London with Kids

Now that my kids are a little older (10 and 8), I feel like it is time to step up our travel game.  We have done many domestic trips in the US, and have been so lucky to visit family all over the country.  I was itching to go abroad with my littles, but for our first venture out I decided we should go somewhere that we speak the language.  LONDON!

The trip was incredible, and eight days in London turned out to be less expensive than five days at Walt Disney World.  Here’s how we did it:

Flight Shopping

The week of Thanksgiving, flights become insanely inexpensive for the following year.  I don’t know why, but we have found it to be true several years in a row.  If you are planning a big trip, watch the airfares right before Thanksgiving!  We found roundtrip flights from Indianapolis to Heathrow Airport, with a quick layover in Detroit, on Delta for $500 each.  Further, I had just opened a credit account with the American Express Delta Platinum card, which actually reimbursed me a small amount on my purchases with Delta!

Where to Stay

I love renting a home when we travel, particularly when the kids are along.  Staying in a hotel with kids is so tough – everyone has to go to bed when they do, there’s no kitchen or living area to relax in, and it just feels so crowded.  In London, I visited Airbnb and VRBO to scout the areas and prices that made the most sense for us.  I looked at maps of the Underground (the London subway) and landmarks, and tried to find an area that was quiet but walkable.  We settled on Knightsbridge, which is adjacent to Hyde Park and the Kensington shopping district, with great Underground access and short rides to most of the spots we wanted to visit.  My parents came along with us for this trip, so we rented a two bedroom apartment on a quiet side street.  Our host upgraded us to a three bedroom apartment for free upon arrival, which was a lovely surprise.  It was so nice to be a part of a neighborhood and to feel the rhythm of the people living in London, instead of being in a sterile hotel that could have been in any city in the world.  Also, there was a private park for the residents of the area and it was nice to have some greenspace for the kids to enjoy.

Where to Eat

We ate breakfast in our apartment each morning, which was so nice and kept food costs down considerably.  I drink a lot of coffee, so this was particularly nice to take care of before we were out and about.  We usually ate lunch at a shop wherever we were (TIP:  the kids’ meals at all of the royal historic places are huge and affordable) and then found a pub for the evening meal.  Many pubs serve food and children are welcome, unlike here in the U.S.

How to Get Around

We took the Heathrow Express from the airport to London, because we booked way in advance and it cost very little.  It would not have been a big deal to use the regular Underground (aka tube or subway) to get there.  We used the Underground for 90% of our travel in London.  Purchase an Oyster card at most any station, load funds on the card for use, then travel cash free until it is time to load more money.  Just tap the card on the blue light, wait for it to turn green, then go through the turnstile.  (TIP:  kids travel free on the Underground, so look for the handicap accessible or larger turnstiles so you can all go through at once)

What to Do

It depends on the age and interests of your children, but here were some of our favorites:

Tour for Muggles:  A guided walking tour of London that hits many of the spots that Harry Potter fans love.  We did this on our first day in London, and it was actually a fantastic way to get a feel for the city.  It also was a motivator for my jet lagged children to get up from their nap and get acclimated to the time.  A must for any Harry Potter fan!

Tower of London:  A fascinating look at the darker side of British history, plus the Royal Jewels are on display!  A Twilight Tour is available for those who dare to be scared.  We only left a few hours for the Tower, but wished we had an entire day.  Leave extra time for this!

Guided Tour of Parliament:  After having used quite a lot of audio guides, it was so refreshing to have a live person!  The British government runs quite differently from that in the United States, and the tour guides explain it in a lively and interesting fashion.  You must book these ahead, and I highly recommend.

Churchill War Rooms:  Absolutely fantastic.  Do not miss this.  I had to peel my children out after HOURS inside.  This is the actual underground headquarters that Winston Churchill used during WWII and it is incredibly interesting.

International Friends tours:  There are a lot of guided tours to choose from.  We chose this company based on many positive reviews, and we were not sorry.  We especially enjoyed the opportunity to take a small group tour of Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor Castle – it felt more personal.

Sample Itinerary

Here is what we did, and when, for those of you who would like a head start on how to proceed:

Day One – flight arrived, check in to apartment, Tour for Muggles

Day Two – Buckingham Palace tour, Churchill War Rooms

Day Three – International Friends tour of Stonehenge, Bath and Windsor

Day Four – Westminster Abbey, tour of Parliament, London Eye

Day Five – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

Day Six – Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Globe Theater

Day Seven – British Museum and Tower of London, Thames River Cruise

Day Eight – International Friends tour of the WB Harry Potter Studio and Oxford

Day Nine – departure

Anything else?

Relax and enjoy the rhythm of the city.  We know we didn’t see everything we wanted to, but it is a vacation after all!  We look forward to coming back and enjoying more of the beautiful museums and other offerings in this fantastic city!