Trista and Matt, along with their daughters Sophie and Kate, ages 7 and 11 spent part of their summer vacation in London this year. Despite a hint of a Texan accent, Trista actually spent much her childhood living in Wimbledon in the U.K. Still, she hadn’t been back to the city with her husband and two daughters until this summer. Here’s her take on this iconic destination with kids. From hitting the touristy double-decker tour buses (while still jet-lagged) to logging nine miles a day on foot, this family was dialed-in to an efficient, but full, trip.
What was your travel itinerary: Iceland for 3 days, London for 7 days and Edinburgh for 3 days
What type of accommodation did you choose and where? We were very fortunate and stayed in a family friend’s flat. It was in Chelsea, right next to the Sloane Square tube station, so the location was ideal.
What were your kids favorite sights or activities?
- The musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Covent Garden
- The London Eye
- The Churchill War Rooms
- Tower of London
- Eating ice cream sundaes at Fortnum & Mason
What were your favorites as adults?
- Churchill War Rooms
- Windsor Castle
- Trafalgar Square
- And, the National Gallery, as we had a former neighbor who is a curator there and she gave us the best personal tour! (see photo above),
What was your kids favorite part about British culture? Using public transportation - from the tube to the double decker buses and taxis
What was your favorite part about British culture? Walkability of the city. We averaged walking around 9 miles a day for the entire week.
What was your biggest unexpected splurge? Tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! As I told my husband. "We're here. Let's do this." You usually only go to London, as a kid, once.
What are your best tips for families thinking about visiting London?
1) Plan time carefully, before you leave: We hit the ground running when we travel and with London we had a very robust itinerary. We planned out the days according to where the sites were in the city. We were out the door by 8am and typically returned 12 hours later. Some of the museums are closed on certain days so we made sure to check opening and closing times.
I think one of the most critical things you need to decide on as a family is how you want to see the city. Do you want to go broad or deep? Our family chose to go more broad. Even though we went to five different museums, we didn't spend all day at a single museum. We spent between 2 to 4 hours at each. You could spend a whole day or even a week at the British Museum, but we went straight for the big ticket items (certain exhibits) and then we moved on.
2) Don’t overlook the tourist double-decker buses: The first day we were there we went on the classic red double decker bus tour and that was one of the best decisions of the trip. First, it gave the kids a chance to ride in a real double decker right our of the gate. Second, we were still a little jet lagged, so sitting for a lot of it, which was also nice. The best thing about the tour is you get a really good "lay of the land in London.” It gives you a broad picture of London and how vast it is. Our tour guide was personable, funny and knowledgable and gave us really interesting and fun facts we would never find in most tourist books.
3) Pre-purchase transportation cards: We pre-purchased London travel cards for the tubes and it worked great. Kids are free, so we just paid for our adult tickets. We used the London underground every day. Even though we walked a ton, it was so easy to get across the city if need be. So much cheaper than taxis and less confusing than the bus.
4) Make lunch your big meal: Since we were staying at a flat with a kitchen, we really took advantage of a home base. We mainly had breakfast and dinners in the flat and lunches out. It’s easier to find a table for lunch and eat before everyone is cranky and starving.
Any must-try foods for families and kids? We went pretty casual for most meals; out of necessity. We relied on Marks & Spencer (local high-end store with gourmet pre-prepared food) and Pret A Manger for take-out sandwiches and salads. Of course fish and chips are not to be missed and we did have a great portion of it in Covent Garden at the aptly named Rock n' Sole Plaice.
Any secret spots you'd recommend off-the-beaten path or not touristy? The South Bank area which is really family friendly - one night we just walked until we found a perfect spot for a simple pub dinner.
What are your London packing must-haves? Definitely a great pair of walking shoes. I actually packed 3 pairs of shoes for London and only wore my most comfortable sneakers. We were on our feet way too long to wear anything else. And for spring and summer, a light jacket, always a good idea for London weather.