Over the winter break, we decided to travel to London as a family. The trip ended almost too soon, it seems, since we were having so much fun. Over the course of five days, we enjoyed many teas, tons of shopping and quite a few tourist attractions throughout the city. Through our travels, we learned 10 tips for taking kids to London, through trial and error.
1. Location is key
Select a hotel in a convenient location. London can be expensive and when traveling as a family of five, it is occasionally challenging to find an accommodation that works, especially when a destination is not within walking distance. Most of the hotels we looked at could accommodate four, but once we added the fifth person, it became quite costly. We decided on a hotel close to everything, ME London, located in the theatre district. Just a block away from the River Thames, we could walk to Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
2. Contact the hotel concierge prior to your stay
Don’t be afraid to email the concierge team at the hotel before you arrive for suggestions about tours and restaurants. They have a wealth of information and are experienced in getting around town and picking great restaurants. The team at the hotel even asked questions based on our children’s interests prior to making suggestions.
3. Get an Oyster card when you arrive
Traveling around London is very expensive. The Oyster card is a smartcard that can be used as a travel card to give you access to public transportation based on your preference of travel. These cards can be purchased at nearly any corner store or at any local underground (subway) station. If you purchase a pass and have leftover funds, you can return it at the end of your holiday or top it off if need be. We used our Oyster pass daily, and the savings were huge. You can take the bus almost anywhere and we definitely didn’t feel guilty if we needed a break in touring midday to head back to the hotel and then head out again.
4. Plan your tourist attractions in advance
London in December is busy! At some of the landmarks, we had to wait for long periods of time. Book tickets and print them off prior to arriving at your planned sightseeing locations. Some tourist attractions even have fast passes, similar to Disney! We could only get in two attractions per day because of the massive lines. We visited the Tower of London, where we waited for a long period of time to see the Crown Jewels and chose a tour with a guide.
The world’s tallest Ferris wheel, The London Eye, in South Bank by the River Thames was a great place for photo ops and to see London from a 360 degree perspective! The line moved very quickly, so you don’t need to buy a fast pass for this one.
5. Book a play
Since we were staying in the theatre district, we decided to see the play, Beautiful based on Carole King’s life story. I found myself smiling throughout the entire play because of the absolutely incredible singing and dancing. My family loved it, and we all considered it a highlight of the trip.
6. Take a bus tour
My favorite thing to do when I arrive at a new place is to take a tour to get perspective. Taking a bus tour allowed us to acclimate to our surroundings and to see what sites were close to our hotel.
7. Dress for the weather
Prepare to be cold if you’re visiting London in December! Layer up when going out and don’t forget your hat and gloves.
8. Get New Year’s Eve ready
Central London is closed off during New Year’s Eve for security purposes. If you are planning on going for New Year’s Eve, you will need to purchase tickets to access the streets of London or to get to the London Eye for an incredible fireworks display at midnight. At our Concierge’s suggestion, we booked a restaurant for the latest seating possible, in close proximity to the London Eye. We received wristbands from this reservation, which gave us access to the fireworks. Our wristbands allowed us to walk around freely, which was amazing, especially since most of the streets were closed off for New Year’s Eve from 8 p.m., as well as the next day for the New Year’s Day parade.
9. Allow for travel time
Be prepared for crowds. You will need to plan for the always-heavy traffic if you have booked reservations. Be sure to leave plenty of travel time and consider the traffic.
10. High tea is a must
My family and I enjoyed a high tea at the Savoy! Having a high tea midday was the perfect time to debrief about our day and take a break from all the walking. Plus, the food was absolutely delicious.
Overall, my family and I loved our trip to London. Though we were traveling, the most important part of our trip was spending time together. With my daughter away at university, it is a rare treat get a full week together with the entire family.