London is a particularly wonderful location for a first trip to Europe with kids but also for any subsequent European visits. It is the third largest European city (behind Istanbul and Moscow) and rich with history, iconic buildings, world-renowned museums and amazing parks. This was our first international destination as parents, and we have made two additional return trips to London.
You could easily spend a week (or two!) in London and never run out of things you really want to do there. I knew someone who had a long to do list while studying in London that she barely made it through in the four months she spent in the city.
Aside from being a fabulous place, London is a special city for both my husband and me. Mark’s family moved to the London suburbs when he was 13, and it was home when he went to middle and high school. It remained “home” through college and after moving to the US. He visited at least annually until his parents relocated to the US . When I studied in York as a junior in college, our orientation was in London. So, it was the first European city I ever visited. I spent close to two weeks in London over the course of my six trips there before I met my husband.
My husband’s family lived in Northwest London when we met. We traveled to there together twice before our first son was born. Then, our first plane trip with as parents was on Continental’s direct Cleveland to Gatwick route when our son was four months old. We were definitely nervous about the journey, but he traveled very well. He may have had no interest in the bassinet we reserved, but he enjoyed being held, cuddled and fed. Even though he has no memories of that first trip, he was content traveling and accompanying us as we visited our favorite monuments, museums and parks in central London.
Even if we were not visiting family, London would have been an ideal first family trip abroad because the city is has so much to offer, and it is logistically easier than other international destinations.
Accommodations and Food
Accommodations and restaurants at every price point are widely available. Restaurant reservations are not usually necessary, but not kids are often not welcome at pubs and are not permitted during certain hours and may not be allowed to enter the bar area regardless of the time of day. China Town is one of our favorite dining locations.
Public transport is convenient and effective. The best way to travel around London is the Underground, which is also known as the Tube. It is an extensive and efficient system with color-coded routes. You can travel virtually anywhere on the Underground, and with the Oyster card, the cost of travel is reasonable.
Oyster Cards are plastic smart cards that offer the least expensive travel on London’s Underground. They can also be used to pay for travel on train services to and from Gatwick Airport. There is a small fee for activation (£5 starting in September 2017). Visitor Oyster cards are available for purchase from the Tfl Visitor Shop. Fares with the Oyster Card are significantly less expensive than regular fares. Kids under 11 travel free on the Underground.
Strollers can be used throughout the city if you don’t mind occasionally carrying them up or down a flight of stairs or taking them on an escalator as the older construction in London does not always have handicapped access. There is no need to rent a car unless you plan to do significant travel around England or the UK.
The monuments, museums and parks are known throughout the world. You could spend hours at almost any of them, and many are free, too. Check out our more detailed posts on London sights, including Five(teen) Fun Family Attractions, Spotlight: The Tower of London, Five Fun Family Museums and Five Fun Family Parks (to come).
They speak English (ok, maybe British) in London, so communication is no issue after you pick up a few British words. While we enjoy visiting particularly Spanish-speaking countries, it is definitely easier to travel where English is the dominant language. Here are a few common British phrases and translations:
- “Hiya” – hi
- “Cheerio” – see you later
- “Cheers” – thanks
- “Quid” – pound (kind of like a dollar is also called a buck)
- “Gap” – the space between the platform and the train
- “Mind the gap” – be careful not to fall when stepping on or off the train
- “Boot” – the trunk of a car
- “Chips” – French fries
- “Crisps” – chips
- “Coach” – bus
- “Trousers – pants
- “Pants” – men’s underwear
- “Knickers” – women’s underwear
- “Toilet” or “WC” – bathroom
- “Bathroom” a room that has a bathtub
- “Flat” – apartment
- “Lift” – elevator
- “Line” – queue
- “Bloke” – man
- “Pint” – either the size of beer or the beer itself
- “Snogging” – kissing
Gateway to Other European Destinations
London is also a great jumping off point for other European adventures. Train travel from London to other cities in London, Scotland or Wales or even mainland Europe is very efficient. The trip from London’s Kings Cross station to York, which I have taken many times is an easy two-hour journey. On our last trip, we booked tickets a few weeks in advance online through Grand Central Railway.
There are also a plethora of budget air fares and packages to travel throughout Europe from London. My in-laws were fortunate to often take advantage of these offers while they lived there. We traveled from London to Barcelona in 2008 for a few days and booked a great vacation package.
I may have spent almost collective two months in London and love to see new places, but I have to admit that I always yearn to go back to London, take the Tube to the Westminster stop and walk out to that view of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye that makes me smile just thinking about it.
London has so many fun family activities! Make sure to check out our posts on London.
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