House of Spies. The hotel houses the city’s only Bee Hotel which the kids loved visiting. They offer an Afternoon Tea specifically for children which you can see by the pictures below is a veritable feast for the eyes – and bellies!
They offer an ‘adults unlimited prosecco’ afternoon tea that was unbelievably good. I cannot recommend it enough. The staff were amazing with the kids, so attentive and even though the tea lounge screams 1920’s glamour, families are made to feel more than welcome. The kids receive a gift bag from Mud and Bloom with seeds and information to plant their own wild herb garden. This was possibly one of my favourite afternoons in a long time.
We also ventured into China Town one night, it was tricky with the buggy as so many restaurants are tiny and really busy so it was difficult finding the right place for us but if you do a little research it is a great experience, definitely go to BubbleWrap for pudding!
Lunch by the Serpentine was glorious in a little cafe in the sunshine we felt like we were abroad. There are just so many cafes and street food stands that you will not struggle to feed the kids. Everywhere is extremely family friendly and most places had specific allergy and dairy/gluten/vegan menus.
One night after a very hectic day we felt that the kids were too exhausted to make them sit nicely in another restaurant so we got them a takeaway McDonalds and they ate it back at the hotel in front of a movie, it was the perfect end to a busy day. (Just pack some wine and you can kick back and relax too!)
I had my activities split into wet and dry weather lists. While we were down it was uncommonly hot for September so we didn’t get to try out all these places but I have heard nothing but good reports on them.
Wet weather activities
• Natural History Museum – we did visit this place and it was fantastic. For any mini dinosaur or animal lover this museum is heaven. Big on the wow factor its exibits are something to be seen. From the giant staircase and clock that most will recognise from Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures to the interactive insect room it is a must see.
• London Transport Museum – lots of interactive displays.
• Science Museum London – has a dedicated area for pre-schoolers.
• Kidzania – indoor city playzone.
• IMAX – who doesn’t love the cinema?
Dry weather activities
• Parks. There are hundreds. Our favourites were St James’s Park near Buckingham palace, nice stroll through the parkland seeing the pelicans then a fun adventure park with a big sandpit. Also the Diana Memorial Playground was brilliant and with security on the gates it felt like the safest place to let the kids roam. All the parks have public toilets nearby and the ones beside Diana Memorial Playground are free, the rest charge up to 50p! If you are taking the kids they usually let you in for free though if they are manned.
• Bus Tour. We did the hop on hop off Original tour and it was cheaper to book online before you visit. The four different routes take in the whole of the city and we spent an entire morning on one of the main routes. The kids really enjoyed the open top and the commentary was great, especially the live guides that came on.
Our children are a bit too young for some places like The Tower of London right now but it was great doing the bus tour and getting to hear some fun facts about these places. Included in your bus tour ticket is a river boat tour, just make sure you don’t leave it too late in the day to take advantage of the boat tour or like us you will end up missing it!!
• Camden Town and Camden market. Never have I wanted to have more time in one place. Camden town is a feast for the eyes. From wacky building to even wacker shops and smells from the fruit juice stands and the street food. Maybe not an obvious choice with the kids, I won’t pretend this provided them with a lot other than viewing entertainment but it was so much fun. The market has lots of vintage and bespoke clothing and nicknacks. Some great finds and a shoppers paradise. Everyone we came across had so much time for the kids, stopping to chat to them and even letting them help out in the stalls – we definitely had a different opinion on the London people when we left!
• Southbank. Just strolling along this perfectly picturesque area was fun. Lots of buskers – that my son thought was the best form of entertainment. He gave them most of the pennies he had brought with his and danced and sang along with them.
The shops on Oxford Steet are open late all week so if you are looking for somewhere to go later on then I can recommend Hamleys toy shop. We went around 5pm and spent over an hour in store playing with all the toys on the 7 floors! A great idea to entertain the kids at random times between activities, before a meal or just before going back to your accomodation.
So there you have it. My top tips for having a city break in London with toddlers. It may not be the kind of city break you are used to, it was a big shake up for us! But it gave us the confidence to take them anywhere now. I want them to grow up having been to amazing places. To know how to behave in a manner of environments and to experience as much as possible.
We also visited the Shrek Adventure but I will be doing a seperate post about that so keep your eyes peeled.
Have you braved a city break with your toddlers? Let me know what else you would recommend.