Between Big Ben and black cabs, double decker buses and red phone boxes, London is filled with icons from childhood. So there’s something special about heading there with your own kids. Of course, the London of those footloose, kid-free years is quite a different place with a bub in tow, says SUE WHITE. Here’s her guide to kids activities in London
The right approach
There are a few ways to tackle London’s activities with a baby. If yours is under six months old, you will likely be thinking: “Well, the baby is pretty small and basically is happy almost anywhere”. Using this approach you can happily cart him or her around major tourist sites, particularly if you have a good day sleeper and time your activities well.
For slightly older babies, you’ll take a second option: combining major attractions with really baby-friendly play breaks.
The London Transport Museum is super interesting, with two good kids’ play areas, and is a great place to pit stop after looking around neighbouring Covent Garden. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a gorgeous large courtyard with paddling pool that’s perfect for a break and some crawl time for baby. If you’re by the Thames, the Tate Modern gallery also has a fun kids area and a baby-friendly café!
While you’re riverside, the daytime activities at Southbank’s cultural precinct –think buskers galore and free puppet shows – are all naturally baby-friendly (and it’s near the London Eye ferris wheel, for the adults). For a more local take on the views across to Parliament and Big Ben, head to the café, bar and rooftop community garden above Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Prams can be carried upstairs if you have two people, or take the tiny cargo lift around the side (an experience you won’t forget in a hurry – you have to hold the button down the whole way up).
Continuing the approach of combining adult and baby-friendly fun, head to London’s wonderful parks. Because a baby is usually pretty happy on any old patch of grass, smart travellers will combine park visits with another activity, like a day at Greenwich. Gorgeous for wandering around, its covered seven-day market has delicious food for picnicking on expansive grassy areas below the observatory. Afterwards, enticing your baby to stand with one foot either side of the Greenwich Meantime marker makes a fun photo, just remember: the observatory is on top of a very steep hill – a real workout if pushing a pram. (TIP: It costs £16.50 per adult to access the prime photo spot behind the museum.) Photo or no photo, Greenwich is easy to combine with Southbank by taking a local boat, rather than booking a cruise tour, along the Thames. Allow the whole day to do both.
If you’re jaunting to another famous spot of London greenery, Hampstead Heath, go on a Friday when historic Kenwood House holds its under 5s events for £1 (10.30am-12 noon). Combine baby play with adult art gazing (Monet’s et al) before exploring Hampstead Heath together.
Just for baby!
Given that London is also filled with incredible baby-only (and kid-only) activities there’s a third approach: schedule a few baby-specific outings during your stay.
Little Angel Theatre, a famous puppetry children’s theatre in Islington, schedules specific performances that babies can attend. In Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House has a wonderful children’s program: babies sit on a play mat in front of the stage watching kid-friendly opera performances. Go early: the upstairs bar area is a lovely space to wait and play.
Indulge in some messy play at London’s Palaces. Yes, you read correctly: for just £6 pounds babies can attend the multi-sensory programs at Hampton Court Palace or (closer to town) Kensington Palace. (There are also sessions for toddlers to four year olds). Make sure to book – these sell out fast.
Forget about getting into the city from Heathrow by tube. Instead, either use the Heathrow Express train to town, then a black cab to your hotel. Or, for about the same price (cheaper if there’s more than one adult), book a Blackberry Car transfer from Heathrow. There’s nothing like spotting a guy with a sign bearing your name, after stepping off a long-haul flight with a baby; you won’t regret it.
London’s underground is famously pram-unfriendly, but it can be done with two adults (or one adult with a baby carrier, pram and a willingness to ask for help). Ask passengers or staff to assist lifting the pram in and out of trains, up and down stairs and on and off the (often) long escalators. The new Jubilee line (out to Olympic Park) is a wonderful exception: finally, lifts! (If you’re out this way don’t miss the Discover Children’s Story – its play centre and story times are both superb.
Buses in London are very accessible and you can see the sights out the windows! The city’s Docklands Light Rail is pram-friendly. Whichever you use, buy an Oyster card (purchase online from the Visit Britain shop before leaving home).
If the budget allows, a stay at London’s Athenaeum hotel is superb – it was perfect! Yes, there are cots, baby toys and an excellent location opposite Green Park, and the hotel is just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace. You will be in love with this luxury property well before you arrive – the pre-visit survey from their kids’ concierge even asks what type of pillow you like!
High chairs abound in London’s cafes so you don’t have to limit your dining out to chain restaurants and kids eateries. For picnics in London’s parks, Marks & Spencer chains and Pret A Manger both have ‘food to go’, as well as ready-made meals.
- City Walks London (Bloomsbury). 50 adventures on foot. These gorgeous cards fit in your handbag – just choose an area and stroll for an hour or two following the itinerary and map.
- Lonely Planet’s Make My Day, London. The handy ‘flip’ panels calculate travel times between activities so you can mix and match sensibly.
- bringyourownbaby.com is brimming with ideas, from baby-friendly jazz performances and comedy clubs to a changing rota of fabulous baby-made cultural activities across London.
- Messy play at London’s Palaces
- Discover Children’s Story
- The athenaeum Hotel
Sue White is a travel writer and founder of babieswhotravel.com
She is also mum to little Ollie, and our newest columnist