London is such an amazing family-friendly vacation destination. The only downside is that are so many cool places to go and things to do that you could spend months there and still never see it all. So, to make your planning easier, I’m sharing the coolest places that we saw on our recent trip there, the places we wished we saw, and some more must-know tips for traveling in England. Keep reading!
Top 11 Fun Things to Do in London on a Family Vacation
If you recall, last year we took a family vacation to Europe and traveled through Spain, Italy, and a bit of France. Last month, we checked off two more places on our European “bucket list” with a trip to London and Paris! We only had one week total to see both of these amazing and historic cities, though. I really had to do a lot of planning ahead to make sure we fit in as much as possible, and that everyone got to see the London attractions that they were most interested in. So, let’s kick things off with my “must-see” list. Then, I’ll share some of the places we would definitely like to see next time before finishing off with some travel tips.
Hop on, Hop Off London Bus Tour
Since this was our first trip to London as a family, we really wanted to fit in as many of the historical landmarks and “touristy” things as possible. We decided to go with a “hop on, hop off” bus tour, and I’m so glad we went with that.
First, they’re awesome because you can listen to a recording of what you’re seeing and get to hit all of the major spots on one tour. It’s really educational without being boring, perfect for worldschooling families. Plus, the big red double-decker buses are kind of an attraction all on their own because what screams London more than those iconic red buses?
There are tons of tour companies all over the city, or you can book online. If you have young kids, the Tootbus is pretty neat and reasonable. Sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia also have a lot of deals, but sometimes it’s cheaper to just go directly through the tour company.
Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace
Everyone visiting London should stop by and check out the iconic changing of the guards. It’s actually a lot neater than it sounds. If you’re picturing what amounts to little more than a shift change, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. They actually have a huge (and really cool) ceremony as one shift goes off duty and another comes on. My kids really loved it. You can learn more and check out all of the times and locations here.
Big Ben and Parliament
Is anyone else flashing back to that scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation right now? “Hey look kids, there’s Big Ben, and there’s Parliament.” Big Ben is actually a part of the Parliament Building (on the Elizabeth Tower, if you’re curious), so you can see two iconic landmarks at once.
You can also take a tour of both, but they sell out very fast and kids have to be at least 11 to go on it. Honestly, unless your family is really interested in history (especially the political history of England), it’s enough to just see the buildings from the outside and get some traditional London tourist pics.
Ugh, now I have that nursery rhyme stuck in my head! That’s the thing about London attractions- so many of them are a part of nursery rhymes, iconic movies, and other pop culture! Like most of the big touristy things to do in London, it’s enough to just see the bridge from outside. You can also go inside and take a tour of the towers. The “Behind the Scenes” tour fills up fast, though. Right now it’s booked through Winter 2023-24. So if that’s something you want to do, make sure to book WAY ahead of time.
Tate Modern Museum
If you’re looking for a really great kid-friendly museum, definitely go with the Tate Modern. It’s free to get into, although some exhibits do have an entrance fee. The museum features over 100 years of art, from the early 1900s to today. I didn’t take any pictures inside the museum (you can, but only in the free area and no flash allowed), but you can get a feel for it from the video below.
My son who is both a tennis player and a huge fan HAD to go to Wimbledon. Even though the tournament was over they offer year-round tours for 9 euros and you get to visit all the courts including the main one and the museum. The museum has a really fun interactive “reaction station” that my son loved.
Of course, since my son is such a huge fan, we had to get lots of pictures of that famous court! It really was an extraordinary experience for him. Wimbledon is THE dream of all tennis players. Someday instead of seeing him standing in front of the court, you’ll see him standing ON it!
The London Eye is that big Ferris wheel that you see in just about every picture of London. Again, it’s one of those things that could be cool to actually do, but is also just perfect as a backdrop for fun family trip photos. It’s kind of pricey if you actually want to go up in it. Tickets are 30+ Euros each (about $32 USD), so for a family of four that’s over $120.
If you REALLY want to go up in it, though, I’d go with one of the package deals on their website. For example, you can do a Thames River cruise and ride on the Eye for about $50 per person.
Food pubs for famous fish and chips
You can’t go to London without trying their famous fish and chips! You can find them pretty much anywhere, but for the best experience, you’ll want to go to a pub. There are a ton of family-friendly pubs in London, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding one to go to as a family. London On My Mind has a good list of the best ones for kids.
Hamleys Toy Store
Touted as THE destination for “the world’s finest toys and games,” Hamley’s is one of the best places to visit in London with kids. Did you know that this famous toy store dates all the way back to the 1700s? The history is really interesting! The store itself isn’t the cheapest place to buy toys, but they do have some really cute souvenirs for under $20. Plus they have fun events all year long, so you don’t even have to spend money to have a blast.
Leave time to just walk around the city
London is such a vibrant city, so just walking around and exploring is an activity all on its own! Make sure you save at least one day to just wander around and explore on your own. I actually recommend doing that in any new place that you visit. You never know what you’ll find when you don’t have a specific destination in mind (pardon the rhyme, I swear it was unintentional).
Take the Eurostar to Paris
I saved this activity for last because it was the last thing that we did in London since we finished our week in Paris. We took the train to Paris- the one that goes underwater -and in just two hours you are in Paris.
Even if you’re only planning to mostly do England, I still recommend taking the train for a day trip from London to Paris. You could easily go in the morning, spend one day in the City of Love, then maybe spend the night and come back to London the next morning. Even just being on the train is a neat experience, though!
Other Places to Visit in London
As I said, we only had a few days to fit everything in and we all had things we absolutely HAD to see. There are SOOOOOO many other places to visit in London, though. Here are a few of the other top family-friendly activities to try if you have more time:
- Tower of London: One of the eeriest places in the city, the Tower dates all the way back to 1066. Over the last millennia, it’s been a prison, a luxury palace, a fortress, and a place to keep the most expensive Crown Jewels.
- The Harry Potter Studio Tour: This magical journey takes you through the studio where the Harry Potter movies were filmed, from Diagon Alley to the Hogwarts Express.
- London Zoo: Wander through lush habitats, meet adorable penguins, and experience the rainforest in the heart of the city. It’s a chance for your children to connect with animals from around the globe and definitely sounds like one of the most fun places to go in London.
- V&A Museum of Childhood: We did the Tate Modern, so we didn’t really have time to fit in other museums. But this is definitely on our “to see” next time we go! The vintage toys, games and interactive displays span across generations.
- Diana Memorial Playground: Designed like a magical ship, this playground offers endless fun with its teepees, sensory trail, and a beach inspired by Peter Pan.
- Thames River Cruise: If you don’t want to do a bus tour, this is the next best thing. Your family can relax and absorb the city’s history while cruising along the historic river past London’s iconic landmarks.
- The Globe Theatre: This reconstructed Shakespeare theater is a must-visit London attraction for literature lovers.
- The Shard: A modern addition to London’s skyline, The Shard is not only an architectural marvel but also an observation deck that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city’s historic landmarks.
- The Royal Observatory, Greenwich: This is the home of the Prime Meridian, where time zones are measured. You can actually stand on the line itself. Plus, it has some really neat astronomy and navigation exhibits.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral: Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, St. Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic symbol of London’s resilience. Climb to the top for stunning views of the city, or explore the beauty of the interior.
Where We Stayed in London
We stayed in Waterloo at the London Park Plaza. It’s such a great location within walking distance of most attractions, like the River Thames, Westminster Abbey, the Eye, Big Ben & Parliament, London Aquarium, the National Theatre, and more. Plus they have Family Packages where kids stay and eat for free. The whole hotel is really family-oriented and passionate about helping families “collect moments, not things,” which I LOVED.
London Packing List
Despite the reputation for being all grey and dreary, the weather in London in July was actually really gorgeous! It was in the 70s during the day and 60s at night. Definitely a nice break from the Miami heat! That said, you want to make sure that you’re prepared for pretty much anything. Here’s a basic rundown of what I recommend for both kids and adults.
Clothes and accessories:
- Comfortable walking shoes for exploring the city.
- Lightweight clothes that you can layer.
- Waterproof and windproof jacket or coat.
- Sweaters or long-sleeve shirts for cooler days.
- Jeans or pants that are comfortable for walking.
- One or two dressy outfits. Even if you’re not planning to do anything fancy, it’s still smart to bring them.
- Pajamas, undies, socks, and other basics.
- A bathing suit (if you’re staying in a hotel with a pool or plan to do water activities).
- Scarves, gloves, and a hat if you’re traveling during winter.
- Small backpack for carrying essentials.
- Crossbody bag or anti-theft purse for security.
Other misc essentials
- Adapter plug for UK power outlets.
- Cell phone and charger.
- Camera or smartphone for capturing memories (but just make sure you’re IN the picture).
- Portable charger to keep your devices powered on the go.
- Passport and a photocopy of your passport. Leave a photocopy in your hotel safe.
- Travel insurance information.
- Credit/debit cards and some local currency.
- Printed or digital copies of travel itineraries and reservations.
- Any necessary visas or travel documents.
- Medication prescriptions if required.
- Snacks for the journey and outings.
- Travel games, coloring books, and activity kits.
- Tablets or portable devices for entertainment during travel.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the little things, like toiletries and whatnot. Worst-case scenario, you can pick them up in the city. It’s not like you’re going on a cruise where you’re in the middle of the ocean with only one super expensive onboard store to buy things from. I mean, try to remember them so that you can save that money for souvenirs, but if you forget something, there are relatively inexpensive drug stores in London.
London is an Amazing City for the Whole Family!
If you have the chance to visit London as a family, definitely go for it. I’m so glad we did, even if we only had a few days there. The city really offers something for everyone, whether you’re interested in history, royalty, or just enjoy walking around and discovering “off the beaten path” things to do. There are still a lot of things I want to see there, so we’ll definitely look into going back sometime and staying longer in England. But this trip was still amazing because after London we went to Paris! Come back next week to hear all about that.