With so much to choose from, here are the most kid-friendly things to do in London.
London is a very expensive city to visit as a family. Attractions aren’t cheap. That’s why my London Plays focus on what to do as much as what not to do. And while London has much to offer in the way of world-class museums, famous churches, and royal palaces, kids have a "culture limit." So here are my picks for experiencing all the pomp and circumstance of London in the most kid-friendly way possible.
While we think of double-decker buses as being for tourists, Londoners use them for regular transport around town. But be a tourist! Sit up top and take in all the hustle-and-bustle that London has to offer. It’s a great way to get your bearings after you arrive. Just don’t expect to get anywhere quickly. London traffic is a nightmare on most days.
KidTripster Tip: Buy an Oyster Card. It’s the the most economical way to travel between city sights - either by the bus or the London subway, called the Tube. You simply load money onto the card. Youth (10 and under) ride the bus and Tube for free; use the gate entries (to the left) instead of the turnstiles that take Oyster Cards when you're at the subway station. For more on discounts for older kids, click here. Know that it's cheaper for an adult to ride the bus than the Tube, but it can also take longer in heavy traffic.
KidTripster Tip: While you can use Oyster Cards to get to the airport, taking an Uber is usually cheaper for a family of four.
Central London (Tube stations: Knights Bridge, Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate)
Central London (Tube station: Tower Hill, London Bridge)
Often misidentified as London Bridge, Tower Bridge is the city’s most defining symbol. Tower Bridge Exhibition is a museum that’s actually part of the bridge; however, it’s not particularly interesting for kids. You’ll have more fun just walking across this iconic span. Also make sure to cross the pedestrian Millennium Bridge, destroyed by fictional Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
KidTripster Tip: Across the Millennium Bridge, you’ll find Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I originally thought that this tour would be a good cultural experience. But the so-called "behind-the-scenes" look fell flat. The kids and I didn’t leave with any additional knowledge about Shakespeare or theater; frankly, we just wanted to leave!
4/View from St. Paul's Cathedral
Central London (Tube station: St. Paul's)
Looking for the best view in London? Head to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Lady Diana wed. Families can take a guided tour or better yet, pick up a multimedia guide with quizzes, activities, and interactive games and go at your own pace. The climb to the very top: 1,161 steps. Cost: Youth (6-17) $11; Adults $25; Family $39; discounts available online with advance purchase.
Now that is expensive, but it’s cheaper than taking in the view from the London Eye ferris wheel. Cost: Youth (4-15) $27; Adult $35; discounts available online with advance purchase.
5/Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter
My sons and I love Harry Potter. We’ve read all seven books; we’ve seen all eight movies more times that I can count. If you are a true fan, you can’t miss the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in Leavesden about 20 minutes outside London. It’s Hogwarts heaven! Here all the sets, costumes, props, and creatures are preserved and showcased. Sit inside Mr. Wesley’s car that was pummeled by the Whomping Willow. Board the Knight Bus. Drink butterbeer. I liked using the audio tour that revealed behind-the-scenes details, but my older son didn’t. Make sure to go through the second building at the very end of the tour for the wow! moment. (I won’t ruin the surprise.) Cost: Youth (5-15) $38; Adult $50; Family $75.
KidTripster Tip: Plan ahead. If you want to visit Warner Bros. Studio, you must buy your tickets online and in advance. There are no tickets available on site. Leavesden is accessible by car or train/shuttle bus.
KidTripster Tip: You could spend your time and money (if you took a tour) visiting London spots that inspired the locations found in the Harry Potter books. But to be honest, you’ll find the studio tour way more satisfying.
20 Deans Yard, Central London (Tube station: St. Jame's Park)
If you are going to visit one church, make it Westminster Abbey, site of Prince William and Princess Kate’s wedding. From here, you’ll also be able to see the outside of the Palace of Westminster, home to Parliament, and the Big Ben clock tower. (Note: Big Ben tours are only open to U.K. permanent residents.) Honestly, once you see the line (and the ticket price) for the abbey, you may opt to view it from the outside, too. Cost: Youth (6-16) $24; Adult $28 ; Family $63.
KidTripster Tip: If you visit the abbey, get in line before 9:30 a.m. There are two lines: cash (pounds) and credit. The cash line is considerably shorter!
7/Changing of the Guard, sort of
Central London (Tube station: Green Park)
Ok, I’m going to say it: skip the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. To get a front row seat for the 11:30 a.m. ceremony, you need to be in place by 10:30 a.m. Frankly, it’s not that interesting. Instead walk by Wellington Barrackswhere the guard will be preparing outside around 10:30 a.m. Now head to Buckingham Palace a few blocks away, where thousands of people will be waiting, and snap a few photos. Then move on. It will be the best decision that you make all day!
Fulham (Tube station: Fulham Broadway)
If you’re not a soccer fan, you can move pass this one. But if you love English football like my sons, consider a visit to Stamford Bridge, home of the Chelsea Football Club. You can easily get to the stadium by subway. The tour includes a look inside the stadium, press room, tunnel, and locker rooms, where the home team has way better digs than the visiting team. There’s also a museum. Tours depart at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Cost: Youth (5-15) $19; Adult $27; discounts available online with advance purchase.
9/Tower of London
Central London (Tube station: Tower Hill)
If you only do one thing in London, go to the Tower of London. Tours are lead by Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters. Our Beefeater, Bob, was a good-humored chap with a booming voice. And I really loved his sharp uniform. (Bob: “It is not a costume!”) The Tower of London, known for its bloody and torturous past, is home to the Crown Jewels and other royal regalia. The most impressive piece: the Royal Scepter with a 530-karat diamond! Sorry, no photos allowed. You’ll have to trust me; it is gorgeous. Cost: Youth (5-15) $17; Adult $35; Family $90; discounts available online with advance purchase.
Stonehenge, one of the great mysteries of the world, is located about two hours outside London. I was a bit worried about bringing the kids here; would they appreciate the puzzle of how prehistoric man moved these ancient stones from 250 miles away, especially given that each stone weighs the equivalent of seven elephants? Happily, they did. Make sure to use the 20-minute audio tour. My youngest son especially enjoyed listening to the legends that offer alternative explanations about the stones. Plus, it’s nice to get outside of London and enjoy a day in the English countryside. Cost: Youth (5-15) $15; Adult $25; Family $64; discounts available online with advance purchase.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah and her two sons - all Harry Potter fans - confirm that there’s no 9-3/4 platform at King’s Cross Station, but there is a mock-up outside the platform entrance for photos, if you find yourself in the neighborhood.