London, England Attractions

Author: Lisa Berry

Tags : Baby, City Break, Couples, England, Europe, Kids, London, Multigen, Museums & Culture, Teens

During my four months of calling London home, I studied the intricacies of the city from iconic Big Ben to high fashion. Here are my favorite suggestions for families visiting London.

From September-December 2007, London, England was the place I called home. During my four months living and studying there, I observed the intricacies of the city. London is electrified by centuries of history and the energy of its modern people. Family members of any age will embrace the elegance and breadth of the city. For more information, you can always check with the British Tourist Authority at VisitBritain.com or Visit London. The London Pass is great for local sightseeing, as most of the city's small off-beat museums are included in a one-price admission booklet; coupon code here. But, since there's a lot to do and see in any visitor's presumably short amount of time, allow us to help plan your stay.

Fun for the Little Ones

(toddlers to age 8)

Hyde Park
Hyde Park, London. W2 2UH.
44 (0) 20 7298-2100
Hyde Park is not only one of the Royal Parks of London, but one of the largest parks in Central London. The sprawling grounds can provide hours of exploration. It is most famous for its Speakers' Corner, where anyone may stand up and speak publicly. Another focal point is the Serpentine, a manmade lake that divides the park in half. In the summer months, visitors can ride the Solarshuttle ferry, swim, or rent rowboats. Other highlights of the park include the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial fountain, and the September 11th Memorial. Crossing the Serpentine Bridge will take you to Kensington Gardens, which used to be the private gardens of Kensington Palace. Here you can find a famous statue of Peter Pan, the boy who tried to never grow up (and here, we can all feel like kids again!) Check the website for seasonal events being held in the park.

Roald Dahl's Children's Gallery
Buckinghamshire County Museum
Church Street
Aylesbury, HP20 2QP
+44 (0)01 296 33144
A fantastic interactive display funded by the noted author's widow brings nature and science to life through his writings (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and others), vivid illustrations, and 3D creations, such as a walk-in peach and the great glass elevator. Aylesbury, where Roald Dahl lived and worked for 36 years, is a small, rural place that will intrigue travelers. Museum hours vary year round so please be sure to check the Buckinghamshire website for calendar details. As this is a popular exhibit and a fun daytrip from London, booking tickets in advance is strongly recommended.

Pollock's Toy Museum
1 Scala Street
London WIT 2HL
+44 (0)20 7636 3452
The renovated museum is housed in two historic buildings that have been joined together. There are 10 different displays in rooms and winding staircases that features mainly Victorian toys. Some of the crowd favorites include: board games, English tin toys, puppets, folk toys from all over Europe, teddy bears, toy soldiers and doll houses. It's open from 10am-5pm Monday through Saturday.

The Original London Sightseeing Tour
Visitor Centre
17-19 Cockspur Street
Trafalgar Square
London, SW1Y 5BL
44 (0) 20 7389-5040
This hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tour provides live English commentary and recorded commentary in 10 other languages. With four routes and 90 stops, you choose where you want to get off and explore. The free "Kids Club" provides commentary specifically designed for children, as well as an activity pack. Another popular touring company is Big Bus Tours with live and pre-recorded commentary.

Trafalgar Square
London, WC2N 5BY
Considered to be the center of central London, people say it is impossible for a local to stand in Trafalgar Square and not see someone he knows. The aesthetic centerpiece is the towering Nelson's Column, a massive statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson who died in the Battle of Trafalgar. The statue is surrounded by four large bronze lions and the kids will love climbing up on the lions and posing for pictures. Take note of Charing Cross, the original location of the Eleanor Cross placed as a memorial to Eleanor of Castile, which is now occupied by a statue of King Charles I on a horse. This location is recognized as the center of London from which all distances are measured. Trafalgar Square is also home to holiday celebrations and is located directly next to the National Art Gallery.

Fun for Older Kids

(8 to 16)

British Museum
Great Russell Street
London, WC1B 3DG
44 (0) 20 7323-8000
This free museum (one of many in London) has more than 7 million objects. The name is slightly misleading, for the British Museum has permanent exhibits about The Americas, a world famous collection of antiquities from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome including the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, and the arts of Asia, and the Middle East, as well as changing exhibits. There are frequent discovery programs designed for children and a fun workbook available at the front desk.

Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
London SW7 5BD
+44 (0)20 7942 5000
With over 70 million specimen, the museum’s Earth Galleries is one of the newer exhibits and it leads kids through the creation of the planet earth. Follow an escalator into a revolving globe to view the earth's core, then experience the eruption of Mt. Fuji.  The Darwin Centre epitomizes this museum's rejuvenating focus on kids and interactive science. The space is home to scientists who will share their findings with the public. Admission is free.

Tate Modern
London, SE1 9TG
44 (0) 20 7887-8888
On the south side of the Thames sits a bold adaptation of an old red brick power station, that houses the contemporary branch of the Tate Galleries. A collection of Picasso, Matisse, Carl Andre, Francis Bacon and other contemporary paintings and sculptures will keep your family wandering through the Tate Modern until sore feet cause you to stop. Ask for special kid-friendly features, like activity sheets, art lessons and the Children's Audio Guide. When you need a break, head to the rooftop dining room for an overpriced sandwich. From this vantage, you can admire the Millennium Bridge, the only one this past century built over the Thames. It leads across the river to architect Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral, a church whose aesthetic influence ON London's skyline caused a ban on any structure that attempted to be taller than its the dome.

Carnaby Street
London, W15 3DL
London is an oft-overlooked sea of high fashion. One cannot walk down the street without passing hundreds of fashionistas, the women with stick-straight hair and heels, the men in sweaters and styled tresses. Carnaby Street is fashion paradise, with everything from large chain stores to unique boutiques and used clothing. The Carnaby Street area spans two blocks, and includes a Starbucks to give a caffeine-kick to your shopping spree. Despite a weak American dollar, this area is definitely worth checking out.

Imperial War Museums
Lambeth Road
London SE1 6HZ
44 020 7416-5320
One of London's most popular museums honors the weaponry, bravery and folly of war in great depth, from the Britain's military involvement with its colonies, to WWI and WWII, the Cold War and the UK’s famous military espionage team. The Imperial War Museum’s main branch on Lambeth Road boasts a huge atrium packed with a huge V2 rocket and gunmetal gray bomber fuselages, primitive to sophisticated examples of armor, exhibits enlightened by well done videos, galleries of propaganda posters, news headlines and photographs. Multi-generational families will especially relate to the overall war material on display, so it’s a good first stop before heading to the other IWM branches, such as Churchill’s Cabinet and War Rooms, the WWII bunker and museum dedicated to him, or a tour of the ship H.M.S. Belfast.

 

Fun for the Whole Family

Buckingham Palace
London, SW1A 1AA
44 (0) 20 7766-7324
Buckingham Palace will be a highlight of any family vacation; it is a must-see for both the inside tour and the changing of the guard that takes place outside. Changing of the Guard occurs daily at 11:30 am April-July and on alternating days the rest of the year. Be sure to get there a couple of hours early to get a good view; otherwise, your visit will be futile as you try to see over the hundreds of other visitors gathered to watch. The precision and grace with which this tradition is executed is truly marvelous. An equally exciting activity is the tour of the inside of the palace (only open during the summer). Plan for at least two hours of walking through with an audio guide. The ornate beauty of the palace will awe even the most sullen travelers.

Coca Cola London Eye
Riverside Building
County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
London, SE1 7PB
44 (0) 870 500-0600
Opened in March 2000, this huge Ferris Wheel style attraction was designed as a metaphor for the turn of the century. Since then, it has become a symbol of modern Britain and is one of its most popular tourist attractions. Moving at a quarter of the average person's walking speed, the capsules transport as many as 60 riders each on a 30-minute ride high above London. This Bird's-Eye view can provide a unique sight for those who have been to London several times or those who are first-time visitors. I stared down at the famous city icons my first night in London, excited to explore up-close the wonderment I saw from above. The London Eye can provide a great opener to any trip, or a last night closer where you can recall visiting all the places you tower over.  Also you can take a London Eye River Cruise down the Thames for another view of the city.

Tower of London
Tower Hill, EC3N 4AB
44 (0) 844 482-7777
The Tower of London is a classic London attraction and a favorite for many visitors. A World Heritage site, it was part of the Norman Conquest dating from 1066 and is a complex of six palaces and other buildings that were used as castles, palaces, an armory, a treasury and a prison. During your tour, take note of the Ravens. Their wings are clipped so that they cannot fly away, due to a centuries-old prophecy that when Ravens leave the Tower, the British Commonwealth will fall. Especially for families are the 'blood and guts' Yeoman Warder-led tours (recommended for ages 13+ according to the Tower press office, I'd say 8+ for American kids), the self-guided, free Family Trails treasure hunt quiz (ages 4-12), snack outlets and a Family Ticket. Buy your tickets in advance at any Tube station to avoid the long lines, and definitely stay away between noon and 2pm when it's most crowded. The Crown Jewels of London, a highlight of the tour, are displayed in clear theft-proof cases viewable only from the briskly moving sidewalk which ushers tourists past. Be sure to ask the guards after your first go-round about the world's largest diamond, the 530-carat Star of Africa, which crowns the scepter tucked among the many other glittering prizes of the Royal Family. Also take a few moments to admire the nearby Tower Bridge. Often confused with the less-impressive London Bridge, Tower Bridge is a truly breathtaking. Buy your tickets in advance at any Tube station to avoid the long lines, and definitely stay away between noon and 2pm when it's most crowded. 

London Walks
P.O. Box 1708, London 4LW NW6 4LW
44 (0) 20 7624-3978
With almost a half-century leading walking tours of London, you can imagine that the guides of this celebrated company are well trained and well armed to answer any questions your kids may come up with. The daily offering of walks (including the Tube, Thames boats and buses where required) per day within the city include Sherlock Holmes; London, Rock'n'Roll London, The Tower of London, Shakespeare ad Dickens as well as many choices for a day’s outing (such as to the Cotswolds, Stonehenge and Bath). No need to book a tour, just show up at the Tube stop posted on their website at the designated time. Two-hour guided walks cost a modest GBP10 per adult; kids under 15 walk free if accompanied by an adult. Literary buffs should spring for a private taxi tour of “Harry Potterland Film Locations.”

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
21 New Globe Walk
Bankside, London, SE1 9DT
44 (0) 20 7902-1500
Theatre, and of course Shakespeare, are so much a part of British culture; a visit to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre will enhance your British experience tenfold. This open-air theatre is a faithful reproduction of a Shakespearean theatre. Families with young children are advised to skip the lengthy productions and instead attend a brief group tour of the theatre and a visit to the Globe Museum. In interactive and participatory activities, family members can volunteer for a sword fighting demonstration, visit the Joinery and see how the theatre was built without nails, listen to music of the period on classic instruments, watch videos made by cameras hidden in the actors' costumes, hear the great play and film recitations of some of Shakespeare's most famous lines and then try it for themselves. For those families who have teenagers interested in Shakespeare, the productions can bring his text alive. I attended Love's Labour's Lost and left with a newfound desire to read Shakespeare. If you wish to further experience London's wonderful theatre, your concierge can arrange it for you.

The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
105-119 Brentfield Road
Neasden, London, NW10 - 8LD
44 (0) 20 8965-2651
Built of 2,828 tons of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tons of Italian marble the Shri Swaminarayan is a must see for the whole family. A 10-minute walk from the Neasden tube stop on the Jubilee Line, the Shri Swaminarayan is not only Europe's first traditional mandir, but it is also hailed as the largest temple outside of India according to the Guinness Book of Records. No shoes, gum, food or clothes shorter than knee-length permitted in this unique family attraction. Please note that there are services being held daily along with other activities, for the best time to visit call in advance.

Note! This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.

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