A large department store may not be your idea of a family destination, but in a busy metropolis like London, Harrods, a luxury retailer, can provide a much-needed respite for harried parents of bored and tired little ones.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Mom

History of Harrods

Charles Henry Harrod opened his first shop with a partner south of the River Thames in 1834, which was listed as a draper (seller of fabrics), mercer, (fine cloths and silks) and haberdasher, (ribbons, buttons, lace and trim). In 1851, he opened the shop in Knightsbridge that was to become the Harrods we know today. Later Harrod’s son, also named Charles, expanded the business, purchasing the properties all around so that by 1880 Harrods had over 100 employees. What began as a single room shop with two assistants is now a block long shopping and dining complex with over 330 departments.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Department stores were destinations in the 19th century and when a fire burned the original building down in 1883, the family looked at it as an opportunity to build a bigger and more luxurious building. In 1889 the management installed the first “escalator” in England that was a conveyor belt device made from woven leather, mahogany and glass. It is said that the first nervous customers were offered brandy when the reached the top.

Harrods eventually went public on the stock exchange and was later purchased by a holding company called House of Fraser, which was then purchased by the Egyptian Fayad brothers in 1985. The Fayads owned it until they sold it in 2010 to a country in Southwest Asia called Qatar.

The store used to hold Royal Warrants (issued to those who supply goods or services to the royal family) but they were not renewed after the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayad. You can still see the Egyptian influence of the Fayad brothers in the store’s interior design, especially along the main escalators, that make if feel like more like a museum than a store.

Things To Do With Kids

photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

When you first walk into the store there is the usual hustle and bustle of a busy department store that can feel overwhelming when you have young children with you. Find the escalators and go to the second or fourth floors for kid-friendly activities, dining and shopping.

Mini-Harrods Club: This kids’ club has events and creative activities year round like designer face painting, customizing a Petit Bateau T-shirt to take home and mini-manicures with non-toxic water-based polishes. Check the website for upcoming events and details.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique: If your little princess is not feeling as glamorous as the Princess of Wales, she can get a royal make-over.

Next to this is the Disney-themed department where you can shop for their most popular properties including Star Wars. There is also a cozy nook here with seats and a TV showing children’s programming.

Memorial sculpture:  Visit the sculpture dedicated to Diana, former Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed, located at door three.

Harrod’s Family Friendly Dining

Disney Café, located on the fourth floor,  is made for kids with its kid-sized chairs and murals of Disney characters. Kids can decompress and eat Mickey Mouse-shaped pasta while watching their favorite beloved Disney films.  When we were there at the end of the day it was all calm and quiet.  It stays open until 8pm.

Pizzeria & Canti Prosecco Bar, on the second floor, has Prosecco Bellinis for mom and dad, along with gourmet pizza, authentic Italian food and a kid’s menu that won’t break the bank.

The Burger Bar, on the second floor, has family friendly fare like burgers, fries and chicken wings. If you are feeling decadent there is a Lobster Roll Thermidor for 27.95 BP.

Sweets at Harrods!

Yoo Moo, on the fourth floor, has frozen yogurt, smoothies and shakes;

Ice Cream Parlor, on the second floor, has ice cream, gelato and sorbet;

Café Godiva, also on the second floor, has hot chocolate, fondues, and of course, chocolate.

TIP: The store also has a family restroom located on the second floor.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

What to Know Before You Go

Harrods is a classy place and there are rules that visitors must follow or they may be asked to leave.

  • Refrain from wearing clothing which may reveal intimate parts of the body, or which portrays offensive pictures or writing.
  • Refrain from wearing crash helmets in the store (was this a problem?).
  • Carry small rucksacks in your hand or on your front rather than on your back or shoulder. Note: Harrods provides a Left Luggage service where large bags, rucksacks and glass slippers can be left so you can shop in comfort.
  • Refrain from eating and drinking, except in cafés and restaurants.
  • No photos allowed in the jewelry departments, Banking Hall or anywhere at the request of security personnel.
  • Unaccompanied children under the age of 15 will not be granted permission to enter the store.