August 20, 2019
By Fiona Whitty
It’s the UK’s biggest city and boasts some of the country’s most famous landmarks, from Big Ben and Tower Bridge to the London Eye and Buckingham Palace.
And although London is crammed with pricey designer shops, high-end eateries and glitzy nightclubs, it’s also home to hundreds of family-friendly restaurants and attractions.
The biggest problem is where to start. Allow us to help…
The four designer-led Nadler Hotels are in great locations and are superb value as up to two children stay for free in their parents’ room. There are no restaurants but each room has a handy mini kitchen with microwave, fridge, cutlery and crockery – and a Nespresso machine – so you can save money by preparing snacks for the day or even grabbing a takeaway. Local cafes can even deliver breakfast to your door and some restaurants offer guest discounts.
Holiday Inn hotels are also great for families as selected hotels allow up to two children under 17 to stay for free and up to four children under 12 to eat for free with two paying adults.
The Holiday Inn Kensington High St is brilliant value with twin double rooms from £130. There’s even an indoor pool and sauna, plus kid-friendly museums, Kensington Palace and Hyde Park are all within a 20-minute walk.
You don’t have to settle for fast food on a city break! Many places welcome children and some offer good deals. Head to selected Bodean’s BBQ branches for tasty ribs, chicken, burgers and pulled pork, and score a free child meal with every adult lunch. If you’re on the tourist trail the Soho branch in Poland Street or Tower Hill branch in Byward Street are handiest (mains from £8).
Rainforest Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue is pricier but a real novelty for younger children with its jungle décor and moving animal exhibits. Be prepared for the regular pretend rainstorms which see the elephants, tigers, gorillas and other creatures screech and holler (mains from £16, kids two-course menu plus drink £13.20).
For older kids, the atmosphere and trendy setting at mini chain Burger and Lobster is guaranteed to be a hit. There are no menus or child portions – all they serve is lobster either steamed, grilled or in a brioche or, you’ve guessed it, burgers, each setting you back a straight £20. There are nine branches including ones on Dean Street in Soho, on Little Portland Street by the bustling Oxford Circus and – most impressive of all – inside the flagship Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge.
We’re big fans of the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green – and not just because it’s free. There are plenty of things to touch, press, see and get involved with, such as rocking horses, a working model railway, interactive screens, an indoor sandpit, yesteryear’s must-have toys and dressing up clothes.
Daily activities for 3- to 12-year-olds, such as crafts and storytelling, will keep youngsters even busier. Pick up a free-to-borrow family pack aimed at different age groups, including babies.
Primary school children will be in their element at KidZania, a mini city where they can try out more than 60 different jobs from fire fighter to pilot, transplant surgeon to dentist. Kids can also make their own muesli bars and burgers, and there are special activities for under threes. It’s located in Westfield London shopping centre (children aged 4-14 from £19, 1-3 £10, U1s free, adults from £16).
For a novel way of seeing loads of famous sights including the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London and the Shard – the EU’s tallest building – take a speedboat ride on the Thames. The thrilling 35-knot RIB trips are perfect for hard-to-please teenagers as well as younger children.
London has a vast underground Tube, overground train and bus network so getting around is easy, but avoid busy peak times before 9am and between 4.30pm and 6.30pm if possible.
Under 11s travel for free but adults and children aged 16+ are best off buying a Visitor Oyster Card – a pay-as-you-go smartcard – in advance from the Visit London site or Transport for London. You save around 50% on normal ticket prices. Children aged between 11 and 15 can get a Young Visitor discount added to their Visitor Oyster Card.
Taking the bus can be fun (but beware: they don’t take cash on-board). Kids will get a kick out of sitting on the top deck and there’s always the chance you’ll spot a landmark.
The quickest, easiest and probably the most relaxing way to reach London is generally by train and London’s ten mainline stations serve towns and cities around the UK. Book well in advance for the best fares.
Coach travel is often cheaper but journeys can take twice as long. Avoid driving if possible as traffic is a nightmare and most hotels don’t provide free parking.