Wednesday, February 17, 2016

London: London Calling!

When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is London all that life can afford.
~ Samuel Johnson, English Writer (1709-1784)

We've travelled to London many times with the kids, starting when my eldest was 7 months old, and my husband always utters Samuel Johnson's words upon entering the city. London is a beautiful, exciting city that will be sure to enthral parents and children alike.

Tower Bridge


From experience we have found the best way to travel to London with the kids is to take a day flight. No one gets a decent sleep on the overnight flights and that puts everyone out of whack for naps and bedtime.  The daytime flight does mean that a day is "wasted" travelling, BUT by the time we land, go through customs and check into our hotel it's around 11 pm Greenwich Meantime. Everyone is so tired from travelling that we all want go to bed. Parents immediately adapt to the new time zone, and the kids usually sleep in. Yes, it's a free lie in bed for a bit, what a great way to start a holiday! So, if your kids are like mine make sure you pack a book and have a light reader and have a few breakfast items nearby so you are not bored/starving while waiting for the kids to wake up.

Transportation to/from Airport

Children under 11 travel for free on the tube. However, if your child is tall/looks older than their age then it might be useful to apply for a 5-10 Zip Oyster Card. Of course, these cards cannot be mailed to you and must be picked up at a Visitors Centre, so might be more hassle than what it is worth.

Children 11 - 15 get a reduce rate with a 11-15 Zip Oyster Card.

We purchase an Oyster Card (think of it as a debit card just for the tube) at Heathrow. There is a kiosk on your walk to the tube and the great thing about the Oyster Card is that it does not expire, meaning you can lend it to friends or use it on your next trip to London.  You can also buy a Visitor Oyster Card and have it delivered to your home address (this is something that I have not done).

To get to the City, you can take the Heathrow Express, which will take you directly to Paddington Station in 15 minutes. We have always opted for the cheaper, but longer, tube ride. Heathrow has some great information about the cost of taking the tube and where to catch it on their website.

A bit about tube etiquette, when on the escalator keep to the right and let those people who are rushing pass you on the left. Also, allow people off the train before you board. If possible, avoid the rush hour tube rides (7am - 9am and 5pm - 7pm). And make sure that you have your Oyster card out ready to scan before you get to the scanner so there is not a line of disgruntled Londoners behind wishing you would hurry up (learned that one the hard way).


Athenaeum Hotel

This is a luxury "splurge" hotel located in the Mayfair neighbourhood and within walking distance to Green Park. The hotel caters to families with milk and cookies before bedtime and children's welcome packages with toys, books and other fun items.

Novotel London Tower Bridge

This has become our go-to London Hotel. It's fairly accessible to the London Tube and thus travelling from Heathrow to Novotel on the tube. Children sixteen and under eat breakfast for free (and the breakfast is quite good). Families share one room, with children sleeping in a trundle type bed.

While these are the only two hotels we have stayed in in London, we have stayed in the Citadines and Premier Inn chains in other cities in Europe and have enjoyed our stay.

Strollers in London

To bring or not to bring your stroller, known as a pushchair, to London? London was not built for SUV strollers, and there are many tube stations (and buses!) where one will have to carry the stroller up and down stairs. We have brought a stroller and and it served us well, but we used a fold up Maclaren Triumph. It has a shoulder strap and weighs just over 10lbs. This is not the type of stroller where you can store lots of shopping, snacks and sippy cups in it and in fact I would encourage you not as it's going to cause you a lot of pain having to remove it all if you need to fold your stroller. 


The British Museum is one of the greatest museums of the world and should not be missed. But, it's big, really big. Depending on the interests of your children I would limit your visit to one area. I would highly recommend asking for one of the free (with a deposit) Gallery Backpack. The backpacks have activities to complete that take about 90 minutes. They are geared towards different age groups and areas of the museum. We had a lot of fun with the Life in Ancient Greece Backpack.

The British Museum is free for visitors (except for special exhibits), but donations are encouraged to help support this amazing facility.

Full disclosure, we found the London Eye expensive and crowded. However, it is a great way to end your trip to get a birds eye view of all the places you have visited. Save yourself some money by buying your ticket in advance online.

London Eye
The National Gallery
The National Gallery houses one of the worlds' richest art collections, and should not be missed by lovers of European Art. For families, The National Gallery offers audio guides for children and their guardians on different themes. There is a cost for renting the audio guide. Another option is to print one of the free "Painted Trails" tour guides from the National Gallery website from your home computer or hotel business centre. The Painted Trail offers a family friendly guided tour of some of the major works of art, with interesting information and activities. There are also free activity hands-on workshop for children during term time and holidays. The workshops are geared for various age groups, so check the National Gallery's Family section on their website for more information.

Read "Katie and the British Artists" by James Mayhew before visiting the museum.
The National Gallery is free.

If your children love dinosaurs they are going to love the Natural History Museum. Both my children were in a full-on dinosaur stage when we last visited this museum, so we spent far more time here than I thought we would. 

Like the British Museum, the Natural History Museum is free but donations are encouraged. 

The Tower of London is an imposing fortress with a 1000 years of history. We love the Tower of London and it should not be missed. Introduce your children to the history of the Tower of London prior to your visit by playing one of their online games or check out one of the Horrible Histories clips on the Tower of London, such as this one on Charles II's Ravens. Once at the Tower of London, your children may like to play a Time Explorer Digital Mission (which are free to download). Want to use paper and pencil instead? There are activity packs, full of activities for the whole family, that can be picked up at the Welcome Centre

Save money and purchase your tickets to the Tower of London Online.

Harry Potter
Do you have a Harry Potter fan? On our last visit to London, my boys had not "discovered" Harry Potter, but we did take them to Leadenhall Market, the site of the entrance of the "Leaky Cauldron". There was a "Harry Potter" tour at the time and now that they are Harry Potter fans it is on our list of things to do on our next visit to London. Leadenhall Market is very beautiful and is worth the visit Harry Potter fan or not.


I have two boys, so I am always on the look out for a playground for them to expend some energy. Here are a few that we have spent enjoyable afternoons visiting. 
A bit on the shabby side, but a fine place to play. It has a paddling pool and playgrounds for both younger and older children. It's also about a 10 minute walk from the British Museum if you are looking for a place to let the children run around after looking at artifacts. There are washrooms on site.
My favourite (and my boys' favourite) playground in London. Located in Kensington Gardens it features a massive wooden pirate ship. The park is only accessible for children 12 and under and their guardians. It has washrooms and changing facilities as well as a cafe.
This is a smaller playground, but a nice place to spend an hour or so. There are sand pits and slides and most importantly...washrooms! This playground is located close to Buckingham Palace.


Pret A Manger
Sandwich/coffee place. Multiple locations around London. Great place to grab a quick breakfast and a decent coffee.

Marks and Spencer
Do you remember when Marks and Spencer was in Canada? I still miss their old Walnut Whips and chocolate gold coins at Christmas. Well, they have branched into food and you can get fabulous prepared food for a picnic at a park or a dinner picnic in your hotel room. They also sell wine and beer!


In the United Kingdom, children must use car seats until they are 12 years old or 135 cm tall, whichever comes first. Only EU-approved car seats can be used (they will have a label showing a capital E in a circle).

The United Kingdom makes a distinction between height-based and weight-based car seats. For height-based car seats, your child must be rear facing until he/she is 15 months old. Your child can be forward facing when he/she is over 15 months.

For weight-based car seats, your child must be rear-facing until they are over 9 kg. After that the seat your child uses depends on their weight:

  • 0kg - 13kg: rear facing baby carrier or rear facing baby seat using a harness
  • 9kg - 18kg: rear or forward facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield
  • 15 kg - 19kg: forward facing child seat (high backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seatbelt.

The United Kingdom also sets out situations when a child can travel without a car seat, such as in taxis, coaches or when there are unexpected journeys. You can review these rules by visiting "When a child can travel without a car seat" from the United Kingdom's government website.
Source: GOV.UK website: Child car seats: the law. Please note that while I try to keep the section on car seats updated, laws do change. This is only meant as a guide and you should review the laws from the appropriate government website.


I believe it's important to prepare your children for where you are going and what they are going to see. It makes the trip more meaningful, but that just might be the old teacher side of me coming out.
Here are some books that I have read with my children:

Horrible Histories: London
By Terry Deary
9 - 13 year olds

It's history with all the gory bits left in, surely to please your pre-teen (and maybe even your teen or yourself). Learn about plagues, the blitz and all sorts of "horrible histories".

This is London
By Miroslav Sasek
6 - 8 year olds

First published in 1959, and updated for the 21st Century, Miroslav Sasek shares his impressions of London with its beautiful buildings and historic monuments. A classic.
Dodsworth in London
By Tim Egan
6 - 9 year olds

Join Dodsworth and his duck as they explore the sights and sounds of London!
By James Mayhew
5 - 8 year olds

Follow Katie as she explore The National Gallery with her grandmother and see five famous paintings by world-renowned British artists.

ABC London
By James Dunn
Ages 4+

A fun picture alphabet book of words and pictures that looks at what makes London one of the world's most interesting cities.
Is there a book that you have enjoyed reading with your children about London?
*book photos are from the linked site.


There are lots of movies set in London that you can show your children before your trip (or after to review the places you visit and history that you learned), so just to name a few: Bedknobs and Broomsticks,  Flushed Away,  Marry Poppins, Paddington, Peter Pan, and The Great Mouse Detective.

If you are looking for something shorter, look for these videos
Toot & Puddle are two adventurous pigs who travel the world. In the episode "It's a Mystery", Toot and Puddle are in London helping a friend solve a mystery. Toot & Puddle is geared for ages 3+.
Horrible Histories is a hilarious take on history's more gruesome moments. From the stone age to World War II, history has, in their words "never been so naughty. Horrible Histories are available to download from iTunes and short clips are on YouTube. Horrible Histories is for ages 9+.

1 comment:

  1. That's funny, we also use the Triumph stroller and my grandson was on the no fly list. At least he was offered an upgrade to Business Class because of th obvious incorrect information.