The Ultimate Guide to Visiting London With Children

So you’re thinking about visiting London with your family.

How will you get from the airport to your hotel?

Where should you stay?

What should you pack?

How are you going to survive the flight?!

What are you going to do with the kids once you’re here?

don't worry - We’ve got you.

London is brilliant and yes, we’re biased. All The London Mother staff were born and raised here and we wouldn’t want to do what we do or raise our families anywhere else.

So consider us your friendly virtual tour guides and just the right people to show you around.


The flight

If you’re travelling long haul (or with small, fidgety children), read this for our tried and tested tips on making the flight as stress free as possible.

Your destination airport

Flying directly into London means you have four choices –

(London Luton - not actually in London but it's a popular airport so we're including it).

London City is a tiny airport and our personal favourite. You’re closer to Central London if you fly into London City – a 25-minute ride on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and you’re at Bank station (on the Central Line). From Bank station, you’re no more than 20 minutes away from everything Zone 1 has to offer. A taxi or Uber also won’t be as expensive as from the other London airports. London City is mainly a business airport and in our opinion, the quietest and most family friendly due to its small size.

Now is a good time to tell you to download a map and familiarise yourself with ‘the tube’ - the name we give to the underground train system (controlled by Transport for London aka TfL). The Tube is a network of trains that travel underground (like the NY Subway or Paris Metro) and although they are of course trains, we call them ‘the tube’. When we say 'train' we mean trains that travel over ground – either London Overground or National Rail. The Docklands Light Railway (which we call the DLR and is part of the Transport for London network) travels both over and under ground and we strictly refer to it as the DLR.

Download the various maps you’ll need here:

London Heathrow is the UKs busiest airport – over 70 million flights land here every year – and you’re 14 miles/22 km away from London. Your budget dictates how you’ll get to your hotel.

The cheapest way is to get ‘the tube’ directly from your terminal. Get directions here. This is how most Londoners get to and from LHR. Heathrow Airport is on the Piccadilly line (which is why we said to familiarise yourself with the tube map) which travels directly through the centre of London and stops at lots of popular tourist destinations.

The journey from London Heathrow to Zone One is about an hour. The only downside is that the tube is the most popular way for Londoners to get around so the tube is likely to be busy. Take our advice; try not to arrive during ‘rush hour’ – 0700 – 0900 – when everyone is trying to get to work. If you do, steel yourself for angry stares as you struggle with your suitcases. Single adult fares cost £6.

You can also travel by train or bus.

The second cheapest way is to get the Heathrow Express – a direct train that takes you into London Paddington in only 15 minutes. Single adult fares cost £25 and it’s a stress free way of travel.

The most expensive way is to travel by car – price depends on your destination of course – but a one-way journey into Zone 1 will be around £80. There will be plenty of taxis available straight outside of the airport.

Or you can try getting an Uber. Search online for a discount code – Uber constantly seems to be on sale. If you want to travel in style, why not book a chauffeur service?

If you’re flying to London Gatwick you have fewer options for travel – either the Gatwick Express (a 30 minute non-stop train that takes you to London Victoria which is in Zone 1) with adult fares from £17.80. You can travel by coach or easyBus but we wouldn’t recommend it with kids in tow. It takes about an hour, it’s hot and crowded and the kids might hate you for it. You can also travel into London’s Zone 1 by train (not tube, remember) which will take anything from 30 to 45 minutes.

Everything you need to know about travelling to and from London Stanstead is here.

The same applies to London Luton (which is in Bedfordshire not London) – there are simply easier options. If you’re flying into Luton check this out.

Accommodation

Where to stay really comes down to personal choice and budget. Staying in Zone 1 (again, look at your tube map) is the most expensive but means you’re close to all the tourist attractions and travel back to your hotel will be easy. The further away from Zone 1 you go, the cheaper things will be. Family-friendly accommodation in London is a topic all on it’s own and we’re in the process of putting together our top-ten family friendly hotels in the capital. Stay tuned – it’s a good one!

Now you’re here and you’ve found somewhere to stay, how are you going to get from A to B and what should you do?

London sometimes gets a bad rap – expensive, dirty, hard to get around – when that couldn’t be further from the truth. London is as expensive as you want it to be. If you want five star living and designer clothes/food, you’re in the right place. Equally, if you’re on a budget and prepared to travel, London can certainly be done on the cheap.

Travel

London has a great public transport system and we recommend you familiarise yourself with what we call 'The Tube' before you arrive. Zone 1 is the centre of London and where most of the tourist attractions are located. Accommodation and food are most expensive here but everything is on your doorstep so it makes for a very convenient location.

If you’re here on holiday and only staying a while, it makes sense to get a hotel or apartment in Zone 1. If you have friends or family here, don’t be afraid to stay farther out – Zones 2 to 4 aren’t as far as away as they seem – you can be in Central London in less than 40 minutes and save a fortune on accommodation. You can also travel by London bus.

There aren't many of the old route masters still in commission but the bus is a great way to get around - use your Oyster card to hop on and off. Feel free to ask a local for directions or which stop to get off at.  We Londoners pride ourselves on our knowledge of the city.

TfL encourages international visitors to buy a Visitor Oyster card before leaving home on visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk or visitbritainshop.com. The card will be posted to your home address. For visitors travelling with children aged 11-15, TfL recommends you buy a Visitor Oyster card before you leave home and get a Young Visitor discount added to the card in London, offering half adult-rate fares for up to 14 days.

You can also use the following map, which shows other key central bus routes in London, and highlights the location of many of the Capital’s attractions: tfl.gov.uk/maps/visitors-and-tourists

TfL understands how complicated travelling in London can seem when you're a tourist so they've put together  a range of travel tip films, which can be viewed with subtitles in English, Spanish, Italian, French, German and Dutch, to help you understand ticket options and navigate the transport network. These films can be viewed here.

Insiders Tip When Travelling on The Tube

Always, always stand yourself and your kids on the right side of the escalator. The left side is for those wanting to walk up the stairs. If you get off a train and the platform is crowded, navigate yourself and your brood to a bench until it clears slightly. It will be less stressful getting yourself and the kids out of the station when you aren’t fighting your way through a sea of people. Londoners are generally polite and someone will usually help if you’re traveling with a pram and need to navigate steps to exit the station.

Insiders Tip

Try to avoid travelling on public transport before 0930. The cost of travel goes down after 0930 (aka off-peak travel) and London commuters are a grumpy bunch with little patience for slow walkers, tourists enjoying the scenery of London life, large suitcases and pushchairs taking up standing space. Sad but true. If you’re travelling here while pregnant, get yourself a ‘baby on board’ badge (pin) and wear it with pride (maybe stick your belly out a bit too) if you want a seat on a crowded train.

Things to do

Free Museums

The British weather has a bad reputation and deservedly so. Always carry an umbrella (a mini one which you can slip in your bag) and if you’re stuck for something to do in the cold and wet, your kids will love the museums on offer. London has some fabulous museums, most of which are free to visit. Our favourites are

Some of the museums offer sleepovers (but they sell out quickly so book way in advance).

Unless your children are very cultured (and if they are, well done you,) a visit to an art gallery probably isn’t top of their wish list but our favourite is the Tate Modern which has done a fabulous job in making art accessible for even the youngest visitors.

Other must visits are workshops at the National Gallery and checking out what’s new at London Southbank and the Southbank Centre.

London can almost rival Broadway when it comes to theatre shows and there’s usually something suitable showing for kids but if you want something completely child-friendly, try the Unicorn Theatre.

If museums and galleries aren’t their thing, London has some great indoor play centres. Our favourites are Gambado and Kidzania.

You are now armed with the insider’s guide on how to navigate public transport and what to do with the kids if the weather is conspiring against you. If the weather is on your side, London has some fabulous, free parks with lots of family friendly activities on offer. Our favourites are:

The Royal Parks:

These parks are great for a general walk around, a picnic (food is important to Londoners so there are supermarkets, cafes, coffee shops and takeaway spots on most streets) and some offer rowing on their lakes, which is harder work than it sounds!

As residents, we prefer events and activities that are slightly off the beaten track but as a visitor, we know there are certain London sights and sounds you’re going to want to visit. Use the suggestions below to plan your days when you’re visiting London. We’ve ranged them in order of touristy-ness and suggest you work your way down the list based on how many days you’re spending here.

  • Trafalgar Square
  • Covent Garden (not an actual garden - more a shopping, foodie square)
  • Victoria Park
  • Boxpark (Croydon or Shoreditch) – great for people watching and lots of wonderful food to discover.
  • Hamley’s toy shop (overrun with excited children but the kids will love it)
  • Alexandra Palace – slightly farther north than the rest but they can go ice skating and it has great views over London
  • Visit London Zoo* if you're only here for a few days. If you have more time, try and visit a city farm – you wouldn’t think it but there are plenty of little farms dotted around London. Our favourite is Mudchute City Farm.

SHOPPING

London is very different to other fashion capitals – we have a very unique way of dressing. We don’t have the je-ne-sais-quois of Paris or the sleek, format attire of Milan – I’d say we’re closest style wise to New York. Whatever your style, you can wear it with wild abandon here. Any and everything goes!

If you want to see the many and varied faces of London fashion, check out these shopping destinations:

  • Bond Street – for luxury brands like Gucci, YSL, Burberry and Chanel
  • Knightsbridge – more of the same in Harrods and Harvey Nichols
  • Oxford Street – where most mortals shop, you can buy standard what we call ‘high street’ brands like Marks + Spencer, H&M, Zara and other affordable clothing. If you want budget, try Primark – cheap and cheerful.
  • Shoreditch – slightly more expensive than the high street but not pocket busting like Bond St – Shoreditch is home to smaller brands selling one off pieces. Also great for food (so much good food here!) and people watching.
  • Malls – we don’t do malls like the Americans but if you want indoor shopping try Westfield Stratford City, Westfield London or Brent Cross

Markets

You can’t come to London without visiting one (or more) of our fabulous markets. If time is short, you can cover two or more in a day.

  • Brick Lane – you never know quite what you’re going to find here but that’s part of its charm. We love the saris and genuine Indian food (East London).
  • Portobello Road – nothing like the film (sorry) but great for vintage finds, music, vintage, art and fruit and vegetables (West London).
  • Greenwich Market – small business owners selling a curated selection of food, clothing, beauty, art and home wares. The market owners are very fussy about who they allow to sell here so you can buy with confidence knowing you aren’t being ripped off or buying rubbish (South East London)
  • Borough Market – super crowded at the weekend but home to great food. We eat here. A lot. (South London)
  • Spitalfields Market – a short walk from Shoreditch (as mentioned above) you can find everything here – food, fashion, art, vintage, beauty – it’s not the cheapest market but it’s possibly the most unique (East London).
  • Camden Lock Market – always overflowing with tourists and locals, it’s an odd mixture of everything and not the best advert for London but worth a visit nonetheless. (North London).
  • Broadway Market – fabulous food, fashion and furniture. Expect the weird and wonderful (East London).
  • Covent Garden Market – not much of a market – more a collection of high street shops – but the place is a visual masterpiece and a must visit.

Would you like all this information - and more - as a handy PDF guide? We have created a digital guide to London and for a one-time payment of £2.99, it's yours! Click below now to buy your copy.

We hope you’re now feeling comfortable and prepared about your visit to London. You know how to get here, how to get around while you’re and have some ideas on what to do.

If you’re looking for places to eat, see our favourite London restaurants here.

For further suggestions on what to do – see the best in family friendly theatre here - and our monthly roundup of things to do here.

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If there’s something specific you want to know about visiting London with children, feel free to ask away via the comments.