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London with children

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Get around[edit]

Oyster Card in use
  • The Tube: The tube is poorly equipped in elevators, if you're travelling with a stroller you may be in for staircase fun. The tube is generally free for all children under the age of 11 though the child must be accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket or an oyster card. Children traveling free enter through a manned gate (usually at one end of a bank of turnstiles) because they do not have tickets. Children 11-15 have the option of buying a child rate ticket (usually half the adult rate) or buying a Child Photo Oyster Card that gives unlimited travel for a day for £1. Unfortunately, it takes up to two weeks to get this photo card so, if your trip is for a short duration, you'll have to make do with the child rate.
  • Bus: Since June 2008, an Oyster Photocard is re-quired for children over 11. For visitors, the practical implication is that you'll have probably have to buy child rate tickets for children over 11. Strollers may have to be folded or may be denied access to crowded buses. Majority of bus designs represented are not stroller-friendly.

Taxi: A ride in a London black cab is exciting by itself for kids of all ages but, for the stroller parents, it is a delight! Almost any stroller can be wheeled into its capacious interior with the sleeping child safely strapped inside. Cabs can be expensive however, with even the shortest ride coming in at over £5.

Boat: The Thames has been a major 'Avenue' in London for centuries and there are many interesting boat trips that can also get you from place to place. The easiest ride is the 'Tate to Tate' which takes 20 minutes to get from Tate Britain to Tate Modern. A perfect way to break up a one day tour of both museums. With older kids, a trip to Greenwich is sure to be on the agenda, so why not take the ferry from Embankment for a 40 minute ride to Greenwich. The most famous trip of them all is the three or four hour ride between Hampton Court and Westminster with a stop at Kew Gardens as the perfect place for a picnic!

See and Do[edit]

The Tower, a favorite for children.
  • Museums Backpacks with fun and educational activities for children of all ages, audio guides with walking tours specially designed for children, and guided tours for kids are some of the highlights for kids in the various museums of London. Because most of these museums, arguably the best in the world, are free and have walk-in access with no let or hindrance, it is easy to spend an hour (the limit for most children) without worrying about making full use of your money. Note that the family activities at most museums are geared for Londoners and are mostly available on Sundays and School holidays. So call the museum or check online before you go. Backpacks are usually available every day. Museums with special programs for children include:
    • The British Museum [1] has special classes and programs for children, usually during school holidays. Art material (paper, crayons) is available for borrowing from the information desk in the Great Court. Backpacks with trails and activities tailored for different age groups are also available.
    • The National Gallery [2] has trails and art classes for children above five (on Sundays and bank holidays) and storytelling with an art theme for the under fives. Head for the Education Center at the museum.
    • The Victoria and Albert Museum [3] has backpacks, trails, and educational programs geared toward children. An 'Activity Cart' rotates through the galleries with a host of fun, gallery specific things to do for younger children.
  • War Museums Teenagers (boys in particular) will enjoy visiting the many museums to war and the armed forces scattered around London.
    • The RAF Museum [4] in North-West London has sopwith camels from the First World War and spitfires, messerschmitts, stuka dive-bombers, zeros from the Second World War, along with every plane ever flown in battle. A sound and light show presentation of the Battle of Britain is a perfect coda to a visit.
    • The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms [5] next to St. James Park and 10 Downing Street give a sense of life during the Battle of Britain and teens will marvel at how primitive the best technology of the time appears today!
    • HMS Belfast [6] , a world war two era cruiser, would be a big draw for teenage boys by itself but it also has many family friendly activities for the younger kids.
    • The Imperial War Museum [7] (not suitable for younger children) has galleries devoted to the various wars the Britain has fought and a special one on the holocaust.
  • Science and nature museums Victorian London was a hotbed of science and technological development and, along with excellent museums, there are many interesting smaller museums that kids may find interesting.
The Natural history Museum, London.
    • The Natural History Museum [8], while not as large as the one in New York, is known for its innovative exhibitions and shows. So do check their website for what's going on during your London trip. Along with the usual fare of dinosaurs, stuffed mammals and the like, the innovative 'Human Biology' section is a must for older kids. Explorers activity backpacks are available at the information desk (younger kids, 4-7).
    • The Science Museum [9] With hundreds of interactive exhibits and special areas for little kids, the Science Museum has something for all children. The Garden (in the basement), a discovery area for small kids (3-5) lets kids have fun in water while insidiously educating them about energy. In Pattern Pod, the 5-7 year olds play with exhibits and learn to recognize patterns. In the basement, the highly popular Launch Pad appeals to kids of all ages with things to push, pull, and see what happens. With many old railway engines, including George Stephenson's Rocket, on hand, there is lots to see and do at The Science Museum.
    • London Transport Museum
  • Boating Take the kids boating in Regent's Park or Hyde Park. The older kids can try their hand at rowing at the Boating Pond (with swans, ducks, and other avian creatures for company) in Regent's Park or at the Serpentine in Hyde Park while the little ones can hop onto the yellow paddle boats in the children's boating pond in Regent's Park.
  • Swimming Ever thought of swimming in a public pond? You can't do that in New York's Central Park, but both Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath allow swimming in ponds. At the Heath, there are separate ponds designated for Ladies, for Gents, and for mixed bathers, and these are open for swimming between April and December. In Hyde Park, a small corner of the Serpentine is designated for swimming and is open to the public in summer.
  • Fishing
  • Horse riding is a fine English pastime and Hyde Park Stables [10] offers group and solo rides, including lessons, on Rotton Row in Hyde Park (£49 and up for an hour). The stables are at the north end of Hyde Park off Bayswater Road.
  • Playgrounds For the younger set (1-7 year olds), there are many playgrounds in London Parks. Regent's Park has several, with the one between London Mosque and the Boating Lake being the most popular. The place to visit is, of course, the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Park near her Kensington Palace home. With a huge wooden pirate ship in the center of the park this playground is a grand and fun place for the tots!
One of the Residents at London Zoo, Regents Park
  • Zoos The London Zoo [11]: At Regent's Park, the London Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world. With Tigers, Giraffes, Snakes, Bears, and now Gorillas in a relatively small easy to cover area, the Zoo is a nice place to be on a pleasant afternoon. A small carousel in the zoo works well for the two to six set.
  • Sport Cricket, football (soccer) and tennis are the three sports most associated with London. Lord's cricket ground [12] is the most famous cricket ground in the world and an easy, fun, and relatively inexpensive way to introduce your child to cricket is to take in a Twenty20 match in the summertime.

Buy[edit][add listing]

London used to be famous for quirky toy stores but rising real-estate prices and the internet have resulted in the demise of most of them. For now, Hamley's [13] on Regent Street is a London toy institution that is worth a visit and, of course, both Harrod's and John Lewis have excellent toy departments. For a slightly quirkier toy shopping experience there's Forbidden Planet [14] between Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square, which has an upstairs dedicated to toys for sci-fi, fantasy, video games and anime, and a downstairs of comics, DVDs and pulp novels. For sheet music geared toward children, a visit to Chappell of Bond Street (or Chappell's as they are more commonly known) [15] is worth the trip.

Eat[edit][add listing]

Many London restaurants have special menus for children. While the fare is not always healthy, the portions are smaller and cheaper and are useful for saving some money. London restaurants are expensive, so do ask for a children's menu.

  • Pubs Many London pubs, especially in the residential areas, are child friendly in the early evenings and weekend afternoons and are a good escape with small children. Look for a neighborhood pub with outdoor seating and you can spend a nice afternoon with a beer or two to wash down a spicy Thai lunch or an old fashioned roast while the kids run around in the open air.
  • Pizza Zizzi and Pizza Express are the two local pizza chains and both are child friendly with the usual bag of goodies (crayons, paper, puzzles) that will keep the tykes busy and a kids menu that will help keep your expenses under control. Cafe Uno, a pizza and pasta chain, is another child friendly alternative with branches all over the city.

Picnic food[edit]

Nothing can be better than a picnic in one of London's many parks on a fine summer day! To make up a basket, look for cheap and serviceable sandwiches, etc. at the various Tesco Express stores dotted over the city or, for more gourmet fixings, visit a Waitrose store or a Simply Food (Marks and Spencers) store.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

(Please include only those hotels that you think a family with kids may have a special reason to stay at (a playroom, babysitting services, listening services, special rate for kids, etc.))

Stay safe[edit]

Londoners and their city are on the whole pretty safe, although here are some things children or their parents may well not enjoy.

  • Rush hour between 7AM-9:30AM and 4:30PM to 7PM it's not a good idea to try and get anywhere, tubes are topped up and buses are busy, expect taxis to be scarce as well, a good way to avoid this is to go to some of the museums, such as the Natural History or the British, which tend to stay open to around 7PM.
  • Outlying districts 'London's streets are paved with gold'; well here they are not, more likely litter.
  • Evenings and nights London is one of the worlds and of course the UKs great party capitals, so expect rowdiness on a Friday and Saturday night.
  • Keep children under close control when walking on the streets and especially when on public transport. In the rush you may get separated, and commuters are generally unlikely to stop to help.

Get out[edit]

  • Mazes The area around London is dotted with garden mazes that will delight kids over five years old. Hampton Court [16] (South West train from Waterloo and then a very short walk to the palace) has the most famous, if rather simple to solve, maze of them all (a copy of Three men in a boat will add to the trip, especially if you go by boat!) and the palace, gardens, and maze can all be visited in a half-day trip from London. Leeds Castle [17] in Maidstone is a little further away (National Express runs a bus from Victoria and Southeastern runs trains to Bearsted Station) has two mazes, one quite difficult and one designed for very small children. Allow the better part of a day for the visit. Hever Castle [18] has two mazes: a garden maze that is quite hard so expect to make a few wrong turns, and a water maze that will keep the little ones busy for hours (bring a swimsuit!). The easiest way to get to Hever is by car or taxi from Edenbridge Town but a more exciting alternative is to head for Hever station from London Bridge (towards 'Uckfield')and then tramp across the fields to the castle (about one mile), fun for everyone on a nice day!
  • Windsor Castle/Queen Mary's Dollhouses The home of the Royals, Windsor Castle is exciting enough on its own but, for the doll loving set nothing can beat the intricate dollhouses (complete with toasters to working chandeliers and miniature paintings) that belong to Queen Mary. Designed by Sir Edward Lutyens (the designer of New Delhi), the houses are complete in every detail possible. Frequent trains depart from London Paddington to Windsor and Eton (change at Slough) but do book your castle entrance tickets online before you go because the crowds can be quite heavy.

Theme Parks[edit]

London's huge population needs to relax sometime and various parks have set up to let people unwind - there are numerous smaller ones, but the below are 'the big three'

  • Legoland Windsor [19] just like the other lego land park around the world, built in 1996 with three rollercoasters and six water rides, this is a paradise for boys and girls alike. It's best in summer, but even in other seasons it is still popular; in summer it can get very crowded (and is more expensive there) to get there by road Legoland Windsor is on the B3022 Windsor/Ascot road just two miles from Windsor town center. It's easily reached via the M25 and clearly signed from the M3 (Junction 3), M4 (Junction 6) and all approach roads. Parking is free, but for those who want to park closer to the entrance there is a £5.00 charge; to get there by train Windsor station is served by trains from both Waterloo and Paddington, a bus service from the station is available to take people to the park. Prices are from £34.00 an adult (£26.00 for child). It is usually possible to get cheaper tickets at www.lastminute.com
  • Thorpe Park [20] while aimed at older children and adults this park still has plenty for younger children, including 14 rides for young people (for thrill seekers there is the worlds most inverted coaster and various rides to make your lunch re-appear). the park can be reached by road Thorpe Park is situated between junctions 11 and 13 of the M25 - it is clearly signposted, but can't be reached using junction 12. by Train the easiest way is from Waterloo direct to Staines. The 950 shuttle link operates from Staines station to the Park running every half hour. for entrance to the park prices are from £22.00 an adult (less for children).

NB:The petting zoo and farm have now closed down.

  • Chessington World of Adventures [21] with plenty of rides this varied park is a favourite for family from across southern UK; it has rides ranging from coasters to teacups; to get there by car Chessington is situated 12 miles from London on the A243, just 2 miles from the A3 and M25 (junction 9 or 10). Car parking is free.
    • From the South, take M25 junction 9
    • From the North, take M25 junction 10
    • From London, take the A3 to Hook - Chessington is sign posted on the A243

and by train regular South West Train services run from Waterloo, Clapham Junction and Wimbledon. Take the train to Chessington South Station. The park is approximately 10 minutes walk from the station. Please note Chessington closes during the winter

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