Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Europe (
-   -   London, with kids--fine tuning my list (

skatterfly Jan 15th, 2015 05:38 PM

London, with kids--fine tuning my list
Hi everyone,
We'll be in London in May for 6 nights before taking the Eurostar to Paris with our two girls, 9 and 12. I know it's not long enough (it's never enough), but we know we will return. So we're focusing on the things the kids will be most drawn to. We've tried not to jam in too much. It's the girls' first time to London and my second. We're staying in an apartment near Gloucester Road Tube station.

Here's a list of what we think are our "must sees", followed by some other possibilities, and a list of the things we probably won't get to. Am I missing anything? Would you do something different? Any other suggestions?

<u>Our "Must Sees"</u>
--Natural History Museum... close to our apartment and probably one of the first places we visit after we get settled into the apartment.
--British Museum... we'll go here at least once, though possibly break it into 2 shorter visits (not to mention it's open late on friday nights). My 12 year old is learning all about Egypt in school... she's like the Teddy Ruxpin of Egypt facts these days... so this is a must see.
--London Eye...not sure what lines are like these days, but the kids want to do this. Should I splurge for the advance tickets that let you ride whenever you want (i.e. no line)... or just take my chances?
--Harry Potter Studio tour... absolutely not going to miss this. If we get a 10 am tour, we should be able to get back into London by early afternoon afternoon.
--Tower of London... we'll get there early.
--Walking through Hyde Park, Kensington Park, Green Park, St James Park
--Walk by Buckingham Palace... but we'll probably just walk by the Palace and not wait for hours in the crowd for a spot to watch the changing of the guards ceremony. Or, we might go to the Horse Guards ceremony if we're in the neighborhood.
--Walk through Harrods (food halls, toy dept, etc) OR Fortnum & Mason food halls OR Hamley's... depending on where we are any given day

<u>Will probably do</u>
--Hop on Hop off bus... I see lots of pros and cons online re: the HOHO bus, but generally feel like it could be a good thing for day 2 if jetlag sets in, and a great way to get an overview of the city and drive by some of the most notable London landmarks (Big Ben, Parliament, St Paul's, Trafalgar Square, etc) that we might not otherwise seek out on foot in such a short visit. And both of the big HOHO bus companies include a Thames tour, which would be nice to do once. But we're going to leave this up in the air until we're there and see how we feel, but I'm leaning towards doing this.

<u>Other possibilities, still deciding</u>
--Kensington Palace OR Hampton Court Palace... I was all set to put Kensington Palace on my must see list. (I especially thought the girls might enjoy the gown exhibit... but the reviews are quite underwhelming.) Even though we're only in London for 5 days, we are now wondering whether we should include a half day trip out to HCP. The girls *love* palaces and loved the Loire Valley chateaux... so this might be a lot of fun. And even if we skip HCP, we may still skip Kensington Palace.

--Evensong (St Paul's or Westminster Abbey). One of my favorite experiences on my last trip was listening to the glorious choral Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral (with the older child, then a toddler, cuddled in my lap). But now, I'm not so sure the kids would sit still for the entire service. And both churches now charge a very high fee for a visit, so we'll probably skip them otherwise.

--Victoria & Albert Museums... not sure the kids will be into another museum, but if we did one more museum on the trip it'd probably be the V&A.

<u>Things we'll consciously skip this trip</u>
--Live Theater... none of us are all that into live performances. If we really need to see Stomp or Matilda, we can do them this summer here in SF.
--Science Museum... we have already been to great science museums here in the US.
--British War Rooms
--Trafalgar Square & Covent Garden
--National Gallery

What else am I missing?

janisj Jan 15th, 2015 07:56 PM

>>-Victoria & Albert Museums... not sure the kids will be into another museum,<<

There is a lovely clothing gallery in the V&A so if you skip Kensington Palace the girls can still get a fancy dress fix if you want.

I'd definitely skip the H-o-H-o bus (unless you want to do it the afternoon of your arrival day and are too pooped to walk much.) The time you'd waste on the buses stuck in traffic you could see one or two of the other great sites in London.

HCP is magnificent, but you probably won't have time for it.

I'd take the girls to Covent Garden for sure -- the street performers/buskers are great fun.

As for the Eye, the lines shouldn't be too bad in May. But you can always book tix on the day by phone or on-line. Since you aren't going to theatre, the Eye is a good thing to do in the early evening after other tourist sites/museums are closed for the day so it doesn't take away from other sightseeing. Sunset is nearly 9PM so it will still be daylight.

sandralist Jan 15th, 2015 09:17 PM

I would pick St James Park over any other park, especially on a nice day at lunch time when everyone can appreciate how well the park is used and loved by Londoners.

Although it looks to me like your agenda is already full (nothing wrong with that) but I feel that a boat ride on the Thames gives a feeling for historic London and is just plain fun on a nice day. I've never been on the Eye, so maybe seeing the Thames from that perspective, as well as walking over a few bridges might be enough, but I feel that the river is an essential aspect of the city and its history. I believe you can take the boat to Hampton Court Palace.

Finally, my loathing for Harrod's may be beyond all reason, and if you have been and enjoyed it, then ignore me, but I would go anywhere but. I don't know where you are coming from, but huge food displays and markets are now so common all over the world, and just about as denatured as airports, I would be looking for something utterly unique to London if shopping is on the agenda -- quirky, crazy, fun or farmer and organic. Or skip it in favor of Hampton Court Palace or some other city marvel.

skatterfly Jan 15th, 2015 09:19 PM

Thanks for the feedback, Janis.
If I can't get to HCP, would you also say skip Kensington Palace?


janisj Jan 15th, 2015 09:31 PM

HCP is by far the better site . . . But Kensington Palace is practically on your doorstep. Plus there is the gown exhibition. So - HCP is better, but Kens Palace might be more practical. You don't have to decide -- wait til you are in London for 1) what the weather is like and 2) see how the time is going. If it is really wet you might skip HCP. And if you are running out of time you could skip both.

Re the Eye -- If you book on-line or by phone on the day it will be a timed ticket so essentially no queue.

Re the parks. St James's, Green, Kensington Garden, Hyde Park are all linked together and each has something to recommend it. If you are at Buckingham Palace, then St James's is a no brainer. But for size/sites/flowers/the Serpentine/horses/Peter Pan etc etc - I'd make Hyde Park/Kens Gardens the first option.

Tulips Jan 15th, 2015 10:25 PM

I went to Kensington Palace recently with some friends, and we all enjoyed it. Nice exhibition around the Queen Victoria, and there are dresses worn by the Queen, Princess Diana, Princess Margaret. Try to catch one of the talks done by the guides.

Timed ticket on the Eye; as Janisj says, book on the day, if weather's not good you won't see much.

One of my favorite things in London is starting at Borough Market in the morning - have breakfast there - and walking along the river past the Globe, the Tate. Then either cross the Millenium Bridge to St Paul's, or continue towards the Eye. It's a very nice walk. In the weekend, there are lots of street performers.

flanneruk Jan 15th, 2015 10:46 PM

"my loathing for Harrod's may be beyond all reason"

Impossible. No kind of loathing for Horrid's can be beyond reason.

Unless you live in a completely shop-devoid desert it's impossible to see the point of wasting time in it. Even then: it'd have to be a desert without shops AND without an internet connection.

The 12 year old (and, sadly, very likely the 9 year old as well) will probably be far more interested in window shopping the clothes shops, especially along Oxford St and Regent St. Uninformed adults will tell you they're all the same everywhere these days: you have to be senile to believe such tosh. Many over 25 are: almost no-one under 25 is any more.

annhig Jan 15th, 2015 10:55 PM

not much to add except to drop the HOHO bus, and get the no 11 instead. hop on it at Victoria, and it will take you all the way to Liverpool street station via all those tourist hot spots for a fraction of the price.

obviously you don't need to go all the way to L'pool street, you could get off at St Paul's for example. or follow Tulips plan to go to Borough Market, cross the river to St Pauls' and get the bus back to Westminster. With a transport pass of some sort, you could hop on and off as often as you like.

And yes you can get the boat to Hampton Court, and lovely to do it on a nice sunny day, but it does take quite a long time, so you might want to get the train there [about 40 mins from Waterloo] and get the boat back. there are some offers for combined rail and entry tickets if you're interested:

skatterfly Jan 15th, 2015 11:06 PM

Hi folks, thanks to you all for the feedback. Glad to hear there's nothing terribly glaringly awful about our ideas. I've tried not to overpack it and attempt see "everything." I've already traveled enough to know that with children, you typically can see only a fraction of what you want to see. So I've adjusted for that.

Our last trip to London (when the oldest was just a baby) was a 10 day trip during which I spent a lot of my time walking around with the stroller. We were there to visit an in-law who had his first "big" job in London, and there was a lot of family time.

BTW, I was thinking of showing the kids Harrods simply as a quirky experience of complete over the top excess, not to actually shop there. And I figured since it's right there, so close to our flat, it's worth a stroll through for the novelty factor. But perhaps I'll skip it, or trade that for some time letting them actually shop in more realistic setting. Are there still good kids/tween clothing stores on Kensington High Street?

I was also thinking of carving some time out of each day to walk through the parks depending on what neighborhood we're in, just so the kids have some green space to break up the urban experience. I agree... I love St. James park and how well it's enjoyed by Londoners. It's also where my now 12 year old uttered her second word: "birds". (Her first word was the day before in Russell Square, where she pointed to a red double decker and said "bus.")

Glad to hear that Kensington Palace isn't so awful. I was thinking the girls would love the dress exhibit and I'd enjoy the sunken garden... but then some of the yelp reviews were quite critical. As much as HCP would be wonderful, it doesn't make sense to go there with just 5 days. (And we'll already spend half a day going out to the Harry Potter studios.)

I'll start thinking of some good walking/tube routes that will allow us to walk by the important landmarks that we'd otherwise see on the HoHo... in particular Big Ben/Parliament. And I'll investigate options for a short Thames tour, because I agree that is a really important way to see London.


sandralist Jan 15th, 2015 11:07 PM

If you go to Hampton Court, I agree that it makes sense to use the train for one leg of the journey rather than a boat both ways. But when I took the same boat to Kew, the boat operators took a poll of the passengers as to whether they would like to hear a commentary about the river Thames, its history, the bridges and the bargemen -- and since the majority voted yes, the pilot of the boat provided a commentary (which was quite lively and interesting and opinionated!) On the return trip, the same offer was made, and the majority voted "no".

I would look at the weather before deciding whether to pick boat first or train first -- but arriving by boat anywhere is rather fun, so I might still opt for boat to get there, train to leave. (Tough call, actually!)

sandralist Jan 15th, 2015 11:13 PM


we were writing at the same time. Your reasons for wanting them to glimpse Harrod's do make sense, but if you haven't been there in the while, it really is shopping on steroids with lots of crowds -- and, as you point out, unaffordable so you'll be saying "no" pretty much all the time. If you prep them for the set-up about window shopping only and then whisk them off for a more affordable splurge, I can see it working. Sorry I can't answer your question about suitable targets for shopping fun.

I am sweet on the geese in St James Park (another minority opinion!) but I like your plan to use the great green spaces of London as much as possible. To me they are just as important to the fabric of London's history as any other architectural sight you can name. If Holland Park is convenient, it is also a treat.

kawh Jan 15th, 2015 11:18 PM

just want to say that your kids are the perfect age for 'matilda' and london is where the play started and will have a stunning cast. you probably won't easily be able to get tix in s.f.... so if you find that you want an evening activity i would put it back on the list.

i am not a huge roald dahl fan, and hubbie was not happy about seeing a musical in london that features mostly kids... but we both were nuts for this play. it's smart and funny and dark and uplifting.

but your list looks really good. will recommend restaurant 'Ottolenghi' because it's deli style and kids can all get whatever looks good to them. a few london locations and just delicious food.

Tulips Jan 16th, 2015 02:49 AM

Teenagers love Topshop, particularly the flagship store on Oxford Circus. If the eldest doesn't fit into the clothes yet, they have a lot of accessories too.
And if you're in that area; Liberty's is a great store, much nicer than Harrods.

nytraveler Jan 16th, 2015 09:08 AM

Agree Covent Garden is a great place for kids to explore, lots of street entertainment and some shops for tween/teen shopping (our 11 and 14 DDS loved it).

I would not do the Natural History Museum is you have been to others - the one in London doesn't compare to many others.

I would consider the Museum of London which has a lot of interesting exhibits including some interactive ones,

bilboburgler Jan 16th, 2015 09:37 AM

Libertys might be a better shop to visit

or Hamleys

Horrids, never

Cathinjoetown Jan 16th, 2015 10:49 AM

St James Park is so pretty, you could combine it with watching the bands and mounted guards arrive for the changing of the guard--they will be in formation and playing their instruments. No need to join the throng close to the gates, stand on the southeast corner facing the palace (Victoria moument to your right).

One group will come down the Mall and the other will come from your left, unless it's changed in the last 3-4 years. Once they 're inside the gates you can't see anything unless you've been waiting there for ages.

I love Hampton Court Palace but agree with Janis that you'll be stretched for time. It's a day or 3/4 day excursion.

annhig Jan 16th, 2015 11:35 AM

oh yes, Liberty's. I've spent many an hour happily not buying anything there, apart from a few scarves, and the odd bit of costume jewellery. Another interesting store, especially if you like design, is Heal's, up Tottenham Court Road - worth going for a look at the windows alone.

latedaytraveler Jan 16th, 2015 12:18 PM


Sounds as if you folks will have a wonderful time in London. A few suggestions:

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HOUSE MUSEUM, near Trafalgar Square. The house where Franklin lived for decades presents an "historical experience" (1pm, 2pm, 3.15pm and 4.15pm Wednesday through Sunday all year round.) The show lasts about a half hour using lighting effects, sound technology, and narration by a young actress - very effective and should appeal to children. £7, children free.

ROYAL MEWS, attached to BUCKINGHAM PALACE, houses the fairytale coaches used at coronations, limousines (including the one that Kate Middleton rode to "the" wedding), and, of course, enormous "working" horses that serve the royal family on state occasions.

I am among those who enjoyed taking the HOHO bus for a great overview of this vast city, especially on a bright day. The river cruise that goes with it, gives you an historical perspective too.

I would totally avoid the V & A unless you had interest in a specific collection - it's vast and overwhelming!

Agree - the parks are beautiful and will give the kids a chance to let off some steam between other attractions.

Enjoy London....

skatterfly Jan 16th, 2015 10:16 PM

Thank you all for the great ideas! Super helpful.
I had a chance to discuss it all with the hubs and formulate some clearer plans.

Re: the HoHo bus... nixed it. We always notice the forlorn/bored tourists stuck in the buses in SF traffic, and we don't need to do that in London. Maybe it worked when we had a jetlagged baby, but we don't need it this trip.

Harrods... nixed it. Too many other interesting things to see. (Love the suggestion of Liberty... I love me some Liberty fabrics.)

HCP... we'll have to skip this trip. Also skipping V&A this trip.

We'll keep Kensington Palace as an option, but leave it for our last day so that we have the option to drop it if we get overloaded the other days.

Love the suggestion of the Royal Mews (the kids will love to see the carriages!)

I agree that a Thames River cruise, even one direction, provides a great way to see London. Maybe after we visit Tower of London?

London Eye... either after the Tower of London, or after walking around Buckingham Palace/Royal Mews. I think it'll depend on our energy level and the weather.

Re: Shopping... we're not terribly brand-obsessed or expecting to buy lots of "things"... but there seems to be a good cluster of shopping (or window-shopping) options between Bond Street/Oxford Circus tube stations and Mayfair. Some combination of Hamleys, Liberty, Selfridges, or whatever else strikes our fancy.

There's also probably some shopping options for the girls on Kensington High Street, which we can also do after Kensington Palace our last day.

The kids and DH actually *hate* live theater performances and I can confidently exclude that from this trip.

And the Natural History Museum will be perfect for the day we land. Even if all we do is see the dinosaurs and a few other exhibits and look up at the architecture (which is very evocative of "Night At the Museum" which the kids love), I know we'll all benefit from getting out and walking around that first day after we're settled in to the flat.

All that said, we figured we should plan no more than 1 main activity a day, then fill in with secondary activities.

<b>Here's what I've narrowed down, with your help:</b>

--Arrival day (@LHR by noon)--check in & Natural History Museum
--Day 1--Tower of London in AM (river cruise to Parliament Bldgs/Big Ben OR London Eye)
--Day 2--British Museum in AM (then shopping Bond St/Liberty/Selfridges/Mayfair OR just relax in park if jet lag settles in)
--Day 3--Harry Potter Studio in AM (maybe do a 2nd quick trip to British Museum since we arrive back at Euston station OR shop OR just quiet/park time)
--Day 4--Buckingham Palace, Royal Mews, St James Park (then London Eye OR Parliament Buildings/Big Ben & waterfront walk)
--Day 5--Kensington Palace in AM (then shopping OR final walk through Hyde Park & pack)

janisj Jan 16th, 2015 11:15 PM

>>--Day 1--Tower of London in AM (river cruise to Parliament Bldgs/Big Ben OR London Eye) <<

>>--Day 4--Buckingham Palace, Royal Mews, St James Park (then London Eye OR Parliament Buildings/Big Ben & waterfront walk)<<

Re both of those notes: No need for the "OR's". Big Ben/Parliament are simply 'walk by's" and are directly across the river from the Eye. The Eye takes exactly 30 minutes (maybe 40 mins when you factor in collecting your tix from the ticket office). So no matter how busy or relaxed your days are you would have time for Big Ben/Parliament/the Eye at the same time. In fact it would be inconvenient to split them into different days.

Just plan on doing Big Ben/The Eye on day 1 and then if you don't make it, fit them in on day 4. The Tower/a boat ride/Parliament/Big Ben/the Eye/a riverside walk would be a lovely day and not at all rushed/hectic.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:35 PM.