For Spring Break, we decided to change our plans from Costa Rica to London, England (we weren’t too keen on hanging out with the mosquitos and the Zika virus). Although we weren’t lounging around in the sun, we had sunny days and blue skies (and of course a few London showers).
To be honest, London can be daunting because there is so many things to do. To get your list of things going, here’s our 8 day itinerary of family things to do in London, England that you can mix and match depending on your priorities, likes and dislikes. It’s a lot of information, but you can take each day and cut and paste as you see fit and make it your own!
DAY 1: Getting Acclimated
- Buy your Oyster Card. This is going to be your ticket to getting around, and it’s good for the underground and the buses. Multiple Tips: Do NOT buy the Traveler’s card. This will limit the zones you can travel in and you may end up spending more money. Buy the regular Oyster Card if you plan to use public transport daily. The rule I read was 7 days for 40 to 50 pounds. Top it off if you need to. Kids pay half price, so get them an Oyster card and put 20 pounds on it for 7 days. Kids under 10 are free. Make sure to tap in AND tap out of the stations, so you get charged the right fare. If you use the Oyster Card multiple times during the day, you will only be charged a maximum for each day.
- If you take the overnight flight, you’re going to want to sleep for a few hours once you get settled. Definitely sleep, but don’t sleep all day otherwise you’ll never get on the right schedule! We slept until 1pm and had lunch near our AirBnB and then headed out to the London Duck Tour. Yes, we are those people. If there’s a duck tour in a city we visit, we do it. It’s a great way to get an overview of the city, especially if you do it in the beginning of your trip. The London Duck Tour does an 1.5 hour tour of Westminster area, 30 minutes in the Thames. Tip: Purchase your tickets well ahead of time online, so you can get your preferred timeslot. When you cross over the Golden Jubilee bridge, don’t go to the 55 York address. Instead, go to the Duck Tour kiosk on Belvedere Road, where you can check in with your email confirmation.
DAY 2: Sunday Roast and Kensington Palace & Gardens
When in London, one must do a Sunday Roast. (And have a cheesy smile to go with it.)
- If you’re in London on a Sunday, you must do like the locals and have a Sunday Roast lunch.
- Visit Kensington Palace for a tour of the King’s and Queens rooms, The Modern Royals. Have lunch at the cafe afterwards for a cappuccino, tea and a pastry. Walk through the beautiful Kensington gardens. Tip: Purchase your tickets ahead of time so you don’t have to wait online. Once you receive the confirmation email, just show your downloaded bar code from your smart phone at the ticket counter and they will print out your tickets for you.
- Afterwards, let the kids run around the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground just north of the Kensington Palace. Fantastic, large playground for kids of all ages. Let’s the kids run off some steam. Tip: Clean bathrooms and an outdoor cafe are right at the entrance of the playground.
DAY 3: Covent Gardens and Museums
- If you have an older child who enjoys being scared, definitely visit the London Dungeons. Tip: Definitely buy tickets and your time slot ahead of time. Even though you purchase ahead of time, you will still be waiting on a line. Plan a good 2 hours for this.
- Head on over to Covent Garden Piazza for shopping and casual dining, plus there are a ton of other shops and little cafes in and around Covent Garden. Tip: Lots of shops that you could find in the United States (if that’s where you are from) so good window shopping, but don’t buy; the exchange rate isn’t in your favor.
- Walk to Trafalgar Square and then to National Gallery. Good mix of history and art here.Tip: The exhibits are free but the special exhibitions are a nominal fee. No need to eat at the cafe here, there are a ton of cute cafes you can go to. Get a picture with the lions!
- See a show that you wouldn’t see in the United States! We went to the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane and saw an amazing production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Just like shopping, don’t see something that you can see stateside! Tip: Search online for a cheaper tickets! We were able to get 20% off 4th row Royal Circle seats (that’s mezzanine) because we went on a Tuesday night.
Took us 8 tries to get a picture by the lions at Trafalgar Square without the guard blowing the whistle on us, but we did it!
DAY 4: Borough Market, Tate Modern and Tea!
- Eat a light breakfast, because you’ll be nibbling your way through Borough Market, a huge indoor-outdoor market where you can buy anything from beer, to pretzels, to Turkish Delight, to homemade gnocchi.
- Walk along Park Street for a 15 minute walk to the Tate Modern museum. Just like at the National Theater there are exhibitions that are free (go to those) and there are special exhibitions that have a fee. Tip: Get there at 12noon and head straight to the Tate Kitchen for lunch (they have a kids menu) and spectacular views. Any later than noon, and you’ll have to wait.
- If you’re in London, you MUST have tea. And you must have tea at the venerable Fortnum and Mason. You can also get a bunch of gifts to bring home to family and friends in their three levels of housewares, fashion, fragrances and food! Tip: Reserve ahead of time online. Getting reservations can get tricky, especially during tea time.
- Walk around and window shop around Piccadilly.
DAY 5: Oxford Street, New Bond Street and Mayfair
- Walk and window shop all the mass brands on Oxford Street to the posh shops of New Bond Street for and a picture with Churchill and FDR.
- Walk around Mayfair neighborhood with its extremely beautiful homes, offices (Vogue is here), shops and restaurants.
- Meander the streets to lunch at the Punchbowl, a pub that started in the 1750’s. Tip: They have a gin menu but not a kids menu BUT they can make any of their dishes kid-friendly, just ask and they’ll be happy to help.
- After a lot of walking around, our tween and almost-teenager were delighted to spend an hour at the playground at Hyde Park and South Carriage Drive. This playground isn’t as big as The Diana Memorial Playground, but it does the trick. Tip: There’s a small cafe right next to the playground, The “free” toilets are in The Serpentine Bar and Kitchen, about a 5 minute walk north into the park. The “public” toilets are to the east of The Serpentine, but cost 20 pence each.
- Walk through The Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Tip: This was a personal choice for our family. We decided to NOT watch the Changing of the Guard because it would be too crowded for a 4-minute ceremony, so we decided to go at an “off” time and we loved it just as much. We sat at the Queen Victorial Memorial steps for a good 30 minutes to rest up before heading home.
DAY 6: Art Walk of Shoreditch, Londons’ East End
- London is full of beautiful (and free!) museums that have art from all centuries, so its pretty cool to balance it out with an interesting, dynamic Street Art Walking Tour in Shoreditch. Shoreditch is in the East End of London and is still pretty gritty (think of New York pre-Bloomberg), but with a new revitalization. You’ll get a great overview in a 2-hour tour (they have 4-hour options as well).
- Lunch at Tramshed. They have a kids menu as well and a specifically commissioned formaldehyde work of a cow and rooster in the middle of the restaurant. Guess what they serve?! Never mind. The food is amazing.
- Home for some much needed relaxation!
DAY 7: Warner Bros. Tour of the Harry Potter Studio
- If you have any Harry Potter fans in your family, a MUST is the Warner Bros. Tour of the Harry Potter studio. We weren’t going to do this because it seemed far and out of the way, but it was very easy to get to and was truly worth it. There’ll be a stand-alone post for this one, but definitely put it on your itinerary.
DAY 8: Nottinghill
Nottinghill is just too cute. Cute stores, beautiful homes and delicious places to eat. You’ll find them on Westbourne Grove. We at ate Daylesford Organic which had delicious (albeit a little small) food for breakfast. We got there around 9:30am, but it got busier as the brunch crowd got in. They’ve got a cute store front and a housewares department downstairs. You’ll want it all.
We didn’t plan being in Nottinghill on a Saturday, but if you’d like to hit Portobello Market, the large (and crowded) antique, food and vegetable outdoor fair, then the main day is on a Saturday. The rest of the week it’s a smaller version of it. Tips: most people walk down the hill on Portobello Road. So if you’d like to not feel like salmon swimming upstream like we did, walk from the Tube directly to Portobello Road and then make a turn on to Westbourne Grove to your breakfast.