Sometimes the best trips are the most laid back. In a city like London, random wandering can yield the stuff of Dropbox memories. Here, a regular visitors shares the discoveries she made by taking it slow on her last visit to London with kids.
I’ve hustled my kids to every London landmark. This year, I decided to ditch the psychotic sightseeing and live in the moment. My master plan was to have one destination per day and spend the rest of the time wandering the high streets and hidden mews.
Museum Hopping in London with Kids
The Museum of Natural History Museum and British Museum. (All national museums are free of charge) were deemed cool by my teen. I love the National Portrait Gallery where you can browse portraits of British royalty from the 16th Century to the present (including Kate Middleton’s).
After perusing, park yourself in front of the computers and let the kids research aristocrats’ lineage on the museum’s “portrait explorer” program.
Another little-known gem is The Wallace Collection, a former family mansion turned museum. It’s fun to prowl the ancient Victorian house, still set with period furniture. The European Armoury Collection is a draw for kids, especially the reproduction chain mail they can try on.
Taking a Break in London with Kids
Lunchtime concerts are a thing in London. When energy is flagging, pop into St Johns Smith Square or St Martins in the Fields for 45 minutes of chill out chamber music.
The London Eye and a Hop on, Hop off bus tour that stops at most landmark attractions like Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, are two other good ways to sightsee while resting.
Window Shopping in London with Kids
To get a taste of old school London, meander through posh Jermyn Street, home to the crown’s favorite luxury brands. As you spy the “by appointment to the queen” crest (this is a royal warrant that signifies the height of excellence) you can teach your children about history and “royal” culture.
Highlights include: tasting artisanal cheeses and chutneys at “cheesemonger to the crown” Paxton & Whitfield and sampling fragrance at famed perfumer Floris, “perfumers to HM The Queen Elizabeth II.”
Not to be missed is the Fortnum & Mason (est. 1707) department store. The theatrical windows rival Harrods.
The afternoon tea at The Parlour or the more more upscale Diamond Jubilee Tea Room is legendary.
Around the corner on Piccadilly is Hatchards, London’s oldest and grandest bookstore. The shop’s creaky Hogwart’s vibe and excellent selection of children’s books is a hit with children.
Picnicking in London
Picnicking in one of London’s royal parks is essential. Stop in at one of the luxury food courts–Selfridges, Harrods or Marks and Spencer–for prepared sandwiches and sweets. Then head to Hyde Park where you can also pedal boat around Serpentine Lake.
Also stunning is The Regents Park, where 12,000 roses (85 varieties) are on display. On the northeast corner of this park is the London Zoo. Don’t miss the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, (11 am daily) and career street performers at Covent Garden, both free.
Harry Potter Spotting
Of course, it’s virtually impossible to visit London without partaking in the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour. Unlike a theme park, this experience is all about interaction with the actual props, sets (think Diagon Alley and Dumbledore’s office) and costumes from the Harry Potter films. Inserting yourself into the green screen Quidditch match is an Instagram moment.
Unlike our random wandering, this visit had to be planned. Tickets are limited and, as you might imagine, it’s a very popular attraction.
TravelingMom Tip: I find that bribery is essential to encourage kids to participate in culture. To this end, promise the children an outing to Hamley’s, the world’s oldest toy store. Tell them there is a souvenir in their future if they participate in cultural jaunts without whining. Beware: A trip to Hamley is no in-and-out situation. There are six floors, brimming with chipper employees luring your children with test drives.