London for Little Travellers: A Kid-Friendly Guide to the British Capital

Discovering London through the eyes of a young 'un.  
Madame Tussaud's London
BB8, the adorable droid from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", is a popular attraction at Madame Tussauds in London. Children enjoy checking out the wax museum’s replicas of everyone from movie stars to sports personalities. Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

My love affair with London started when I was a shy girl of nine. Later, I went back as an independent working woman aged 23 and again, most recently, I reacquainted myself with the city with my four-year-old daughter Anika in tow. Each time, London revealed a different side of itself to me, and every time, it blew my mind.

It was a marvellous city to explore with my daughter, there was so much to see and do. Using the extensive public transport that London boasts of to get from one end to the other is literally child’s play. Anika enjoyed poring over pocket-sized tube maps and bus timetables with me as we navigated our way through the metropolis. And whenever we could, we took a double-decker bus, always making a dash to the top deck to grab the front seats with the best views. Our vacation in this child-friendly city left us with incredible memories.

Museums Galore: British Museum & Natural History Museum

Museum London

Spot some of the world’s largest mammals in the blue zone of the Natural History Museum. Photo: Education Images/Contributor/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

London has some of the world’s best museums. Standing tall among them is the London Transport Museum that ferries young people into the world of automobiles. Anika gleefully jumped into the driver’s seat of a red double-decker bus, while I tried my hand driving a train in the London tube on a simulator (Covent Garden Piazza; ltmuseum.co.uk; children under 17 free, adults £17.5/₹1,470; ticket valid one year).

The Natural History Museum and Science Museum are right beside each other. The former has thousands of exhibits divided into colour-coded zones. It’s advisable to make your choices beforehand by downloading the museum app, or a map of the exhibits from the museum website. Each zone has a predesigned trail that takes visitors through its highlights and a few hidden treasures. The blue zone with the dinosaur exhibits draw the largest crowds. Anika was transfixed by the lifesize T-rex model that yowls, growls, and moves. Adventurous seven- to 11-year-olds can opt to sleep over at the museum by signing up for the Dino Snores activity, a fun way of exploring the museum after dark (Cromwell Road; nhm.ac.uk; open 10 a.m.-5:50 p.m.; closed 24-26 Dec; entry free; Dino Snores for kids £60/₹5,020).

Even though Anika doesn’t really know what science is, she loved the Science Museum. Three- to six-year-olds make the most of the garden and a play zone that allows them to learn simple concepts in a fun way. For older children, spending time in the museum stokes their curiosity about the many facets of science. We looked at a piece of the moon and marvelled at specimens from the early days of aviation (Exhibition Road; sciencemuseum.org.uk; open 10 a.m.-5.50 p.m.; entry free).

Budding history enthusiasts will love the British Museum which is a treasure trove of rare exhibits from around the world. Follow the museum’s many trails covering ancient civilisations, or explore their pick of 12 objects to see with children (Great Russell Street; britishmuseum.org; open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Fridays open till 8:30 p.m.; entry free).

Afternoons at the Park: Hyde Park & St. James’s Park

Park London

London has many public parks where young visitors can take a break from the sightseeing. Bring a picnic, and lie on the grass for some cloud spotting. Photo: Jon Arnold/Awl Images/Getty Images

If it’s a glorious sunny day, do as the locals do and head to one of the city’s many stunning parks. Located in the heart of London, Hyde Park is a favourite. Walk, cycle, or skateboard along designated paths that crisscross the park, home to over 4,000 trees and Serpentine, a recreational lake stretching over 40 acres. Enjoy a meal at a lovely café overlooking the lake, or find a nice spot and lay out your picnic (royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park; open 5 a.m.-midnight).

The 265-acre Kensington Gardens is a perfect place to unwind and spend time surrounded by magnificent trees and ornamental flower beds. For us the highlight was the Diana Memorial Playground, a magical open-air space with a lifesize ship, tepees, and a water fountain. Adults can only enter if accompanying a child under the age of 12 years (royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens; Kensington Gardens 6 a.m.-5:15 p.m.).

At the smaller, easier to navigate St. James’s Park, Anika and I spent hours feeding birds and watching the magnificent pelicans. For a nice sit-down meal, make a reservation at St.James’s Café. (royalparks.org.uk/parks/st-jamess-park; park open 5 a.m.-midnight.)

Meet the Animals: London Zoo & Sea Life London Aquarium

Zoo London

Find out how penguins are cared for by interacting with their keepers during feeding times at the London Zoo. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Contributor/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Spend a memorable day at London Zoo, home to Sumatran tigers, lions, giraffes, penguins, gorillas, and more. We timed our visit to coincide with feeding times and demonstrations. If you don’t want to leave early then stay for the sunset safari or spend a night at Gir Lion Lodge, modelled after the national park in Gujarat (Regent’s Park; zsl.org; adults £24.30/₹2,023, children £18/₹1,500; book online for a discount on tickets).

At the Sea Life London Aquarium, walk through a glass tunnel as shoals of fish swim overhead and gigantic turtles glide alongside. To get closer, sign up for the Snorkel With Sharks programme that’s open to anyone who is 4.3 feet or taller. Spend 15 thrilling minutes swimming with sand tiger sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and brown sharks (County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road; visitsealife.com/London; open weekdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and weekends 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; entry from £19.50/₹1,625).

The city also has many farms. Plan a farm visit to one and enjoy a breakfast with fresh produce, go horse riding, or take part in activities such as cooking classes, gardening, and yoga. Entry to most farms is free though they usually accept donations that go towards maintaining the grounds and resident animals.

Stroll Down South Bank: Royal Festival Hall & Tower Bridge

Hugging the River Thames and overlooking the city’s iconic landmarks, South Bank is a vibrant entertainment and commercial district and one of London’s finest neighbourhoods to explore. Brave the crowds near Westminster Bridge, and walk toward the Royal Festival Hall to discover its many charms. Grab a bite from the many quirky food trucks found on the South Bank, or have a meal with a fabulous view at a restaurant close by.

South Bank is ever changing and always buzzing. Catch live performances, browse through book sales, or let the kids play in a sand box. The fountains near the Royal Festival Hall won Anika’s heart, as she jumped in and out of the choreographed spray.

To play it differently, cruise down the Thames. Choose between tours that last a couple of hours and hop-on-hop-off ones that stop at major sites en route. We started our cruise close to the Royal Festival Hall going up to Tower Bridge, passing by TATE Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London.

Anika was thrilled to go under Tower Bridge as we sang “London Bridge is falling down,” a nursery rhyme that most of us remember from our childhood. Watching the bridge open to let ships pass can be quite thrilling (check website for timings).

Tower Bridge London

Drive over Tower Bridge or sail under it, either way children love seeing the famous London landmark from their beloved nursery rhyme. Photo: Travel Pix Collection/Awl Images/Getty Images

Guards London

The Queen’s guards are a delight to watch. Try as you might, it’s impossible to get them to crack a smile while on duty. Photo: Future Ligh/VisitBritain/Getty Images

History Lesson: Buckingham Palace & Westminster Abbey

Observing the pomp and glory surrounding the British monarchy can be a lot of fun. At Buckingham Palace, we witnessed the changing of the guards ceremony, where soldiers ending their watch hand over responsibility of protecting the palace to the new contingent at 11.30 a.m. People start lining up as early as 9 a.m. to get a good vantage point. With kids its best to head to Wellington Barracks a little ahead of Buckingham Palace, where the regimental band performs at 11 a.m. From here the cavalcade of immaculately dressed guards and majestic horses marches to the Palace. We found watching the band more entertaining than the actual ceremony at the palace (changing-guard.com).

Walking along St. James’s Park we made our way towards Westminster Abbey. The 700-year-old abbey has witnessed several coronations and royal weddings. Additionally, literary giants like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens rest here, along with other great minds like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. (westminster-abbey.org; entry £20/₹1,665; ticket prices include audio guides; tours last over an hour.) Further explore this area which also has the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

All Fun: Legoland & Warner Bros. Studio Tour

I have vivid memories of being awestruck as I watched the musical Starlight Express on my first-ever trip to London. The performers, sets, acrobatics, music, and just about everything else in the show were phenomenal. Theatre tickets do blow a hole in your pocket, but I feel it is a worthwhile extravagance (minimum starting price £30/₹2,450). The Lion King (thelionking.co.uk) and Roald Dahl’s Matlida (matildathemusical.com) are two musicals most suited for children, especially for those under 12. Scour the Internet for discounts.

Harry Potter London

For the ultimate Harry Potter experience, go behind the scenes with Warner Bros. Studio Tour and learn about the marvels of green screen technology. Photo: Carl Court/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Legoland London

Looking much like Gulliver in Lilliput, a staff member adds finishing touches to a Lego model of Buckingham Palace at the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort. Photo: Chariotte Bail – PA Images/Contributor/PA Images/Getty Images

Give the kids a treat to remember with a visit to LEGOLAND Windsor Resort. It has 55 rides and attractions the whole family will enjoy. Set sail with the Vikings, ride a dragon, or play with Lego blocks (Winkfield Road, Windsor; legoland.co.uk). If your child is a Harry Potter fan, head to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. A behind-the-scenes walking tour takes visitors through incredible sets, costumes, and props used in the Potter films. Stroll down Diagon Alley, look through Dumbledore’s office, and check out the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets (Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden; wbstudiotour.co.uk; entry adults £39/₹3,250, children £31/₹2,580).

The star-struck must visit Madame Tussauds to pose and take pictures with well-known personalities from around the world. The collection of over 300 wax statues requires at least a couple of hours to examine (Marylebone Road; madametussauds.com/london; entry from £29/₹2,415).

Photo: Robert Mabic/Age Fotostock/Dinodia Photo Library

Kiddy Meal

Special menus, fun activities, and great interiors are common to these three London restaurants that are perfect for a meal with children.

WAHACA
Fashioned on the Mexican market dining experience, there’s much about Wahaca that appeals to the whole family. Piles of colourful children’s books, stacks of crayons, and menus that double as colouring sheets keep kids busy while their meals arrive. Try the divine quesadilla sandwiches dripping with cheese (wahaca.co.uk).

WAGAMMA
This is where kiddie meals go gourmet. The atmosphere is stylish yet relaxed, and the food is a great introduction to Japanese cuisine. From trainer chopsticks and a menu starring a character called Hoshi, to natural fruit ice lollies, everything is taken care of (wagamama.com).

GIRAFFE
If you spot children holding bright orange balloons, there’s a good chance that you are in the vicinity of a Giraffe restaurant, which serves dishes from around the world. The place also plays some great music. Children are a priority and get served first, giving parents a chance to grab a drink and chat (giraffe.net).

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    Chaitali Patel is the former Associate Editor, Special Projects at National Geographic Traveller India. She's partial to nature, history and the arts. She believes that every trip is as much a journey within as it is one outside.

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