London with kids

The Best Things to do in London with Kids

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A family wedding brought us to England and the Midlands, but we knew we needed to use the opportunity to take the kids to London.  For us budget travelers, London was a scary idea and while the costs were much more than we would usually spend in a developing country, we were able to stick to a reasonable budget.

London has so many amazing things to do with kids – many of them free or low cost.  There are definitely lots of expensive attractions, especially when you take into consideration the exchange rate.  We chose a few more expensive activities and sprinkled that with just walking around and some free activities.

One of the main attractions of London for our kids was Harry Potter attractions and it was really magical visiting the sets and film locations where the movies were filmed.  I have included a whole seperate section of the best Harry Potter themed activities to do in London with kids.

We had 3 full days in London, which is the minimum I would suggest.  There are so many important landmarks you will want to visit, spread out across the city.  We would have loved to stay even longer, but by keeping our visit short, we were able to control costs. If you have longer, read this guide to 7 days in London with kids.

We think it is definitely worth staying in central London and this guide to London neighborhoods will help you pick the perfect spot to base yourselves.

The Best Things to do in London with Kids

Afternoon Tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel

One of the most classic English experiences is afternoon tea and we were so happy to find the family-friendly tea served at St. Ermin’s.  The Gardeners kids tea is inspired by the hotel’s rooftop gardens with its artfully prepared sweets.  We nibbled on dainty tea sandwiches, practicing holding our tea cups with our pinkie out and smothered our scones in rich clotted cream and home made jam.  St. Ermin’s is the perfect choice for afternoon tea in London with kids with its posh atmosphere, well-priced kids tea and kid-friendly service.

You can read our full review in this post. 15 pounds/children, 29 pounds/adults

Explore the Markets

London offers a huge variety of markets that are perfect for delicious street food, finding unique treasures or even just your British souvenirs.

Borough Market is foodie heaven with fresh breads, produce and foods from around the world.  This is a great place to grab lunch where every one in the family can find their favourite foods.  Open Wednesday to Saturday, we could have eaten here every day.

Sunday mornings in London are quiet, but head to Camden Markets for all of the action.  The cute canals are the perfect setting to sample the food stalls at Stables Market.  There were so many yummy looking things, it was hard to choose.  This was easily the best food we had in London.  The markets sprawl out throughout Camden where you can find anything from vintage shops, craft stalls, to souvenir shops.

Kid-Friendly Shopping

Shopping isn’t always a very kid-friendly activity, but luckily there are some really fun options with the kids.  Start at Hamley’s Toy Shop on Regent Street, which is the largest toy store in the world. With seven floors of every possible toy you could conceive of, this is kid-heaven.  Staff are everywhere demonstrating all the amazing toys, creating a selling machine.  The whole bottom floor is devoted to Harry Potter with flying snitches, wand lessons, Bert’s Every Flavour Beans and more.  Be warned – this is a really popular place and very crowded.  But it will bring out the kid in anyone and is definitely worth a visit.

At Leicester Square, kids will love the giant M&M Store and Lego Store. The prices may not be cheap, but is there anything more priceless than your kids’ picture on their M&Ms!?!Hamley's London

Go Green at Hyde Park

Head to the largest park in London for the kids to have a good run around and play.  Adjacent, the Diana Kensington playground is a great spot to spend a few hours.  This modern playground involves a lot of creative play spaces for kids of all ages.  We grabbed a coffee from the cafe and relaxed in the sunshine as the kids roamed this enclosed and supervised play space.Diana Kensington playground

Hop On Hop Off Bus

London was the third city we visited in two weeks and our legs were sore from all the walking.  We loved the Hop-on Hop-off bus we did with Golden Tours, which saved our legs a lot of walking.  It was a great way to see all the major London sites in one day.  The main line offers live narration, which offered lots of interesting tidbits of the sites as we saw them.  The other two lines offered audio guides, which just happens to be one of our kids’ favourite things.  They also provide an interactive App which takes the kids on a treasure hunt of all the major sites in the City.

The 24-hour pass offers good value with a free walking tour (Beatles or Royals) and hop-on hop-off boat cruise on the Thames.  I recommend picking up the blue line with the live narration and riding it all the way around its route.  We were staying in Notting Hill and Golden Tours has a morning and evening pick up and drop off route that takes you to the main routes, meaning we didn’t have to use public transit at all that day.  25 pounds/adults, 12.50 pounds/kids, 65 pounds/family (2+2)

Walking London & the Major Landmarks

You can also choose to see the major London sights by walking or taking the tube around.  We swear by the Rick Steves audio-tours that you can download for free here.

Must-See London Sights:

  • Tower Bridge – admire it along the Thames and make sure you walk across
  • Buckingham Palace – the changing of the guard is a huge highlight every day at 11 am.  Arrive 45 minutes early to get a good view.
  • Westminster Abbey – admire from the outside or splurge for a peak inside.
  • Big Ben – unfortunately it was under scaffolding while we were there, but it is a must-see when in London
  • Tate Modern Art Museum – great free activity with kids; ours loved creating on the drawing bar on the main floor.
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral – one of the most recognizable sights in London
  • Piccadilly Circus – the Times Square of London
  • Tower of London – historic castle on the Thames

Harry Potter Things to do in London with Kids

Tours for Muggles

If you have any huge Harry Potter fans, the Tour for Muggles walking tour is a great way to spend a few hours.  The guide expertly weaves interesting facts and trivia about the Harry Potter movies into visits with movie locations.  See the inspiration for Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, where the night bus flew through the city and more.  While the movie locations were interesting to see, it was the guide’s theatrical style and immense knowledge of all things Harry Potter, that kept all of us riveted.  Best for kids 6+, but equally great for passionate adult Harry fans. 14 pounds/adults, 12/pounds kid up to 11 years old.

Platform 9 ¾

Harry Potter fans will want to visit Platform 9 ¾ at the Southern Cross train station.  From doing our Tour for Muggles, we learned that the movie actually filmed between platforms 4 and 5, since platform 9 and 10 do not share a platform.  However, what most come to see is the Platform 9 ¾ run by the store of the same name where you can pose with Harry’s cart and trunk.

This is a great free thing to do in London with kids, although be prepared to bring your patience.  When we were there mid-week in August, the queue was 1.5 hours long.  We took a photo of a stranger instead posing and then headed into the very busy shop full of every Harry Potter thing you could ever want.

Check out this post for other great London Instagram spots.

Hot Tip – if you really want that photo and are visiting the Warner Brothers Tour London, you can pose there and they smartly have 3 set ups and no queue.

WB Tour London

The WB Tour London is one of the best UK attractions with kids.  Is a permanent exhibit offering behind the scene glimpses of how the movies were filmed. It involves some work to get to, as it is located on the outskirts of London, but for devout Harry Potter fans, it is pure magic.  Here you can experience the sets of the Great Hall, Platform 9 ¾ and the Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, 4 Privet Drive and more.  Kids 8+ will get the most out of the self-guided tour as there are so many details to explore.  There are many props and costumes from the movies, as well as explanations about how they created different effects or filmed various scenes.  Adults will get just as much out of the experience

Of course there is a shop where you can purchase very expensive merchandise.  Halfway through the tour, there is a canteen with reasonable food and the opportunity to taste butterbeer or even butterbeer ice cream.  This was quite the splurge for our family, but well worth it.

Plan to spend 3-4 hours there.  You will need to book tickets well in advance online.  41 pounds/adults, 33 pounds/children 5-15, 132 pounds/family (2+2).  Follow the instructions on their website for an explanation of how to get there using public transit – it takes 1.5 hours and involves transferring.

Other Great Activities in London With Kids

On our next visit, we would love to visit:

  • The Coca-Cola London Eye
  • The Tower of London
  • Windsor Castle (1 hour outside of London)
  • More Museums
  • See a Show – Harry Potter & the Cursed Child would be a dream
  • Explore more of the parks and markets

Getting Around London

London’s public transportation system is one of the best in the world and riding on the city’s red double decker buses and the tube (underground) are must-have experiences in themselves.London buses

Kids under 11 ride for free with a paying adult, so getting around on public transport is very reasonable.  You can purchase tickets for each ride at the station, but it is much more convenient to pick up an Oyster travel card when you arrive and much cheaper.  These cost 5 pounds/adult and work as a transit cash card so you don’t have to get tickets every time you ride, and you save considerably on fares.  Kids don’t need an Oyster card until they are over 10.  Use the large ticket gates when entering/exiting a station with kids.  Fares max out at 9.80 pounds per day/adult when travelling in Zones 1-4 with an Oyster card.  When done you can get a refund of the deposit and any money you haven’t spent.London tube with kids

We did take a London black cab at one point and while we loved their traditional look and that they fit 5 passengers, they are very expensive.  They do use a meter and the drivers are extremely professional, but be prepared to pay.

Where to Stay in London with Kids

We stayed in an Airbnb near Notting Hill Gate, which was good value for our family of 5.  Check out this post on the best areas to stay in London.

Our Verdict

You could spend weeks exploring all that London has to offer with kids.  It was only our second visit to London and first with the kids and with only 3 days, we stuck to the basics.  We loved just wandering around and soaking up the city in August.  While London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, there are still lots of free things to do.  Our kids are huge Harry Potter fans, so their highlights were definitely the Harry Potter attractions we visited.

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